Operation Labrador

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Operation Labrador
Part of the Croatian War of Independence
Zagreb on a map of Croatia
Type Bombing
Location Zagreb, Croatia
45°48′42″N 15°58′54″E / 45.81154°N 15.981672°E / 45.81154; 15.981672Coordinates: 45°48′42″N 15°58′54″E / 45.81154°N 15.981672°E / 45.81154; 15.981672
Target Jewish Community Centre and Jewish graves at the Mirogoj Cemetery
Date 19 August 1991
Executed by Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Yugoslav Air Force's Counterintelligence Service
Casualties None

Operation Labrador was a false flag operation carried out by the Yugoslav Air Force's Counterintelligence Service (KOS) in the Croatian capital city of Zagreb during the early stages of the Croatian War of Independence. It was devised as a series of terrorist attacks carried out in order to discredit Croatia, by making it appear a pro-fascist state. Two attacks were carried out on 19 August 1991—against the Jewish Community Centre and Jewish graves at the Mirogoj Cemetery. There were no casualties in the two bombings. Additional attacks targeted the national railway network, and were made to appear as if ordered by the Croatian President. Operation Labrador was complemented by Operation Opera—a propaganda campaign devised by the KOS to feed disinformation to the media.

Further activities of Operation Labrador were abandoned in September, after Croatian authorities captured the Yugoslav Air Force regional headquarters in Zagreb, and confiscated documents related to the operation. Since the authorities took nearly a month to interpret the captured documents, the principal agents involved in the bombings fled. Fifteen were arrested in connection with the attack, but they were released in a prisoner exchange. Five KOS agents involved in Operation Labrador were tried in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on terrorism charges and acquitted. Croatian authorities captured two KOS agents who were part of the operation and tried them along with seven other agents who were tried in absentia. The agents who were in custody during the trial were acquitted, while the trials in absentia resulted in convictions.

The existence of Operation Labrador was confirmed through testimony of a former KOS agent, Major Mustafa Čandić, during the trial of Slobodan Milošević at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 2002.

Background

In August 1990, an insurrection took place in Croatia centred on the predominantly Serb-populated areas of the Dalmatian hinterland around the city of Knin,1 as well as in parts of the Lika, Kordun, and Banovina regions, and settlements in eastern Croatia with significant Serb populations.2 The areas were subsequently named SAO Krajina (Serb Autonomous Oblast) and, after declaring SAO Krajina's intention to integrate with Serbia, the Government of Croatia declared SAO Krajina to be a rebellion.3 By March 1991, the conflict had escalated into the Croatian War of Independence.4 In June 1991, Croatia declared its independence as Yugoslavia disintegrated.5 A three-month moratorium followed,6 after which the decision came into effect on 8 October.7 The SAO Krajina, renamed Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) on 19 December, then initiated a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Croatian civilians.8

As the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) increasingly supported the SAO Krajina and the Croatian Police was unable to cope with the situation, the Croatian National Guard (ZNG) was formed in May 1991.9 The development of the military of Croatia was hampered by a UN arms embargo introduced in September,10 while the military conflict in Croatia continued to escalate.11 The JNA maintained substantial forces in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, throughout 1991.12

Bombings

Palmotićeva Street in Zagreb

In August 1991, the Yugoslav Air Force's Counterintelligence Service (KOS) executed a series of activities, codenamed Operation Labrador, aimed at discrediting Croatia. Operation Labrador was planned to consist of several terrorist attacks intended to complement the activities of Operation Opera—a propaganda campaign devised to feed disinformation to the media. The two operations put together were meant to portray Croatia as a pro-fascist state.13 An alternative name for Operation Opera was Operation Opera-Orijentalis,14 or Operation Opera Orientalis.15

Operation Labrador was headed by Colonel General Slobodan Rakočević, head of the Yugoslav Air Force branch of the KOS, based in Zemun.1617 In Zagreb, operational control of Labrador was assigned to Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Sabolović,18 and Major Čedo Knežević.16 Lieutenant Colonel Radenko Radojčić was tasked with storage of a substantial quantity of explosives in Zagreb and its surrounding area, as well as planting of explosive devices.1419 The explosives and some weapons were stored at several sites.20

On 19 August, the Jewish Community Centre in Palmotićeva Street in Zagreb,21 and Jewish graves at the Mirogoj Cemetery, were bombed as a part of Operation Labrador.22 The explosions caused damage, but there were no casualties. There were no public claims of responsibility for the attack.23 Besides the two explosions in Zagreb, agents assigned to Operation Labrador are considered to be responsible for bombing of the Zagreb–Belgrade railway near Vinkovci and a railway line between Glina and Vojnić.14 The railway attacks are alternatively associated with Operation Opera.24

Aftermath

In the immediate aftermath of the bombings in Zagreb, Josip Manolić, who had just been appointed head of the Croatian intelligence service, claimed Croatian right-wing extremists were responsible.14 Operation Labrador was apparently abandoned after the ZNG and the Croatian police captured the Yugoslav Air Force headquarters in Zagreb on 15 September, during the Battle of the Barracks. The materials captured inside the facility included codes and computer disks related to Operation Labrador, as well as Sabolović's notes. Sabolović turned the materials over to his immediate superior at the headquarters, Mirko Martić, but Martić failed to destroy them. In response, Sabolović fled Zagreb. Nonetheless, Croatian police took almost a month to interpret the captured materials properly and uncover Operation Labrador.18 Sabolović later claimed that only a part of Operation Labrador network was dismantled,25 but he was contradicted by KOS Major Mustafa Čandić who was posted at the Zemun headquarters of KOS.1626

In the autumn of 1991, Croatian intelligence services launched Operation Janissary (Operacija Janjičar) aimed at dismantling the remaining KOS network in Croatia. The operation was a joint operation of all Croatian intelligence services. It was authorised by Ivan Vekić and Gojko Šušak, then interior and defence ministers, and initially headed by Josip Perković.27 Fifteen were arrested by the end of 1991, and then exchanged for Anton Kikaš, who was captured by the JNA while smuggling a plane-load of weapons to Croatia.28 The operation also produced a list of suspected KOS operatives in Croatia containing 1,789 names and pseudonyms.27

Rakočević, Sabolović, Radojčić and two other former KOS agents were tried in Belgrade in 1993. The five were charged with instigation to terrorism and other charges, but all were acquitted.29 Radojčić was arrested again in Zagreb in late 1993.27 The second Trial of Radojčić and eight other persons charged in connection with Operations Labrador and Opera, held in Zagreb, ended with the acquittal of Radojčić and Ratomir Mažibrada, who were in custody, and convictions of seven remaining defendants tried in absentia.28

Testifying at the Trial of Slobodan Milošević at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 2002, Čandić stated that all Operation Labrador agents left Zagreb and took the remaining documents away with them. He also said that the KOS had an extensive network of informants within Croatian intelligence services and the ruling Croatian Democratic Union in 1991. Čandić also testified that the railway bombing near Vinkovci was meant to be seen as if ordered by then Croatian President Franjo Tuđman.30

Bomb damage to the Jewish Community Centre was repaired in February–September 1992,21 using government funds.31

Footnotes

References

Books, scientific and professional journals
News reports
International, governmental, and NGO sources

External links








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