A Deadly Monastery Siege Threatens to Unravel Years of Relative Peace on NATO’s Southern Flank

Tensions are rising in Kosovo after gunmen killed a cop in an attack blamed on an infamous Serbian politician and gangster with links to Belgrade. “Russia is thrilled,” a NATO intelligence official in the region told VICE News.
kosovo monastery siege serbia
Part of the arms cache recovered from the monastery siege. Photo: Kosovo Police

PRISTINA, Kosovo – A deadly attack on police in a Serbian dominated village in North Kosovo that left at least five dead and pushed the Balkan nation into its worst security crisis in over a decade was led by an infamous Serbian politician and accused gangster with close ties to the Serb government in Belgrade, Kosovo has said.

The Kosovo Interior Ministry on Tuesday released drone footage from Sunday’s attack on police outside a monastery that it claims shows Milan Radoičić led the assault that killed a police officer and four attackers in the worst violence in years. 


About 30 paramilitary fighters attacked a police patrol early Sunday morning outside the village of Banjska before barricading themselves inside a local Serbian Orthodox monastery. By Sunday evening, the attackers had dispersed with an unknown number having fled across the nearby border with Serbia as darkness fell. Four gunmen were killed and two were arrested – along with four local residents police claim were helping coordinate the attack.

North Kosovo is home to most of Kosovo’s Serbian minority, and is the only part of the country where ethnic Serbs are in the majority. It has long been wracked by political tensions that occasionally turn violent as the ethnic Albanian-dominated government has tried to bring the area of less than 50,000 people under central government control. Belgrade refuses to recognise Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and strongly backs local politicians who refuse to work with the Pristina government. International recognition of Kosovo remains mixed – all G7 countries recognise its independence but Russia, China, India, and Spain, among others, do not.

Last winter, Serbs withdrew from local government councils in Mitrovica, a divided city in Kosovo that embodies the divisions in Europe’s newest country, but Sunday’s attack far exceeds any violence seen since the NATO intervention of 1999 that broke Kosovo away from Serbia. The well-equipped and organised nature of the attack – an arms cache found on Monday indicated the attackers were prepared to equip additional fighters that never materialised – led most observers to conclude it was at least partially endorsed and supported by elements of Serbia’s intelligence service. Immediately after the attack, Kosovar officials blamed Radoičić – deputy head of the Serb List Party, a Belgrade-backed Serbian party that dominates Kosovo’s Serbian minority – for leading the attack. Weapons permits issued by Belgrade in Radoičić’s name were found alongside a massive weapons cache Monday. 

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Source: Kosovo Police

Kosovo's Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla told reporters that documents recovered from the scene as well as statements from the arrested gunmen indicated the attack was conducted by members of two local Serbian militias, that were declared terrorist groups by the government in June, led by Radoičić with the direct backing of Belgrade. 

On Tuesday police released drone footage of the monastery siege that appears to show Radoičić present during the attack, in uniform and carrying weapons. Pristina considers Radoičić a terrorist, and he has been heavily sanctioned by the United States.

He is believed to have escaped over the nearby border into Serbia.

“It’s a terrorist, criminal, professional unit that had planned and prepared what they did and who are not a smuggling band but a mercenary structure which is politically, financially and logistically supported by official Belgrade,” said Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

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Police display Serbian-issued documents belonging to suspect Milan Radoičić. Photo: Kosovo Police.

Svecla also accused Serbia and its hardline president, Aleksandar Vučić, of not only planning the attack but of harbouring at least six wounded attackers in a hospital in Novi Pazar, a city just over the border. 

Even as the Serb List Party declared a three-day mourning period for the four dead attackers, Vučić denied involvement and blamed Pristina for sparking an uprising against the “terror” of anti-Serb policies. Vucic also announced Serbia would never recognise Kosovo’s independence despite agreeing to a raft of proposals this summer negotiated by the EU to calm tensions. 


“You can kill us all. Serbia will never recognise the independence of Kosovo, that monster creation that you made by bombing Serbia,” Vučić said, referring to the NATO intervention in 1999 that led to Kosovo separating from Serbia. He also accused Pristina of conducting ethnic cleansing of the Serbs without citing evidence of violence or displacement of the local population.

While the weekend’s attack felt like it came out of the blue, tensions have steadily been rising all year. After agreeing verbally to a series of terms with the EU to reduce tensions and normalise relations in March, Vučić immediately returned to Belgrade and announced he would not sign the agreement, jokingly claiming that a hand injury made signing documents impossible. 


Aleksandar Vučić meets with a Western European delegation in Belgrade this week. Photo: Amir Hamzagic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In June, after an attack on Kosovo police and NATO peacekeepers by Serb protestors – who Kosovo accused of being backed by Belgrade and organised by Serbian football ultras with close ties to Vucic – injured dozens of NATO troops, tensions continued to climb despite repeated efforts by EU, NATO and US diplomats.

The alleged involvement of Radoičić – who was sanctioned by the US and UK in 2021 for violent political activity and a host of financial crimes via strongly alleged organised crime links – shows a clear link to Serbian intelligence and Vucic in the assault, and according to a NATO intelligence official based in the region, is a dire signal that diplomacy has likely failed in the short term.  


Radoičić is considered the most powerful Serb figure in North Kosovo and has faced repeated indictments for drug trafficking, murder and large-scale gravel theft. 

“There’s no dispute Radoičić is Vučić and the intelligence service’s cat’s paw in North Kosovo,” said the official under the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the politics, citing Radoičić’s indictment in Pristina for involvement in the 2018 assassination of Oliver Ivanović, a Kosovo Serb politician who opposed Belgrade’s strict control over local politics.

“The Americans and [the EU] have long pressured Kurti to take less of a hardline on bringing the north under central government control, despite it obviously being his legal right as PM,” said the official. “That was in the name of pragmatic diplomacy… Kurti always argued was useless due to Vučić’s intransigence. The [international community] was focused on Ukraine and didn’t want to get dragged into a situation with Serbia backed by Russia and kept asking Kurti to compromise. Sunday’s attack and its clear origin in Belgrade via Radoičić has probably ended that argument: Vučić has now behaved exactly as Kurti predicted. Diplomacy is never a mistake but there’s grave concern after Sunday that neither side is interested in talking. And of course Russia is thrilled to support a crisis on NATO’s southern flank.”

"The situation is extremely difficult. On Kosovo, we see a traditionally biased attitude towards the Serbs... The situation is very, very tense and potentially dangerous, we are monitoring it very closely," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a regular news briefing Monday, according to Reuters. 

On Monday night, according to the Reuters report, the Russian Foreign Ministry directly blamed Kurti’s policies for the violence, claiming "a direct and immediate consequence of the course" of the Prime Minister, which it said was aimed at "fuelling conflict and cleansing the territory of the province of Serbs.”

An officer assigned to KFOR, the NATO led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, told VICE News on the condition of background that the concern now was “the diplomats have to get both sides back to the negotiating table despite their rhetoric for the sake of the KFOR mission but Sunday might have made this impossible for now.”

“There’s little appetite in Brussels or Washington for higher tempo military peacekeeping operations in the north but obviously Belgrade and Pristina have more of a say about this than we do right now.”