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2 Mormon missionaries OK after attack in Kosovo; suspected assailants arrested

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 13 2013 5:10 p.m. MST

A minaret is seen through American and Kosovo flags that decorate the streets of Kosovo's capital Pristina, Wednesday, May 20, 2009. Two LDS missionaries are recovering after a Nov. 3 attack in Kosovo. Two of six ethnic Albanians arrested Nov. 5 on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack are also suspected of attacking the missionaries.

Visar Kryeziu, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two suspected terrorists are being held in Kosovo after a Nov. 3 attack on two American women serving as missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Six men were arrested Nov. 5 in connection with an alleged terrorist plot "inspired by extreme Islamist ideology." Two of the six are suspects in the investigation of the attack on the LDS missionaries, a senior police official involved with the investigation told the Associated Press.

The attack took place in Pristina, Kosovo's capital.

“We can confirm two sister missionaries were beaten in Kosovo and have been moved out of the area," LDS Church spokeswoman Ruth Todd said in a statement Wednesday. "Gratefully they are making a full recovery."

After being treated in Pristina, the two women reportedly left Kosovo to return to the mission home about three hours away in Tirana, Albania. The women are part of the Adriatic South Mission, which includes Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia.

The LDS Church has had a small number of missionaries in Pristina for two years now, according to a lengthy story published last year by Religion & Politics in which the mission president and missionaries cooperated. The story described how most Kosovars love the United States; a statue of Bill Clinton greets people in Pristina.

A seventh suspect in the terrorist plot remains at large. All are ethnic Albanians.

The vast majority of Kosovo's population, 92 percent, are ethnic Albanians, according to the CIA World Factbook, and most are Muslim.

Kosovar authorities have grown increasingly worried about the rise of extremism in a country with a strong presence of NATO peacekeepers, including hundreds of U.S. troops. Authorities had followed the cell for three months after intercepting a call allegedly plotting an attack with another person of Kosovo descent in an unnamed European country, said the police official, who is part of a team that deals with terrorist threats.

Four of the suspects were arrested in a park in Pristina by undercover police agents posing as weapons dealers, the police official said. Another suspect was arrested in central Pristina and the sixth in the eastern town of Gnjilane. It was unclear whether a target had been identified and what the men intended to do with the weapons they were buying.

A sniper rifle, handguns and material for making an improvised explosive device were found in suspects' houses, according to the police official.

A justice official said the suspects had been watched by video surveillance, phone tapping and email monitoring, but gave no further details because of the ongoing investigation. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Though the country of 2 million is overwhelmingly secular, ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and neighboring Macedonia have been linked with terror plots in the United States, including a foiled bombing last year in Tampa, Fla., and a 2007 attack on military personnel at Fort Dix in New Jersey.

Around 150 ethnic Albanians are believed to have joined foreign fighters battling the forces of Syria's President Bashar Assad and some 12 are believed to have been killed there.

The arrest warrant seen by AP said the seven individuals — identified as Genc Selimi, Nuredin Sylejmani, Valon Shala, Adrian Mehmeti, Musli Hyseni, Bekim Mulalli and Fidan Demolli — are suspected of "preparing a terrorist act against the safety and constitutional order" in Kosovo.

The six will be detained for a month as the prosecution gathers evidence to bring formal charges. On Tuesday local media said police and justice officials received an email threatening to launch "painful attacks" on police if they do not release the suspects.

A defense attorney for Sylejmani said his client denied all charges. It was not immediately clear who represents the other suspects.

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

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