European Times - Zagreb: Trail of killings as underworld fights for supremacy in Croatia

FATE DEALT the Croatian businessman known as the "king of poker machines" a good hand on the day that a rocket-propelled grenade bounced off his four-wheel drive vehicle while it was parked in downtown Zagreb.

It was the fourth assassination attempt on a man with deadly enemies, and again it failed. But the grenade ricocheted off the car and exploded near Zoran Domini, an innocent passer-by, taking his life as another victim of the gangland wars that now plague the Croatian capital.

Mr Domini, 36, was the second person to die recently in the mafia wars erupting across Zagreb's Habsburg-era tree-lined streets and squares. Beneath the city's veneer of civilisation, and its Austro-Hungarian architectural splendours, rival gangs, many with links to international organised crime, are fighting a deadly turf war for control of gambling and prostitution rackets. The other victim, Damir Dzeba, 30, a Bosnian-born underworld figure, died in a hail of machine-gun bullets in front of a Zagreb cafe last month.

The mob wars have come at a particularly bad time for Croatia. The world's spotlight is on the Croatian capital as the country's authoritarian nationalist President, Franjo Tudjman, lies, possibly dying, in hospital. There is an atmosphere of deep political uncertainty as the battle for the succession is played out in Zagreb's corridors of power.

The prize is high indeed. More than anyone else, the former general with Tito's partisans built up this nation perched on the fault-line dividing mittel-Europa from the Balkans. President Tudjman and his officials repeatedly espoused what they saw as their Western democratic credentials, but, apart from Serbia, nowhere else in the region were the interests of party, state and president welded so seamlessly together.

In a fine display of the government's determination to crack down on organised crime, neatly choreographed both for the television cameras and the electorate who go to the polls on 3 January to choose a new government, Croatian police sealed off border crossings and set up road-blocks as they arrested nine alleged mobsters. Interpol assisted in the investigation as weapons, explosives and forged documents were seized.

High-level security measures were in force as the nine handcuffed suspects were taken from the police headquarters in the centre of town to the courthouse.

Each suspect was flanked by police officers wearing balaclava helmets and flak-jackets, while dozens more officers, armed with AK-47s, sealed off the route - scanning the rooftops for any sign of accomplices who might try to spring them.

Zagreb's police chief, Jakob Bukvic, said those arrested would be charged with conspiring to form a criminal organisation, at least one murder and two attempted murders. The gang's alleged leader was named only as Nikica J, born in 1962.

The arrests of alleged gangsters sent a message to the population that the ship of state was being steered firmly on course. But while the arrests are a blow to organised crime, they will not eradicate its power and influence. There have been at least 22 mafia-style killings in Zagreb since 1991, 20 of which remain unsolved, according to the Croatian press. As in most of the former Yugoslavia, weapons are easy to obtain. Guns and grenade launchers are usually brought in from neighbouring Bosnia, and there is no shortage of former soldiers willing to fight in the mafia wars that have replaced the nationalist conflicts. Many of Zagreb's kingpins of crime fought as soldiers or paramilitaries in Croatia or Bosnia.

Among the nine arrested were suspects believed to be linked to the rocket attack that killed Zoran Domini. The Croatian newspaper Vecernji List said police hoped to solve at least four mafia killings with the arrests, including the murder of Ivan Sokota in 1997. Like Damir Dzeba, Ivan Sokota was killed in front of a Zagreb cafe. Mr Sokota, aged 24, knew he was a marked man, and even wore a bulletproof vest for protection. But that did not save him. His killer, believed to be a professional hitman, shot him through the armpit, where the vest did not reach.

Other mysterious events add to the uneasy atmosphere in Zagreb. Two US citizens recently had their homes broken into, and the US State Department said it suspected the Croatian government may have been involved.

One of the houses was the home of a US diplomat. It was ransacked while she and her children were away, but it appears that nothing was taken. She has since left Croatia, ahead of the scheduled end of her tour of duty. The other incident occurred at the home of a woman representing the National Democratic Institute, a pro-democracy group.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker