Paras face murder probe

The account of the British troops who shot up a car full of young Albanian men is now being challenged point by point

BRITISH PARATROOPERS may face murder charges in Kosovo for riddling a carload of young Albanian men with gunfire eight days ago. A decision on charges will be made by Kosovan prosecutors appointed by the United Nations mission in Kosovo.

The incident, which left two KLA fighters dead and two Albanian civilians seriously wounded, has caused anger in the capital, Pristina, and undermined goodwill towards Nato forces. The official version says a patrol from 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, opened fire because they believed their lives were being endangered by celebratory firing into the air by a man on the car roof. The Paras were said to have been protecting frightened Serbian civilians sheltering in a nearby building.

But witnesses and survivors of the shooting cast doubt on this. The Independent on Sunday found the British soldiers actively pursued the car, which was moving away from them, and from the frightened Serbian civilians, when the fatal shots were fired. Witnesses said a man on its roof was firing vertically at the time, but similar "happy firing" had been going on for hours with the acquiescence and even encouragement of British soldiers on patrol.

No apparent attempt was made to stop the car or peacefully to disarm the Kosovars, none of whom was in uniform, they said. In the atmosphere of noisy celebration, the warning shots fired by the Paras were not heard by the men in the car. And, rather than simply taking out the single man firing the weapon, the soldiers sprayed the car. "They were shot through the back without knowing what hit them," said an Albanian woman who saw the killings. "No question about it: this was an execution."

The tragedy happened early last Saturday after three hours of jubilant celebration in Pristina. The previous day was the ninth anniversary of Kosovan Albanians' "declaration of independence", a refusal to acknowledge the authority of Serbia. "It was the first time we had been able to celebrate that day, and it was a sign of our freedom," said 24-year-old survivor Naser Bici, who was driving.

The celebrations started at 9pm as thousands of young Albanians gathered in the city centre, drinking, dancing and chanting independence slogans. For hours, there were constant bursts of automatic fire as KLA youths triggered AK-47s into the air, in breach of the disarmament agreement between Nato K-For troops and the KLA. "We passed lots of patrols before, and we didn't have any trouble with the soldiers," said Naser. "They celebrated with us."

Shortly before midnight, Naser drove with his 19-year-old brother, Fahri, their cousins, Driton, Skender and Muhamet Bici, and a friend, Avni Dudi, along the dual carriageway called Ramiz Sadiku, close to the former Serb Executive Council building where some 50 Serbs were sheltering. One report said the Paras who opened fire were accompanying a senior Parachute Regiment officer visiting Serbian leaders.

A senior Nato source said last week: "If these Serbs had been killed by the Albanians, then you ... would all be complaining that we weren't doing our job. We're damned if we do and damned if we don't." But a reconstruction of the event could suggest the Paras may have created a violent incident.

The Astra had driven past the building repeatedly, with Fahri Bici sitting on the roof firing into the air, without any reaction from the Paras. Shortly after midnight it turned round for a fourth time and weaved through the crowds on Ramiz Sadiku. Naser Bici picked up another cousin, Isak Berisha, and continued south, in the opposite direction from the Serb Executive Council building.

Suddenly, three Paras began running through the crowds toward the centre of the junction. An American journalist, who asked not to be identified, was sitting on a car parked nearby. "I saw the boy with the gun firing from the top of the roof, and then I saw him fall back," he said. "It was noisy, it was dark, the streets were unlit. There was no way they could know what was going on." The official press release speaks of "aimed shots" fired at the vehicle. But it is clear the car was sprayed with heavy fire. Young Isak Berisha had been in the car for little more than a minute when three bullets passed through his leg, one through his arm, and one through his back, where a sixth bullet remains, pending further surgery. Avni Dudi died in hospital. The youth on the car roof, Fahri Bici, died almost immediately. Muhamet Bici survives, but he lost his lower jaw and part of his upper lip.

In the chaotic aftermath, British troops surrounded the vehicle and sealed off the road. "People were trying to help the boys, and some KLA guys were trying to calm their people down and keep order," said the American journalist. "But the soldiers were being aggressive, pointing their guns in people's faces, and saying, `Get back or I'll shoot your f---ing head off!'"

The Special Investigations Bureau (SIB), the military CID, has started a murder investigation, but this could take months.

For the friends and relatives of the dead men, the wait is agonising. In Albanian Muslim tradition, funerals should take place within 24 hours, but the families of Fahri Bici and Avni Dudi have not been able even to see the bodies of their two sons, which are being kept by K-For, awaiting autopsy by a British pathologist.

"If this was not murder I don't know what else to call it," said Fahri's uncle, Sabit Bici. "And now, with the waiting, they are killing all of us every day."

The Para spokesman could not be reached for comment, but Major Jan Joosten of K-For said the soldiers "felt their lives were in danger and they had the right to defend themselves. They behaved very well and very professionally as well-trained soldiers." But one Para was overheard to remark: "This was not minimal force, was it?"

KLA leaders emphasise their gratitude to Nato for the liberation and express as much sadness as anger over the shooting. "We don't look at them as enemies, we look on each of them as one of us," said Potera Ajet, commander of the dead men. "But when I think of all the battles I have been through with these two, it is a great tragedy they should have been killed on a day of celebration like this."

News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape