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    Assailant Dies After Attack On U.S. Embassy In Montenegro

    An assailant threw an explosive device at the U.S. Embassy in Montenegro before blowing himself outside the compound in an attack in the middle of the night, the Balkan country’s government says.

    A U.S. official said nobody at the embassy was injured in the attack in the capital, Podgorica, which the government said occurred at 12:30 a.m. on February 22.

    “An unknown person committed suicide with an explosive device,” the government tweeted in English. “Immediately before, that person threw an explosive device from the intersection near the Sport Center into the U.S. embassy compound.”

    The device thrown at the embassy was “most likely” a hand grenade, the government said. It said police were investigating the incident and seeking to identify the attacker and determine his motives.

    Eyewitnesses saw the assailant throw an object over the wall of the embassy compound, according to Steve Goldstein, the U.S. State Department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.

    Goldstein said the man who set off the blast was killed but that there were no injuries among staff at the embassy, which was closed for the night, The New York Times reported.

    The embassy building was not damaged and diplomatic security officials who swept the grounds found no other explosives, Goldstein said.

    The spot where the government said the attacker was standing when he threw the device is close to the embassy compound but not within throwing distance of the main embassy building.

    Earlier, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Twitter that there was a “small explosion” near the U.S. Embassy compound at around midnight and the embassy was seeking to confirm the safety of all its staff.

    Embassy officials were seeking to confirm the safety of all staff and “working closely with police to identify the assailant(s),” Nauert said.

    Goldstein said the State Department did not know what the motive for the assault was or whether it was meant to be a suicide attack.

    The man’s body was taken for an autopsy, state prosecutor Tanja Colan Deretic said.

    Residents in the area heard two explosions, local media reported.

    The embassy canceled all services on February 22 and issued a security alert warning U.S. citizens to stay away until further notice.

    “The U.S. Embassy in Podgorica advises U.S. citizens there is an active security situation at the U.S. Embassy in Podgorica,” it said on its website. “Avoid the embassy until further notice.”

    It also advised Americans to avoid large gatherings in the capital and monitor local media for updates on the situation.

    Montenegro, the smallest former Yugoslav republic, became the 29th country to join the NATO military alliance in May 2017, a step that was bitterly criticized by Russia and opposed by some Montenegrins who advocate closer ties with Moscow.

    The attack came as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in neighboring Serbia on a two-day visit to the country, which is juggling its close, warm ties with Moscow with an effort to join the European Union.

    Russia and the United States have accused each other of stoking tension in the Balkans, a flashpont of animus between the two countries — as well as some cooperation — during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and in their wake.

    The incident in Podgorica came exactly 10 years after demonstrators attacked the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade and set part of it on fire amid large protests over Kosovo’s strongly U.S.-supported declaration of independence from Serbia.

    There was no immediate indication of any link.

    Montenegro became an independent state after a majority of its citizens voted in May 2006 to split with Serbia instead of maintaining a union with its larger neighbor.

    The Adriatic coastal country of 640,000 is also seeking to join the EU, which has indicated that both Serbia and Montenegro may gain entry by 2025 if they fulfill conditions.

    Montenegro has traditionally warm ties with Russia, but its relations with Moscow were strained by its accession to the Western military alliance.

    The government has accused several Serbian and Russian citizens of plotting a coup in 2016 parliamentary elections, claiming they planned to assassinate the prime minister and install a pro-Russian leadership to halt Montenegro’s bid to join NATO.

    The Kremlin has denied claims that “Russian state bodies” were involved in the alleged plot.

    rferl.org

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