Reporter: Elizabeth Tadic In villages across the Punjab region in Pakistan, families are in mourning for young men who will never be coming home.
MOTHER (TRANSLATION): My child...if I had known, Id never have allowed you to go!
FATHER (TRANSLATION): They have killed my son! Oh, my child!
MAN (Sings) (TRANSLATION): In one second my whole world was destroyed and I didnt even know that my life was ruined.
The men had set out on a long and dangerous journey to Europe in search of work, but, bizarrely, ended up as innocent victims in the war on terror.
FATIMA (TRANSLATION): My son was sacrificed. Oh, my son! He was so good.
Fatima is one of seven grieving mothers. She says her son Ijaz was on his way to Greece to find work so he could send some money home.
FATIMA, MOTHER OF IJAZ (TRANSLATION): He said "Pray for me, mother. I will get treatment. Well buy land and build a hospital in your name. Well build a house, get the brothers married, well call them to Europe."
But Ijaz never made it. In March 2002, he, along with six others, was gunned down by police in the Balkan state of Macedonia. Macedonian television reported that the seven men were terrorists on their way to attack Western embassies.
MACEDONIAN TELEVISION (TRANSLATION): Around 4am a police patrol noticed a group in a van that stopped at Rastanski Lozja, 10km north of Skopje. Despite a warning, the seven men did not stop but instead began firing at four policemen in the police jeep. In the shoot-out, all seven terrorists were killed.
According to the then minister of the interior, Ljube Boskovski, the government had struck a blow in the war on terror.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI, FORMER MACEDONIAN MINISTER OF INTERIOR (TRANSLATION): Their intention was to launch terrorist attacks against the most influential and important embassies and officials of this country, including at government level.
MACEDONIAN NEWS REPORTER (TRANSLATION): Photos of the dead, whose bodies are being examined. They have not been identified but items found on them indicate they are from Pakistan.
It was six months before Macedonia returned the bodies of the young men to Pakistan. At about the same time, Macedonias ultra-nationalist government was voted out of office. Under international pressure, the new Social Democrat government vowed to get to the bottom of why the young men had been killed. In April this year, the government dropped a bombshell - the shooting had been staged.
MACEDONIAN TELEVISION NEWS REPORTER (TRANSLATION): The Ministry said the killing of the Pakistanis was a set-up. They were not terrorists, as ex-minister Boskovski claimed, but just economic migrants. The aim was to raise Macedonias anti-terrorist profile.
A spokesperson for the new Interior Minister called a special press conference. "The Pakistanis," she said, "had been innocent victims of a cold-blooded plot designed to make Macedonia look good in the war on terror."
MIRJAN KONTESKA, SPOKESPERSON, MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY (TRANSLATION): Theres a lot of contradictory evidence indicating that the whole affair was staged.
The government about-face has given the families hope that the people who killed their loved ones will be punished. Ansar Burney is a human rights lawyer in Pakistan. When the families wanted to retrieve the bodies of the young men, the Pakistani Government wouldnt help them, so they approached Burney. It took him six months to negotiate the bodies return, but this was just the beginning. Now hes preparing to travel to Macedonia to take legal action against the government.
ANSAR BURNEY, HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER (TRANSLATION): Were getting a solicitor in Macedonia. Were writing to tell them to lodge a case on your behalf. Would you proceed against the Macedonian Government?
MAN (TRANSLATION): Yes, yes.
ANSAR BURNEY (TRANSLATION): Were bearing all the expenses. You dont have to do anything. Were doing everything. The rest is up to God. Well do our best to get justice.
The killing of the seven men has become a big story in Macedonia and Ansar Burney is met by a media scrum at Skopje airport.
ANSAR BURNEY: I just wanted to collect further evidences, so that it will be easy for us to go in the court for compensation for the grieved families.
REPORTER: How much are you asking for compensation?
ANSAR BURNEY: US $2 million.
REPORTER: Do you expect to get it?
