Terrorist Bombing in Kumanovo, 1 Dead
Kumanovo – A powerful bomb went off at 4:45 PM this afternoon in front of Kumanovo's Goce Delcev High School, leaving one dead and five injured. Goce Delcev is the city's main high school, and located near the central square. Classes were in session at the time of the bombing.
Shortly after the detonation, police arrived on the scene and cordoned off the adjacent streets. Shrapnel was found as far as 100 meters away – attesting to the power of the bomb, which was apparently concealed in a trash can in front of the school.
Police on the scene were tight-lipped, stating only that the bomb squad was investigating and that "more information will be released as it becomes available." Despite security worries over the recent bombing of the Macedonian Consulate in Karachi, it is unlikely that al Qaeda or any other foreign body was involved in this bombing.
One policeman guarding the school revealed that things could have been much worse: "at the time the bomb exploded, the children should have been standing out in front of the school – but the bell which lets them out of class went off late."
An elderly man walking by at the time was killed, and the injured were also innocent bystanders. Since the bomb was apparently timed to go off when the students were on their break, the death toll could have been far greater, had the bell gone off on time.
Kumanovo police would not speculate as to the perpetrators or their motives. However, it is interesting to note that less than an hour earlier DUI leader Ali Ahmeti had arrived in Kumanovo, under heavy security, with an Albanian delegation from the Ministry of Education. NATO soldiers arrived at the bombing scene an hour after it happened, and were not aware until I told them that Mr. Ahmeti was also in town. This news prompted an immediate cell phone call back to the base.
A NATO commander claimed not to know anything about what was happening: "we know as much as you do. We'll wait for the police to complete their investigation – we have time to wait, and so we will wait."
At the same time as the bombing occurred, Ahmeti was making a politically-connected tour of the Albanian primary school Bayram Shabani, where alleged cases of mass poisoning took place earlier this month.
The Albanian high school students who study here had gone to Goce Delcev until the war of 2001, at which time they claimed Macedonian hostilities forced them to leave. Although they claim that this was just a temporary segregation, Albanians are not planning to return: Mustafa Ebibi, school director, said "Albanian students left (Goce Delcev) because of Macedonian hooligans – even before 2001, they were beating us, and the police did nothing to control this." Another Albanian teacher added, "I don't believe that the two groups can get along together – we Albanians need our own high school."
Macedonian teachers in Kumanovo deny that Albanian students suffered persistent abuse. Said one, "they are just using this language of 'human rights' violations to get their way – it is the same tactic as always."
200 Albanian students in all claim to have been poisoned, although they could not say how it had happened. A mysterious gas in the classroom was blamed for the poisoning, but doctors at Kumanovo Hospital could find nothing wrong with them. The students were transferred to Skopje's prestigious State Clinic, where doctors in the Toxicology and Infective Deiseases clinics returned the same verdict. The government then called in experts from the World Health Organization. They left yesterday, and also were at a loss.
Exasperated Albanians state that biased Macedonian doctors are purposefully trying to deny their symptoms. However, Macedonian doctors say that the parents of the students behaved very aggressively in trying to force hospitalization for their children, when "...there were patients with real and serious problems also there at the same time."
I visited the school today in order to locate the source of the problem, and was told that I was the only journalist to have done so – though many reports have been published this month. The allegedly poisoned classrooms contained nothing but a few tables and old-fashioned wood burning stoves. There were no ducts, fans or vents by which any strange gases could enter the room.
Even stranger, the smiling elementary schoolers in the rooms had obviously not been affected. Sevim Ahmeti, head of the local Parent-Teacher Organization, claimed that only the high school students had been affected – and on one occasion. The older students start classes every day at 3:30, after the youngsters leave at 3:15.
When asked how any poison gases could have been introduced under such strange and selective circumstances, Ahmeti speculated that the 15-minute window of opportunity could possibly have allowed "the enemies of the Albanian people" to strike. One report earlier this month speculated that Serbian agents were behind it. Sevim Ahmeti does not discount this possibility, or that of a Macedonian "enemy" of the Albanians.
Comparing the poisonings to a hypothetical gas attack on the New York subway, Ahmeti declared, "this is big terrorism, if you poison these students – why should these students be sacrificed? Fortunately, we have controls on the front door now to make sure that no unknown man can come in."
Indeed, the front door of the school is guarded and several parents – additional "security," I was told – mill around the halls. They were joined today by members of Ahmeti's security detail.
While the whole thing seems a bit farfetched, it does come as further confirmation of the fact that the present war in Macedonia is that being fought over education. The heart and soul of the country is being decided by the questions of what schools will operate, and whom they will cater to. Albanians are adamant on being educated exclusively in their own language.
The true story of the "poisoning" affair may never be known. It is not significant in itself, but for being merely one battle in the growing war over education. Regardless of whether it really happened, and if so how, there is one indisputable fact: that the only terrorist act in Kumanovo today was a cowardly bombing aimed at children that instead killed one innocent 65 year-old man.
At present, the bombing is still being investigated. It was announced two hours ago that Interior Minister Hari Kostov, Defense Minister Vladko Buchkovski, and NATO Ambassador Nicholas Biegman were en route to Kumanovo – a notable development that indicates that this perhaps isolated bombing may be the beginning of something more significant.