In Kosovo, a Kosovo police officer was reportedly shot to death on Sunday morning by a group of about 30 armed individuals who had besieged the Banjskë Monastery in Mitrovica. This incident, which has not yet been clarified, has led to the spread of narratives that promote destabilization and inaccurate information on the internet, including the identity of the victims among the aggressors.
The Kosovo Police officially reported that at 2:34 am on September 24th, a roadblock was observed at the entrance to the village of Banjskë, where the Zvečan police unit dispatched three police patrols that were attacked with firearms by the individuals who had set up the roadblock.
As a result of the attack, a Kosovo police officer, Afrim Bunjaku, was killed, and two others were injured. From that moment, the Kosovo Police surrounded the monastery and engaged in apprehending the individuals confined there.
At 2:22 pm, the Kosovo Police reported that one of the aggressors had been killed, and about three hours later, two other aggressors were officially reported as killed by the Kosovo Police in an official statement. The blue uniforms managed to enter the monastery in the evening hours on Sunday.
“So far, according to information from the field, three attackers have been killed, two attackers have been arrested, and four suspected individuals who were found in illegal possession of radio equipment and are suspected to be connected to a terrorist group.” – Kosovo Police statement.
A few hours after the initial information about the armed clash in northern Mitrovica was made public, Kosovo and Serbia blamed each other for the attack.
“We condemn this criminal and terrorist attack. Organized crime, with political, financial, and logistical support from official Belgrade, is attacking our state.” – wrote Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti at 7:20 am on his Facebook social media page.
On the other hand, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić referred to the situation a “rebellion of Serbs in Kosovo against Albin Kurti’s terror” and denied the connection of the Serbian state with the situation.
“Serbs, not from central Serbia but from Kosovo and Metohia, rebelled, not wanting to suffer Kurti’s terror,” Serbian media Vijesti Quoted.
Unethical and Unverified Reporting
Around noon on Sunday, online and traditional media outlets began to distribute a photograph of a deceased person, reporting it as one of the assailants in the Banjskë Monastery. Media in Kosovo and Albania disseminated the image of a deceased and bloodied person without any ethical or moral filter, often without censoring the photograph, violating every rule of journalism.
It did not take long, and the media began to distribute photos of individuals whom they claim are the attackers killed by the Kosovo Police.
The first among them was Gazeta Metro, which published an article stating that “Radomir Pocuca, a former journalist and former official of the Serbian special police, and sentenced by the Serbian state for illegal participation in the war in Ukraine, is one of the terrorists under siege at the Banjska Monastery.””.
The article did not inform about the source of the information provided about the alleged attacker Radomir Pocuca, who was claimed to be killed in the Banjska Monastery. Regarding this information, Faktoje contacted the editorial office of the media in question to learn about the source of the information but is still awaiting a response.
A “River Flow” of Disinformation
The news from Gazeta Metro was reposted by former Prime Minister Sali Berisha on his Facebook social media, quoting the aforementioned article as the source, accompanied by two images.
*photos reposted by Sali Berisha
*The photos shared by Sali Berisha
The information and two photos published by Berisha were widely reproduced by Albanian media without any further verification.
With a discerning eye, the two individuals in the photos distributed in the media as Radomir Pocuca do not bear a strong resemblance to each other. As a result, Faktoje conducted an online search through photographs and discovered that the person in the left photo is actually Pavle Bihali, the leader of the far-right extremist movement in Serbia known as Leviatan, and not Radomir Pocuca (the person on the right), as widely reported in the media.
Further research on the internet about Pavle Bihali also reveals a video distributed on his Levijatan – bez censure on Telegram, where Bihali refutes the news of his own murder.
* A video on Telegram by Pavle Bihali was published on September 25th. In the video, he states that he is alive and shows a video of President Alexandar Vučić’s statement, who says in an interview for the Serbian media that the news of Bihali and Radomir’s murder is untrue.
Simultaneously, a video was circulated on the social media, where a journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Avdo Avdić from Istraga.ba media, is seen speaking on the phone with someone referred to as Radomir Pocuca. In the conversation, the journalist asks if Radomir Pocuca is alive.
Translation of the video:
Avdo Avdić: Hello.
Person on the phone: Hello.
Avdo Avdić: I want to talk to Radomir Počuča.
Person on the phone: Present, speaking.
Avdo Avdić: So that means you’re not dead… I’m a journalist from Sarajevo, Avdo Avdić…
Person on the phone: Respect (a Serbian expression of politeness).
Avdo Avdić: … The media in Kosovo are saying that you were killed, so I wanted to confirm this.
Person on the phone: Well, as they say, it’s just their wish. They would like that! Thank God, I’m alive and well, still in Belgrade, but who knows how the situation will develop in the end.
Avdo Avdić: Alright, I wanted to confirm this, thank you very much.
Person on the phone: All the best.
Avdo Avdić: Goodbye.
Person on the phone: Goodbye.
The authenticity of the two debunking videos remains unverified. On the other hand, the source of information for the two names referred to as killed by the Kosovo Police is still unknown and, therefore, impossible to verify.
The statement by the Serbian President that refutes the information about the killing of Pavle Bihali and Radomir Pocuca was extensively covered in the media, as was the initial news about the “identification” of the killed attackers.
Furthermore, the same media outlet that initially spread the news about the identity of Radomir Pocuca now reports the news published by the Serbian media Danas as accurate.
“It has been revealed the identity of three Serbs who were killed, and they died due to their participation in the attack against the Kosovo police and the killing of a Kosovo police officer yesterday in the village of Banjskë in northern Kosovo.” – writes Gazeta Metro in the article.
* The news on September 24 and 25 in Gazeta Metro about the identity of the three killed individuals in Kosovo
* The news from September 24 and 25 in Gazeta Metro regarding the identity of the three killed individuals in Kosovo.
The narrative articulated by Vučić that the attackers are Kosovo Serbs rebelling against Albin Kurti is supported by Serbian media, which began reporting a different identity for the three slain individuals in northern Mitrovica by the Kosovo Police.
According to Serbian media the individuals who were killed have been identified as I.M and B.M from Leposavić, as well as S.N from. N1info.rs reported that they had unofficially learned the identities of the three deceased persons.
Official Version of the Event
The Kosovo Police and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in a media statement announced that work on identifying the killed individuals is ongoing, and this information will be shared with the public at another time.
“For the identity of the suspected individuals, work is underway. Our investigation teams and analysts are working extensively on identifying the individuals involved in the incident. Normally, we cannot share this information with the public at this moment, but a significant number of them have been identified.” – stated the Kosovo Police.
At no point did the Kosovo Police provide information about the three killed individuals regarding their identity. This confirms that the information circulating in the media is, at best, unofficially confirmed and, at worst, completely untrue.
On September 26, 2023, the websitenewsbomb.net corrected its initial Facebook post following the verification of the news by Faktoje. The initially reported news has had its original assessment changed on Facebook.
* This article was produced as part of the regional initiative by the Center Against Disinformation in Western Balkans
Editors: Viola Keta & Aimona Vogli