Flood of false bomb threats raise security concerns in Kosovo

Illustration by Big Eye, used with permission via Sbunker.

This story was originally published by Sbunker as part of the regional initiative Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub. An edited version is republished by Global Voices with permission.

A wave of false bomb alerts in the Balkan region has affected Kosovo. Threatening messages from anonymous addresses were sent to the university, schools, airport and bus stations. So far, no bomb has been found. But alarms spread panic, also challenging the capacities of security forces, which have stepped up control checks in recent months.

Bomb threats started in December 2021 and intensified from April to June. The attempt to create a situation of general threat comes at a time when Russian aggression on Ukraine is continuing, and the Western Balkans, including Kosovo, have not been immune to Russia's hybrid war. This is done mainly through false news and statements such as those denying the crimes against humanity committed by Serbia in Kosovo during the last war, 1998–99.

But, unlike other countries of the region, which provided more details about the perpetrators and the addresses whence the threats came, the Kosovo authorities have not provided any reasonable explanation.

73 bomb alerts in one day

On June 16, the same day two protests were held in Pristina — one by KLA veteran organizations  and the other by KEK union — there were 73 false bomb alerts in the Gjilan/Gnjilane region and the Serb-majority northern municipalities. This activated the relevant police units, which carried out detailed checks at those locations. However, in the end, all the alarms turned out to be false. On this occasion, Minister of Internal Affairs Xhelal Sveçla called for calm and no panic, as he promised that they remain committed to providing security for all citizens.

Pristina International Airport “Adem Jashari” was also alerted with false bomb threats, twice in June alone. The passengers who were on board the flight from Munich to Pristina on June 16 transmitted the pilot's message that the Pristina Airport threat was of the highest level. The plane was forced to divert to Skopje in neighboring North Macedonia, awaiting instructions based on the situation at Pristina Airport.

The bomb threat on June 17 also had an effect in Switzerland. According to media reports, the Swiss security authorities, upon receiving the notification of the bomb alert at Pristina Airport, activated two F/A-18 fighter jets to accompany the plane.  Swiss news portal Blick reported that eyewitnesses saw the planes flying very close together and causing sonic booms, or “two loud noises” in the Arth-Goldau SZ area around 7:15 p.m.

A false bomb alert at the airport was also issued on June 2. Initially, it was suspected that the explosive device was on the Pristina–Rome flight. The bomb threat was made while the plane was in the air, causing great concern to passengers. According to the airport police chief, after evacuating the passengers, the police searched the plane and baggage, but found nothing.

An increase in false alarms

These were not the only false bomb alarms, a phenomenon that started at the end of last year but have increased in intensity in the recent weeks.

On May 17 and 18, the Rectorate of the University of Prishtina and the high school “Xhevdet Doda” were alerted to explosive devices in their buildings.

The Rectorate received the threat directly at the official e-mail address from the sender “sender@5ymails.com,” at 13:45. The threatening message was written in English with the content: “The bomb in Hasan Prishtina will explode now.” After receiving the threatening email, the police surrounded the area around the rectory and for several hours checked for bombs. But even this alarm turned out to be false.

Bomb alerts have also been received by the media of the Serb non-majority community.

One such was reported by the Serbian-language portal Kosovo-online which operates in North Mitrovica. They have also attached the threatening emails, that said: “An explosive device has been placed in your premises, which will explode exactly at 22.15. Glory to Ukraine.” The email was written in Ukrainian and, according to them, was sent from an address named “Azov Ukraine.” This alarm also turned out to be false.

The Kosovo-online portal has a large reach in the four northern municipalities of Kosovo and is reported to broadcast Serbian and Russian propaganda in Kosovo.

Interconnectedness with threats in the countries of the region

In the last two months alone, several public institutions in central Belgrade and the airport in the southern city of Nis have been evacuated following bomb threats. According to the Serbian Ministry of Interior, 97 primary schools and some secondary schools received bomb threats that turned out to be false after the inspections.

In fact, the government in Serbia has linked the dozens of received bomb threats to the situation in Ukraine. Serbian authorities claim that the form of the bomb threat is a “special hybrid war” against Serbia, linking it to the refusal to impose sanctions on Russia after the aggression on Ukraine.

Police reported that eight emails came from Poland, four from the Gambia, from Iran and Nigeria and others from Ukraine, Slovenia and Russia. According to them, the persons who sent threatening emails have been identified and, since they are foreign nationals, data are being exchanged through Europol and Interpol with the police in Sweden, Lithuania, Switzerland, Russia and Hungary.

In relation to Kosovo, identifying the perpetrators may be more difficult as it is not a member of Interpol, where the exchange of information would be more efficient.

Since the beginning of the aggression against Ukraine, bomb alerts have become common in other countries of the region as well. For the first time they have affected the Srpska Republika and the canton of Sarajevo.

Police there have reported threatening emails in primary and secondary schools. There have also been bomb threats in Montenegro, whereas Albania and northern Macedonia have not yet been affected by these threats.

Such alarms in the region raise the need for relevant security institutions to increase the level of preparedness and exchange information if the messages sent are interconnected and have the same purpose, to incite fear and panic among citizens and thus destabilize the social and political order.

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