Non-Muslim non-terrorist attack on the American Embassy in Podgorica

The US Embassy in Podgorica

On late Wednesday night, 21 February 2018, a man threw a hand grenade at the United States Embassy in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica, a heavily guarded building located on the outskirts of city center, near the Morača River and the headquarters of Secret Police. An attacker then blew himself up, accidentally or intentionally, using another explosive device. A guard at a nearby sports center said he "heard two explosions, one after another." The US Embassy was closed at the time of the attack, so local media reported that no one else was hurt and that there was no significant damage to the building's compound. The Montenegrin Police closed access roads around the embassy and sealed off the area. Security officials have swept the grounds and found no other threats.

The Government of Montenegro wrote on its Twitter account on early Thursday morning that "the prosecutor is directing the police investigation and the (process of) identification." The American embassy warned its citizens to the area: "The US Embassy in Podgorica advises US citizens there is an active security situation at the US Embassy in Podgorica, avoid the embassy until further notice." The embassy also said it had cancelled all visa services for Thursday, adding that access for US citizens "will be available today on an emergency basis." Employees were told to stay at home on Thursday, it added. A US State Department spokesperson confirmed "a small explosion near the US Embassy compound" saying officials were "working closely with police to identify the assailant(s)."

Immediately after the news was published in the media, many on social networks engaged in speculation about the identity of the attacker, with most of them assuming that it was a "Muslim extremist." Everything made perfect sense to them: a bomb attack, a suicide, an American embassy in the country surrounded by three Muslim-majority countries...

Attacker identified

In the early afternoon of that Thursday, the Montenegrin Police hold a press conference and identified the person who threw an explosive device by his initials (D.J.), but did not name him. He was a citizen of Podgorica, but originally a Serbian national born in 1976 in Kraljevo, the city in today's Republic of Serbia, and was not registered as a perpetrator of criminal offenses. The Police Authority confirmed that a flat of the person identified as an attacker was searched and that detailed information cannot be disclosed in order to protect the investigation. The press conference also stressed that the Prosecutor's Office and the Police are taking active measures and actions in order to determine the motive of this act, which is currently unknown, and that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is involved in the investigation.

The local media further identified D.J. as Dalibor Jauković, a 42-year-old who lived in Podgorica together with his brother and mother. It was a brother who identified him during the autopsy. Photos posted on what appears to be his Facebook profile include an award that he won for service in the Yugoslav Army in 1999 that seems to be signed by the late Serbian president Slobodan Milošević. There was no immediate official confirmation of his military past or awards. Jauković wrote "No to NATO" in a May 2017 Facebook post. The investigation indicates that the attacker first activated an M75 hand grenade, but he did not actually attempt suicide and was accidentally killed due to the premature activation of the second bomb, also intended for the embassy. The man's military past could explain why he had a grenade, which was identified as a Yugoslav-era weapon.

While the motive of this act officially still remain unknown, it is evident that the assailant is a Serbian nationalist who strongly opposed the US policy. Seventy-eight days of the US-led NATO air strikes against Serbia brought to an end the war in Kosovo in 1999, when Montenegro was still part of Yugoslavia. Montenegro became the 29th country to join the NATO military alliance in May 2017, a step that was bitterly criticized by almost half of Montenegrins who advocate closer ties with Belgrade and Moscow.

Multiple double standards

According to a report by Montenegro's Higher State Prosecution, which is leading the investigation, there is no indication that the attack was a terrorism. The US officials also avoided the use of the term "terrorism" when giving statements to the media. This leads to an endless discussion on the definition of terrorism and the lack of an universal agreement on its wording. How does this attack differ from the one in 2011 when the US Embassy in Sarajevo was attacked by Mevlid Jašarević? Both attackers acted alone, both held the same view about the United States and their hegemonic policies, both found the motive to commit an individual act in propaganda pamphlets and online video material, and both caused no deaths. The only difference between the two attack is that the perpetrator of first one was a Muslim. More precisely, he was a radical Salafi from the well-known Wahhabi stronghold of Gornja Maoča, a village in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Of course, his attack was called as terrorist in the media, but he was not described as a "Salafi terrorist" or "Wahhabi terrorist", the emphasis was on the term "Muslim."

The unbalanced approach by the Western mainstream media is also seen in covering the recent attack on North Korean building in Japan. Just a day after the incident in Montenegro, two Japanese right-wing extremists were firing shots at a Tokyo building that serves as a de facto embassy for North Korea. There were no casualties in the attack, which only damaged the gate of the facility, but it marked a rare incident of gun violence in a nation that prides itself on strict weapons controls and street safety. A spokesman for Tokyo Metropolitan Police said perpetrators were arrested on the spot, adding that no one was injured. Although almost identical in nature, the attack in Tokyo passed largely unreported.

Marko Knežević

Marko Knežević is a historian and freelance journalist from Bar, Montenegro. He is a frequent traveller to the Middle East and East Asia.