The circumstances surrounding the killing of ethnic Greek Konstantinos Katsifas by Albanian security forces on Sunday are the subject of a highly contested debate between the country’s authorities and the residents of the village of Burat (Vouliarates), many of whom claim the 35-year-old was executed.
According to the Albanian police, Katsifas, dressed in combat gear and carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle, fired at police officers at around 9:45 am local time. This incident followed a brawl related to the celebration of the “Oxi Day” anniversary in the village.
The following footage provided by privately-owned Albanian broadcaster Report TV allegedly shows the suspect emerging from a building and repeatedly firing at unidentified targets.
According to the Albanian police, the targets were officers and their vehicles were damaged in the attack.
Following the shootings, Katsifas ran into hiding in the hills above the village. In response, the “Rinea” special forces of the Albanian police arrived by helicopter from Tirana to locate and arrest him.
According to the official version of events, when Katsifas was discovered, he not only refused to surrender but fired repeatedly at the security services with a Kashnikov assault rifle. After an exchange of fire lasting almost half an hour, he was shot twice and killed.
Next to his body, police found a bag containing approximately 100 bullets, and a military-style knife.
Was Katsifas executed?
However, local residents and representatives of the Greek minority in the region dispute the official version. Some dissenting voices, such as that of Omonoia, the political and cultural organization that promotes the rights of Albania’s Greek minority, claim that Katsifas was executed.
In a statement, Omonoia accused the Albanian police of failing to observe “engagement rules,” resulting in the “unjust death” of Katsifas. The statement implies that ”Rinea” special forces did not exhaust all means to secure Katsifas’s surrender and they instead shot to kill.
These suspicion are being further fueled by the fact that Albanian authorities have not yet released a video of the operation, which would dispel any doubts on the official version of events.
Albanian special forces used thermal imaging cameras in order to locate the suspect. Therefore, it can be surmised that footage of the ensuing battle exists.
Pantelis Papistas, a friend of Katsifas, said on Greek television station ANT1 that traces of blood were found in the hills above the village at a distance of 60 to 70 meters.
“This clearly suggests that he dragged while injured to the place where he was finally executed,” said Papistas.
Katsifas was killed by two bullet wounds to the chest, according to the Albanian official version of events, which reinforces the theory that he may have been executed. Why was a second shot deemed necessary if Albanian police did not intend to kill?
Papistas further stressed that Katsifas, in contrast to claims made by Albanian authorities, did not suffer from any psychological conditions, stating that “he was completely balanced.”
“His ‘madness’ was about national issues” noted Patistas, referring to Katsifas’ intense love for Greece.
“We campaigned together in the rallies for Macedonia. Everywhere he was first to run for national issues,” he added.
The Katsifas family and the Greek community in Albania are anxiously awaiting answers from Albanian authorities regarding the killing, and are refusing to bury his body before a Greek coroner investigates the cause of death.
Greece has said that is ready to join police investigations in Albania, including sending a coroner. So far, Albania has refused this offer.
An independent investigation into the killing is perhaps the only way to clear the issue and avoid renewed Greek-Albanian tensions.