Suicide bomber throws grenade into US embassy compound in Montenegro

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Forensic police officers investigate the area around the US Embassy in Montenegro’s capital Podgorica on February 22, 2018 following a suicide bomber attack into the US embassy compound.An unknown attacker blew themself up after throwing a suspected grenade into the US embassy compound in Podgorica, the Montenegrin government said on February 22, 2018. Authorities in Podgorica have not released any theories as to the motive for the attack in the country which recently joined NATO despite opposition from some of the population and from where a number of jihadists have travelled to Iraq and Syria. / AFP PHOTO / SAVO PRELEVIC

A Serbian-born suicide bomber blew himself up after throwing a grenade into the US embassy compound in Podgorica, causing no injuries, the Montenegrin government said Thursday.

Authorities in Podgorica have released no theories as to the motive for the early morning attack in Montenegro, which recently joined NATO, but said it was unlikely to have been a terrorist attack.

“At this moment we have not found (evidence) to talk about terrorism. Everything else is being investigated,” prosecutor Lepa Medenica told reporters.

“In cooperation with the FBI, police are checking his social media accounts and investigating if (the attacker) D.J. worked alone or had accomplices, as well as what was the motive of the attack,” Montenegro’s deputy police chief Enis Bakovic said.

The attacker, identified only by his initials and as a 43-year old Montenegrin citizen born in Serbia with no criminal record, “committed suicide by activating a hand grenade M-75, after he had thrown one into the embassy compound,” Medenica said.

A US State Department spokesperson said officials were “working closely with police to identify the assailant(s)”.

Montenegro’s main daily paper Vijesti published a picture, apparently from the attacker’s Facebook page, showing an award he won for his service in the Yugoslav army in 1999, which was signed by the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

That was the year in which a NATO air campaign against the rump Yugoslavia — composed of Serbia and Montenegro — ended the Kosovo war. Montenegro declared independence in 2006 and has espoused pro-Western policies ever since.

– ‘Man’s body removed’ –
An AFP correspondent who arrived on the scene shortly after the blast did not see any damage.

Police said the explosion had left a crater in an inner courtyard, but that there was no other damage to embassy property.

On its Twitter account, the embassy said all its staff were “safe and accounted for” but it cancelled all visa services for the day, although access was available for US citizens “on an emergency basis”.

A guard at the sports centre who asked not to be named said he “heard two explosions, one after another”.

“Police came very quickly and the body of a man was taken away,” he told AFP.

– New NATO member –
The heavily secured embassy building is located on the outskirts of Podgorica’s city centre, near the secret police headquarters and the Moraca river.

Police said it had stepped up security of all embassies and consulates in the country.

The small Adriatic state of some 660,000 people joined NATO last May, a decision that provoked violent protests by the pro-Russian opposition in 2015.

In October 2016, authorities said they had thwarted a plot by pro-Russian militants to storm parliament and oust the pro-Western government on the eve of general elections.

Authorities alleged that “Russian state bodies” were involved in the conspiracy, which they said was aimed at preventing Montenegro from joining NATO.

In October 2011, the US embassy in Sarajevo in neighbouring Bosnia was the target of an Islamist attack.

Mevlid Jasarevic, who fired on the embassy building with an automatic rifle, wounding a police officer, was also injured in the ensuing gunfight.

Jasarevic was later sentenced to 15 years in jail.

According to figures published in November by a regional think tank, 1,000 people from the western Balkans have gone to join jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq since 2012.

Twenty-three of those were from Montenegro, whose population is predominantly Orthodox Christian.

Last month, a court in Montenegro for the first time sentenced one of its citizens for having fought in Syria.

Hamid Beharovic, 39, was found guilty of fighting for Islamic State group between April 2015 and May 2016. He was given a six-month jail term.