Police anti-terrorism unit chief Petar Knezevic has been grilled over reports that he mulled using violent crime gangs to crush last September’s protests against a Serbian Orthodox Church ceremony.

Montenegro’s Anti-Terror Chief Denies Ties to Crime Groups

Head of Montenegrin Police Anti-terrorist Unit Petar Knezevic (right) with former Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic (left) in Podgorica. Photo: Government of Montenegro

Montenegro’s Special State Prosecution on Wednesday questioned Petar Knezevic, head of the Police’s Anti-terrorist Unit, after media reports claimed he cooperated with members of criminal groups over the handling last September of protests against a Serbian Orthodox Church ceremony.

On May 1, media published audio recordings of Knezevic’s private conversations with an unknown person in which he talks about his communications with criminal group members who offered to crush protests against the enthronement of the new Serbian Orthodox Church metropolitan in Cetinje.

“During interrogation, Knezevic claimed that the recording had been edited in order to discredit and compromise him, due to the fact that he was a high-ranking police officer who participated in the police operation during the Metropolitan Joanikije enthronement,” his lawyer, Drazen Medojevic, told the daily Vijesti.

Last September, violence erupted in the old royal capital of Cetinje after opposition supporters and self-declared patriots clashed with police, trying to stop the enthronement of Metropolitan Joanikije at Cetinje Monastery.

The protesters claimed the installation of the Serbian bishop insulted Montenegro’s struggle for independence from Serbia, to which it was united after World War I until 2006.

Police removed roadblocks that they erected near Cetinje to stop clerics from Serbia reaching the town for the ceremony. The Serbian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch, Porfirije, and Metropolitan Joanikije, were airlifted into Cetinje in army helicopters.

Knezevic was one of the police officers who organised the Serbian Orthodox Church leaders’ transport into the town.

But on May 1, a civic activist, Aleksandar Sasa Zekovic, forwarded recordings of Knezevic’s conversations to the media and prosecution, claiming he got them by email from an unknown sender.

In those recordings, Knezevic could be heard saying that crime gangs from the towns of Niksic, Bar, Herceg Novi, Bijelo Polje and Berane were ready to crush the anti-Serb protesters in Cetinje if need be.

“I had all those criminals on the phone. They said: ‘We are ready. If they [the protesters] don’t let the Patriarch go [on the enthronement], we will go to Cetinje and burn it down”, Knezevic was heard saying on the recordings.

The now ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, which supported the protests, called on authorities to prosecute Knezevic.

But new Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said some political parties, presumably the DPS, were using the recordings to put pressure on the police leadership.

“If someone’s tendency is to try to criminalize the entire Police Directorate and the security sector, I think they are on the wrong path,” Abazovic said on Wednesday.

In September last year, the government launched an investigation into police management of the protests in Cetinje, alleging that some police officials had hesitated to act against the protesters. The investigation’s report was never published.

At the time, then Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic and the two largest ruling blocs, the Democratic Front and Peace is Our Nation, called for Interior Minister Sergej Sekulovic and Police Chief Zoran Brdjanin to be dismissed, accusing them of refusing to protect the Serbian Church ceremony. Sekulovic and Brdjanin rejected the criticism of their conduct.

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