Serb mass grave reveals secret of executed Americans

By Vesna Peric Zimonjic in Belgrade
18 July 2001

Three Americans of ethnic-Albanian origin were
executed and their bodies were thrown into a mass
grave in Serbia, a Serbian police chief said
yesterday, as authorities stepped up an investigation
into a possible cover-up of war crimes by Slobodan
Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president.

Dusan Mihajlovic, the Serbian Interior Minister, who
is under pressure from United States authorities to
conduct a thorough investigation, gave new details on
the case of the three ethnic Albanians holding US
nationality whose bodies have been found in a mass
grave in eastern Serbia. Their execution in July 1999,
he said, was "an extremely serious crime ... they were
neither tried nor sentenced to death.

"Their bodies were found with hands tied behind their
backs ... They were blindfolded," Mr Mihajlovic said.
All three were shot in the head.

The three brothers, Mehmet, Agron and Illy Bityqi,
were born and raised in Chicago. The mass grave at a
Serbian police training compound in Petrovo Selo where
they were found contained 74 bodies, all transported
from Kosovo in 1999.

An investigation is attempting to establish whether
the brothers were part of the so-called "Atlantic
Brigade", in which ethnic Albanians from overseas
fought alongside the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The
three apparently entered Kosovo from Albania in an
effort to join the KLA.

Police found a southern Serbian court document in the
pockets of one of them. It was dated 27 June 1999 and
called for a 15-day detention of the trio for "illegal
entry into Serbia".

The brothers apparently tried to leave Kosovo via
Serbia after Nato air raids ended in June 1999. They
were detained by Serbian police in the border town of
Kursumlija on 26 June. A day later they were sentenced
to 15 days in prison and expulsion from Serbia. But,
when a court clerk went to notify them of the
expulsion in the district prison of the southern
Serbian town of Prokuplje on 8 July, the brothers were
already gone, Mr Mihajlovic said. "It remains for us
to see how the persons who should have been expelled
ended up in Petrovo Selo, and who did that," he added.

According to the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law
Centre, the three disappeared after being released
from Prokuplje prison on 8 July 1999. Their release
was arranged by a police inspector from the foreign
nationals' division, who questioned them on their
arrest the previous month.

The inspector told the prison warden that he would
"take care of the Bityqis" and the warden signed a
provisional release order. The three brothers left
Prokuplje prison at about noon on 8 July, and were
handed over to two plainclothes officers. That was the
last time they were seen until their bodies were dug
up earlier this month.

Many ethnic Albanians are known to have paid Serb
policemen to take them to safety in and around Kosovo
in 1998 and 1999, only to be killed afterwards.

The minister also said an investigation was under way
into a second freezer truck containing the bodies of
dozens of ethnic Albanians dumped beside a
hydroelectric plant at Perucac, on the Drina river,
during the Nato air raids.

He confirmed a report from a senior police official,
Dragan Karleusa, who said that a truck with about 55
bodies surfaced in Perucac lake in April 1999. The
bodies were later buried in a nearby mass grave.

The first gruesome case of a freezer truck containing
80 bodies of ethnic Albanians dumped into the river
Danube near Kladovo, 250km east of Belgrade, was
revealed by police only in May. That truck went into
the Danube in April 1999. The bodies were later buried
at a police training compound, just north of Belgrade.

The excavation of the mass grave in Batajnica started
last month and showed that all the victims came from
Kosovo. Kladovo and Perucac are hundreds of kilometres
apart and hundreds of kilometres from Kosovo.


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