ANSAR BURNEY: Hopefully, hopefully. If not, then we will go to court. The bereaved families, they also wanted to come and see that place where this was happened, because it was a brutal murder, it was a cold-blooded murder. They are crying like anything, so I am here for their tears - not because they were Muslims not because they were Pakistanis, because they were human beings.
ANSAR BURNEY: After 9/11 it becomes so difficult to work for human rights. It was very easy before 11 September. Now it is so difficult to work for human rights, so... (unintelligible) Everything has become suspicious. Everything has become terrorism. (Laughs)
DRIVER: Never be the same again.
Burney wants to visit Rastanksi Lozja, north of Skopje - the place where Ijaz and his companions were killed. But even for a Macedonian driver, the area is difficult to find. When Burney arrives at the site where the bodies were found, the local journalists following him are already waiting.
NSAR BURNEY: This was the place?
JOURNALIST: Here was the rock with the blood.
ANSAR BURNEY: Lets see what were they doing here.
Two years ago there were vineyards here, but now its a construction site.
ANSAR BURNEY: Have you seen this report?
JOURNALIST: Yes, yes, I have it, in my office.
ANSAR BURNEY: What they were doing here? This is the police car?
ANSAR BURNEY: They chased from this car to these terrorists?
Burney carries with him a report that the police released at the time of the killing.
ANSAR BURNEY: They found walkie-talkie, hand grenade. See the uniform, they were not wearing, they were having it in their bags.
It lists items found with the alleged terrorists including hand grenades and brand-new army uniforms that had never been worn. For protection and good luck, they were also carrying verses from the Koran given to them by their families. The police stated that these were letters to Osama bin Laden.
ANSAR BURNEY: And what he did, he directly attacked on Islam. Even if these seven were terrorists, it doesnt mean that it has to do something with Islam.
ANA PETRASUVA, JOURNALIST: From the very beginning there was something fishy about this story. The police immediately came up with two versions.
Ana Petrasuva is one of the Macedonian journalists who covered the story of the shooting.
ANA PETRASUVA: In the first version they said that the police patrol intercepted the group and wanted to identify them when the group opened fire on the police. In the second version the police has said that they had information about this group coming to Macedonia 10 days prior to the incident and that they had prepared an ambush and had waited for them.
ANSAR BURNEY: They have such type of sophisticated arms with them. None of the policemen was injured.
But according to the latest police investigation, most of this evidence was manufactured. Some of the weapons found on the victims hadnt even been fired, there was no blood on bags found underneath the bodies and the victims clothing showed that they had been dragged, indicating that theyd been killed elsewhere.
Isnt it a bit dubious there being all these different versions?
JOURNALIST: Maybe, but we dont know. The court will decide which version is correct, because here, every minister has his own story.
This is the man who came up with the first story and who gave the orders to shoot Ijaz and his six companions. When Dateline found Ljube Boskovski, Macedonias former interior minister, he was relaxing at home.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI, (TRANSLATION): This wine isnt for shift workers, nor is it for factory workers.
Boskovski has been accused of ordering the deaths of the seven men in a plot to gain favour with the US in its war on terror.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): Thats an absurd theory. It isnt so. I was sure then, and Im sure now, that this group was put there as terrorists in order to attack embassies. If I had done something like that, I would not be able to sleep in peace. I would feel responsible to the Pakistani families. We were commended as a government for our struggle against global terrorism. I really didnt have any ulterior motives.
But Ljube Boskovski could have had an ulterior motive for uncovering a terrorist plot. Boskovski and his party get support from ethnic Macedonians, who are predominantly Orthodox Christian. But almost a quarter of Macedonias population is Muslim Albanian. It was Boskovskis ultra-nationalist government which erected this giant cross to remind the Albanians of their place. In 2001, Albanian rebels took up arms against the Macedonian Government, demanding greater civil rights. During the vicious civil war that followed, Boskovski often played the terrorism card, trying to link Muslim Albanians with al-Qaida. Hes been accused of committing war crimes against Albanian civilians, and is currently being investigated by the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. The war ended in August 2001, but after September 11, Boskovski may have sensed a new opportunity.
