So long as it trashes America in the Balkans, it's Destro's gospel.
Serbia awaits you.
Detective Stu Kellock (Chair), former head of the United Nations Kosovo Mission´s regional serious crime squad.
At the site of the explosion on the day the bomb went off, Detective Stu Kellock, the squad's Canadian chief, had asked that UNMIK put a dedicated task force together to work on the investigation, as would have been done in any western country. That request and subsequent ones were ignored.
"It was obvious right from the start that there were other agendas going on that the police didn't know about," Kellock says. "Technically we were in charge of the investigation but it never seemed that way. Intelligence about the suspects was denied to us. Information was withheld by Kfor. We were always the last to be told what was going on. From the word go, I got a very sinister feeling about the whole thing."
The police claim that as soon as the four suspects were transferred to UNMIK detention centres in Kosovo, some 12 hours after their initial arrest by the British, a UN order restricted police interviews of the men. Indeed, Kellock never personally managed to get access to a single interview with the prisoners.
Another Canadian serious crimes officer, Joe McAllister, recalls: "We were told, 'These are the suspects - question them'. Yet we had no information upon which to base our questioning, nor any direction, and anyway we couldn't get proper access to the prisoners." By early May the suspects were no longer in UNMIK custody, and the conspiracy theories were about to become legend.
Apparently haunted by the possibility of the suspects' escaping, the UN ordered their transfer to the most secure detention area in the province: the jail inside the American base at Camp Bondsteel. The camp was home to more than 5,000 US soldiers; in its detention facility, suspects languished in Guantanamo Bay-style fluorescent orange suits, surrounded by concertina rolls of razor wire, floodlights and watchtowers.
The suspects were transferred to Bondsteel on May 3. But a year ago, on the night of May 14, Florim Ejupi, the most unsophisticated suspect and the one man against whom physical evidence existed, "disappeared" from the camp.
ACCORDING to Cele Gashi, the four suspects had been kept together in a central holding area in Bondsteel - a move that allowed the prisoners free association and itself stymied evidence procedures. Late in the evening of May 14, Gashi, Behluli and Veliu drifted off to sleep while Ejupi remained awake, listening to a radio. The next thing Gashi says he remembers is American soldiers bursting into the compound shortly after 4am. Ejupi was gone, and his transistor radio lay on his empty bed.
The Americans later said that he had escaped using a pair of wire cutters hidden in a spinach pie sent to the prison by his family. They say crucial floodlights were faulty, and there are claims that an inexperienced National Guard unit had left a stretch of perimeter wire unobserved for 100 minutes.
Soon, though, outraged UNMIK police officers were offering a different story. They claim that from the moment the four suspects were transferred to camp Bondsteel, interview access, already difficult, was further obstructed by the Americans.
Some officers go on to claim that Ejupi had been a source for US intelligence. They believe that Ejupi was released from Bondsteel either because US intelligence agencies did not wish to be implicated by association in the bombing of the Nis Express, or because they wanted to establish the identities of the men who authorised the bomb attack to use for their own ends. Both escape and conspiracy theories challenge belief. "It's not clear cut either way," one senior UNMIK official admits. "We really don't know what happened with Ejupi. It is possible that he was released, but if that was the case then it was the act of an agency operating without State Department or Pentagon approval. In the big picture the Americans had far more to lose than to gain from the 'disappearance', however it happened."
WHATEVER the real truth, news of Ejupi's flight further crushed morale among the police investigators. Kellock says: "I would use the word 'devastating'. It called into question the whole reason why we were in Kosovo, and any questions we had concerning Ejupi's escape remain to this day unanswered. From that moment on, the writing was on the wall for our investigation."
Though three suspects, Gashi, Behluli and Veliu, remained in custody, this was of scant consolation to the police. They say that they had no wiretaps or covert surveillance to monitor associates of the prisoners. Witnesses were afraid to come forward from a society that has traditionally been impenetrable for law enforcers. Nato continued to withold its intelligence. And human rights groups in the UN and OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) ensured that the suspects' rights were so rigorously upheld that the few police interviews conducted were heavily restricted.
The investigation was already being scaled down. In the absence of a dedicated taskforce, the 18-strong serious crimes squad was having to divert its resources to other crimes. By midsummer there were only three detectives still involved with the case. And a high turnover of UN personnel meant that few of the original investigators remained.
McAllister took over the job of lead investigator in June, but was removed from the post by the UN in August for speaking to a journalist about his frustrations. After his departure the file on the Nis Express became the responsibility of a single detective, and the investigation all but ceased.
Paradoxically, this was the one time when the UN should have poured resources into spreading the scope of the investigation. The presence of the remaining three suspects in custody was becoming a legal embarrassment.
Their continued detention was the result of an Executive Hold order by Hans Haekkerup, the senior UN administrator in Kosovo; this was a special circumstances option that allowed for an extra-judicial detention, but was increasingly coming under criticism by human rights groups.
In the autumn, UNMIK created a Detention Review Commission of three international judges to examine the case, validate (if appropriate) Haekkerup's Executive Hold order and return the suspects' detention to a judicial framework.
The three judges were given access to the Nato intelligence that lay behind the arrests. In September, 2001, they decided that the intelligence was compelling enough to allow for the suspects' continued detention of 90 days before the case went to Kosovo's Supreme Court.
The onus, therefore, was on the police to produce more evidence to put before the Supreme Court. Yet their investigation was already dead in the water and no attempt was made to revive it. The 90 days expired and, on December 18 last year, the case went before the Supreme Court. This body was not given access to Nato's intelligence files, and in the absence of any fresh evidence, it recommended the immediate release of the three suspects.
ANY remaining trust held by Kosovo's Serbs in UNMIK, Kfor or justice in the province disintegrated after the men were set free. The trio, still terrorist suspects in an unclosed case, were given local heroes' welcomes after they left jail. Cele Gashi and Jusuf Veliu were embraced publicly by senior TMK officers. In January, Gashi returned to his position as a TMK colonel in Pristina; Veliu was reinstated as a TMK captain. Nato officials in Kosovo denied that this move had been officially sanctioned. Yet six weeks later both men were in barracks and in uniform.
In UNMIK there is confusion as to whether Gashi and Veliu were ever even suspended from the TMK in the first place, some officials even suggesting that the suspects were being paid out of a UN-regulated budget during their time in custody.
As for Florim Ejupi, he remains "missing"; after a year, the mystery surrounding his escape remains undiminished.
What the acronyms mean
KLA: Kosovo Liberation Army. Albanian resistance organisation, now undergoing demilitarisation.
TMK: Kosovo Protection Corps, created in 1999 under the aegis of Nato and the UN after Serb withdrawl from Kosovo. Its 5,000 members are all former KLA fighters.
Kfor: The Nato-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
UNMIK: United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo: a civilian law enforcement unit.