Despite Security Push, Rioters Torch Embassy in Belgrade; Kosovo Support Costs U.S

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 22, 2008 | Go to article overview

Despite Security Push, Rioters Torch Embassy in Belgrade; Kosovo Support Costs U.S


Byline: Simon Roughneen, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

PRISTINA, Kosovo - A torched U.S. Embassy building in Belgrade became the latest target of Serbian anger yesterday, as the United States faced growing consequences of its support for Kosovo's independence.

Despite billions of dollars spent on security upgrades in the decade since al Qaeda bombed two embassies in Africa - including $1 billion budgeted for 2008 - rioters managed to break into an outer embassy building in Belgrade and set it ablaze to cheers from rioting mobs outside.

Embassies have been either rebuilt or reinforced with multiple security barriers whenever possible.

Congress has backed the effort, with funds for construction, a worldwide guard force and security staffing for more than 1,300 personnel deployed worldwide to protect U.S. staff and facilities, according to a House Appropriations Committee report in June.

Even before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, $3.5 billion already was budgeted for U.S. Embassy security upgrades and the amount has continued to grow.

Whether the investment paid off in Belgrade yesterday will be determined in a "forensic investigation" promised by the U.S. State Department yesterday.

A charred body was later found in the embassy, prompting a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman to assure Agence France-Presse it was not that of a staff member.

"Yes, we can confirm that the body was found in part of the embassy that was set on fire," Rian Harris said.

"But we are sure it is not of any embassy staff member. All embassy staff are accounted for," she added.

The violence was not unexpected, but the absence of Serbian police on streets outside the compound puzzled some onlookers.

The embassy had been closed for the day in anticipation that a planned protest, which drew at least 150,000 demonstrators during the day, would turn violent.

No one was inside the compound's consular building shortly after 7 p.m., when rioters donned black ski masks, tore a handrail off the entrance and used it as a battering ram to gain entry.

Once inside, they threw furniture, flares and Molotov cocktails, with television cameras recording every moment.

But rioters never made it past the Marine post, known in diplomatic security jargon as the "hard line," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.

"They breached the outer walls and one of the outer doors," he said, but the main chancery building remained secure.

The neighboring Croatian Embassy also was targeted by the same group of protesters, and smaller groups attacked police posts outside the Turkish and British embassies in another part of the city but were beaten back.

The daytime demonstration was mostly peaceful and most participants had gone home by the time darkness fell.

The AP reported that firefighters and police didn't appear for at least 45 minutes, and Mr. …

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Despite Security Push, Rioters Torch Embassy in Belgrade; Kosovo Support Costs U.S
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