ANA PETRASUVA: The idea in my opinion of this entire staged incident was to show on one hand that Macedonia is a player in the global war on terror.
Journalist Ana Petrasuva says most international observers were suspicious of what happened at Rastanski Lozja, but no-one wanted to do anything that might further inflame ethnic tension.
ANA PETRASUVA: Because nobody saw - when journalists were taken to the site they didnt see the bodies. The international community decided for the time being - were talking immediately after the incident to turn a blind eye to what happened so they wouldnt endanger any...any possible disruption of the peace process. They just didnt want to get into a quarrel with Boskovski at the time.
So if Boskovski staged the murder of the seven illegal migrants for political gain, how did he do it? The Pakistanis were probably picked up near here, the town of Delcevo, on the Bulgarian border. This is a well-travelled path for illegal immigrants.
MAN: I was serving at the border as a soldier. During that time there was some talk.
REPORTER: Were you at the border when it happened?
REPORTER: So you heard about the Pakistanis passing through?
MAN: I not only heard, I know for sure.
The Delcevo police chief has testified that Boskovski asked him to find some Asian-looking people he could portray as Islamic terrorists. This suggests that the killing of the Pakistanis was as calculated as it was brutal.
ANA PETRASUVA: He went into Bulgaria, found these men, told them that he was taking them to Greece or something, brought them into Skopje, put them into an apartment, fed them and then brought them to the outskirts where they killed them - the killing took place, and apparently when they took them to this place they told them, "OK, now this is Greece."
According to the government investigation, the seven illegal migrants were kept in a flat in the capital, Skopje, while Boskovskis special police unit prepared for their liquidation. The US recently put Boskovski on a blacklist for wanted Balkan extremists. But his strident nationalism made him a popular figure in Macedonia and Boskovski had hoped to run for president in elections earlier this year.
MACEDONIAN TELEVISION REPORTER: Ljube Boskovski. The man, Ljube Boskovski. Some people think hes very dangerous, while others see him as just a charlatan.
But under US pressure, the government wouldnt let him run. So Boskovski then went on television to accuse the American ambassador of interfering in Macedonian politics.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): That was the advice I received from a man I regard as mediocre the US ambassador Butler. Last year, he also advised me not to participate in the presidential, local and parliamentary elections. He said that if I did theyd do their best to put me before The Hague Tribunal. Let them.
The day after this interview, the Macedonian Government accused the former interior minister of staging the killings. Boskovski hit back.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): Its impossible for anyone to be ordered to commit a crime. If its a crime which involves the elimination of civilians...
ANA PETRASUVA: In that period, Boskovski was constantly giving out press conferences, saying he was innocent, So I think the last press conference was the day when the parliament did vote to take away his immunity. And then he disappeared.
Despite the fact that the border police were put on high alert, Boskovski still managed to escape into Croatia. For the past six months, hes been living in the resort village of Bale, on the Adriatic coast, where he owns a luxurious guesthouse and restaurant. Boskovski says he fled after he got word of what was in store for him.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): They knew they had to apply pressure by taking away my immunity. They concocted a trial so Id escape across the border so that Id be either caught or eliminated at the border. I received information about their plans. And those who were supposed to do this to me, let me go and illegally took me across the Macedonian-Serbian border and I came...secretly into Croatia. I havent escaped, Im still in Macedonia, I feel for my Macedonia and Ill return to Macedonia.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (Gardening) (TRANSLATION): This is the best therapy for the stress that exists. Natural therapy. Everyone endangered by the totalitarian regime should come here to be healed. Natural therapy.
Even in Croatia hes closely guarded by his bodyguard Matko, a former member of his paramilitary police.
Youre his bodyguard?
