Sunday 25 August 2019

US embassy attack suspects handed suspended sentences by Serbian court

Officers carry an injured policeman away from the US Embassy in Belgrade in 2008 (Darko Vojinovic/AP/PA)
Officers carry an injured policeman away from the US Embassy in Belgrade in 2008 (Darko Vojinovic/AP/PA)

A Serbian court has issued suspended prison sentences for four suspects and acquitted three more who were tried in the 2008 torching of the US embassy in Belgrade after a rally against Kosovo's declaration of independence.

The ruling at Belgrade's Higher Court comes after years of waiting. A retrial was ordered after an appeals court last year overturned initial verdicts for the suspects.

One person died in the 2008 rioting when the US and other western embassies were attacked by groups of nationalists and football hooligans angry over what they perceived as support for Kosovo's statehood.

Several hundred people stormed the US embassy and set part of it on fire before police appeared and pushed the crowds away from the scene.

The incident has burdened relations between Washington and Belgrade for years.

US officials have insisted that suspects be held responsible but no-one has so far been imprisoned for the torching.

The court said on Tuesday that four suspects were guilty of committing a "grave act against public security" by throwing rocks and breaking windows at the embassy building, after which torches were thrown inside starting the fire. It sentenced the four to suspended six-month and five-month prison terms.

The court also said there was not enough evidence to convict the remaining three suspects.

Zelimir Cabrilo, a lawyer for one of the acquitted defendants, said after the court ruling that the embassy attack was a political event that should have been handled "through political means".

Serbia's prosecutors separately brought charges against five police officials in connection with the rioting but that trial has not started yet.


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