A suicide attacker blew himself up after throwing an explosive device into the U.S. embassy compound in Podgorica, the Montenegrin government said Thursday.
Authorities in Podgorica have not released any theories as to the motive for the early morning attack in Montenegro, which recently joined NATO.
”In front of the @USEmbassyMNE building in #Podgorica, #Montenegro an unknown person committed suicide with an explosive device. Immediately before, that person threw an explosive device,” the government tweeted, saying the device was most probably a hand grenade.
It said the attacker threw the device into the U.S. embassy compound from an intersection near a sports centre.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson confirmed a small explosion near the U.S. Embassy compound saying officials were working closely with police to identify the assailant(s).
Montenegro’s main daily paper Vijesti identified the attacker as a 43-year-old man born in neighbouring Serbia but who was living in Podgorica.
It also published a picture, apparently from his Facebook page, showing an award he won for his service in the Yugoslav army in 1999, which was signed by the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
That was the year in which NATO struck Serbia to end the Kosovo war. In 2006, Montenegro declared independence and has espoused pro-Western policies ever since.
Police said the explosion inside the embassy’s courtyard had left a crater, but that there was no other damage to the embassy’s property.
On its Twitter account, the embassy said all its staff were safe and accounted for but it cancelled all visa services for the day, although access was available for U.S. citizens on an emergency basis.
A guard at the sports centre who asked not to be named said he heard two explosions, one after another.
“Police came very quickly and the body of a man was taken away,” he said.
The heavily-secured embassy building is located on the outskirts of Podgorica’s city centre, near the secret police headquarters and the Moraca river.
Montenegro, a small Adriatic state of some 660,000 people, joined NATO last May. The decision to become a member provoked violent protests by the pro-Russian opposition in 2015.
In October 2016, authorities said they had thwarted a plot by pro-Russian militants to storm parliament and oust the pro-Western government on the eve of general elections.
Authorities alleged that Russian state bodies were involved in the conspiracy, which they said was aimed at preventing Montenegro from joining NATO.
In October 2011, the US embassy in Sarajevo in neighbouring Bosnia was the target of a militant attack.
An Islamist, Mevlid Jasarevic opened fire with an automatic rifle at the embassy building, wounding a police officer. He was also injured in the exchange of fire and arrested.
Jasarevic was later sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment.
According to figures published in November by a regional thinktank, a thousand people from the Western Balkans have gone to join jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq since 2012.
Twenty-three of those were from Montenegro, whose population is predominantly Orthodox Christian.
Last month, a court in Montenegro for the first time sentenced one of its citizens for having fought in Syria.
Hamid Beharovic was found guilty of fighting for Islamic State group between April 2015 and May 2016. He was given a six-month jail term.