- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

DEBAR, Macedonia — Three Muslim brothers who are accused of plotting to kill soldiers at a U.S. Army base have roots in one of Europe’s most pro-American corners — a region that remains grateful to the United States for ending the Kosovo war.

Dritan Duka, 28, Shain Duka, 26, and Eljvir Duka, 23,who were arrested in New Jersey last week in what U.S. authorities said was a bungled scheme to blow up and fatally shoot soldiers at Fort Dix, were born in Debar, a remote town on Macedonia’s rugged border with Albania.

Relatives in the ethnic Albanian-populated town of 15,000 said they had not seen the brothers in more than two decades but expressed disbelief that the three would attack the United States.

“We all have been supporters of America. We were always thankful to America for its support during the wars in Kosovo and Macedonia,” said a cousin, Elez Duka, 29.

“These are simple, ordinary people, and they’ve got nothing to do with terrorism. I expect their release, and I expect an apology,” he said, waving his hands. “I see injustice. These are ridiculous charges.”

His indignation captured the mood among Muslims in Macedonia, Albania and the Kosovo region of Serbia — places that have repeatedly expressed gratitude to the United States for intervening in the 1998-99 Kosovo war and a 2001 ethnic conflict that pushed Macedonia to the brink of civil war.

Albania was among the first countries to answer Washington’s call for troops to help support U.S.-led military offensives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, which many expect to gain independence from Serbia later this year, U.S. flags are commonplace. The main avenue is Bill Clinton Boulevard, renamed to honor the president who ordered air strikes that halted Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s brutal crackdown in the province.

Like many Europeans, ethnic Albanians staged a big demonstration after the U.S. led the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but theirs was a pro-America rally, not an anti-war protest.

In and out of Debar, people struggled to reconcile those feelings with the indictment of the three brothers and a fourth ethnic-Albanian suspect, Agron Abdullahu, 24. Two other men also were arrested: Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, 22, a Palestinian born in Jordan, and Serdar Tatar, 23, born in Turkey.

It was not clear whether Mr. Abdullahu also came from Debar, but U.S. authorities said he served as a sniper during the Kosovo war, which pitted ethnic Albanian separatists against Serbian troops loyal to Mr. Milosevic.

U.S. authorities have not given details of the suspected plot or said whether a date had been set for an attack. They said only that the accused were training and buying weapons.

Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku wrote a letter to the U.S. mission in Pristina last week expressing the “extraordinary feeling that Kosovo’s people have for the U.S.”

Mr. Ceku also denounced what he called “the disgusting idea” that Albanians could be involved in an attack “against a nation that has been very generous so far.”

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