MATKO, BOSKOVSKIS BODYGUARD: (TRANSLATION): Yes.
Have you ever needed to save him?
MATKO (TRANSLATION): There have never been any opportunities.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): No opportunities until now.
MATKO (TRANSLATION): Thats right.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): You cant save me from a bullet.
MATKO (TRANSLATION): I can probably save you from a slap in the face.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): But no-ones slapped me.
MATKO (TRANSLATION): Right.
During the Balkan wars of the 90s, Boskovski allegedly made a fortune supplying weapons to the Croatian side. Because he owns property here, he enjoys Croatian citizenship. Interpol has issued an international warrant for his arrest on suspicion that he ordered the murders. While he admits to giving the orders to kill, he still insists that the seven men were terrorists.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): I gave them the green light to take action on the basis of what had been presented
Where did your administration get this information?
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): From other allied administrations. Whether they were American, for us, that was not important. For us, it was important to get this information in time to react so that it wouldnt end up costing Macedonia any more than it is already costing.
So...did the Americans know about this information?
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): Yes, absolutely. They were informed. The American ambassador, the British ambassador and the German ambassador were informed of this group. The fact that after this incident they denied it, is their problem. They can resolve that themselves. I dont want to worry about it.
But the fact that the US denies ever giving Boskovski the intelligence is clearly a problem for his defence.
ANSAR BURNEY: According to the under-secretary and the director of police, they have 99.9% evidences that these six Pakistanis and one Indian were innocent. As the matter is in the court of law, so it is difficult for me to say further. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Do you know about the Pakistani lawyer who came to Macedonia?
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): Well, hes a clown, a fool, as the Macedonians would say, who came to Macedonia under a false pretences. According to him, I would have to be tried in October. Theyre not normal.
In fact, Burneys case is right on schedule. A few weeks ago, Boskovski was arrested by the Croatian authorities, who promised to investigate the charges against him. Croatia is anxious to become a member of the EU, and wants to be seen to be standing up for human rights, which is bad news for Boskovski. Back in Pakistan, Burney is trying to pressure his own government to help his case. He believes that, in the current political climate, pro-American governments are reluctant to defend their own citizens when they are accused of terrorism.
ANSAR BURNEY: I will not allow the war against terrorism to become a war against innocent as long as I live. When I found out that they apprehended them and killed them, I wrote to the government to say this injustice had happened. I was hoping that our government would speak out but they were sitting scared that if America got wed risk losing our power.
Fatima, like other bereaved mothers, has had to come to terms with losing not just a son, but a breadwinner.
FATIMA (TRANSLATION): I have to do this work.
In order to send Ijaz to Europe, she had to sell her house to pay the people-smugglers. Now shes a maid for a wealthy family whose son did make it to the West.
REPORTER: Do you think hes a terrorist?
FATIMA (TRANSLATION): No, hes not a terrorist. Its unthinkable.
ANSAR BURNEY: They were innocent children. That minister said, "Kill them. Murder them." What should be done with the minister who had them killed?
FATIMA (TRANSLATION): We are not praying for him. Its up to God.
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): Mothers dont necessarily know what their children are doing, when its something illegal or a secret. You know that when you send your son to the army its legal, the same with the police force and government institutions. Then you know where your son is. How could a mother know in Pakistan, 4,000km away, where her son has gone or is going?
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (Sings to his mother) (TRANSLATION): I give you my word, Mother, Ill be back in the autumn.
Boskovski is now in a Croatian jail and it may be a while before he sees his own mother again. Croatia has refused to extradite him to Macedonia, but last week announced he would remain in custody for at least another two months while further investigation takes place. If eventually convicted, Boskovski faces life in prison.
What evidence do you have to prove that you are not guilty?
LJUBE BOSKOVSKI (TRANSLATION): You know that Jesus Christ was innocent and ended up...being killed. In the totalitarian regime that now exists in Macedonia, even the innocent can die. Therefore, I have nothing to defend myself for and I have nothing to prove.