A friend of mine pulled off one the most daring escapes while we were soldiers in the Kosovo War. Normally we were only operating in the mountains, but one afternoon my buddy decided to change into civilian clothes and go to the next city to buy a mobile phone.
This was extremely dangerous and almost foolish: our enemy, the Serbs, were ruling the cities and there was an arrest warrant out on his name. To make matters worse, he used to own a couple of shops in this city, prior to the war, and therefore everyone, including the Serb police and all local spies, would recognize his face.
My friend told me his incredible story after he came back to our base in the mountains:
“I dressed some civilian clothes and walked the ten miles from the base into the city. Everything went smoothly and nobody seemed to recognize me until I entered a small three story shopping mall in the city center. Just when I had passed the main entrance, I saw two plainclothes cops-and they saw me, too! They were sticking their heads together while looking at me and probably, they were telling each other:
“You see that guy? Is that really him? Can he be that stupid to walk around here?
While they evaluated my stupidity level, I went to the stairway and arrived at the first floor. I could look downstairs and still see the two cops: one of them was talking over the radio now, probably calling for reinforcements.
I didn’t know what to do and so I decided I could as well continue my shopping. I went to the third floor and entered a small mobile phone shop. The shop owner was a good friend of mine and I told him about my trouble with the cops coming after me. He told me that there was a back entrance to the mall and if I hurried, I could make it out of there, before the police could get me.
I left the shop immediately. I looked downstairs to the main entrance, but I couldn’t see the two cops anymore. While I descended the stairs, I could hear police sirens coming from the backside of the building: these fuckers were trying to cut me off! I decided to risk everything and walk out of the main entrance. They wouldn’t expect me to do that and I might have a small chance to surprise them.
I slowly walked out and as I almost started to think that I had made it, someone grabbed my arm from behind. I turned around and, of course, it was one of the civil cops.
He said: “Are you (my name)?” and I answered: “What you think, you idiot?” Of course he knew me. I used to own a fisherman’s supply shop and this guy used to be one of my best customers. Now he was asking me stupid questions.
I was extremely worried: it was war and I was one of the most wanted “terrorists”. Getting arrested by the cops was equal to getting killed, but only after being tortured for a couple of days by the infamous Serbian Secret Intelligence Service. Somehow I managed to stay calm, though. My voice didn’t betray me while my little conversation with the enemy went on:
The cop: “You have to come with us to the police station!”
Me:” No, you guys have to come to my station!”
Cop: “What station?”
Me:”We are going to (the name of our guerrilla base)!”
These guys were playing for time. They thought that I was armed and didn’t want to get into trouble with me, until reinforcements had arrived. Unfortunately, I had left my pistol at the base and the only weapon I had with me was a hand grenade. No way I could use it in this situation! I could hear now police sirens coming from everywhere. I was running out of time and had to do something!
As I looked down the street, I saw a familiar looking car: two local guys were parking their Mercedes a couple of yards away from me. I knew them both from high school and I was sure they had a gun with them in the car which I could use to shoot my way out.
I started to walk over to them, but the cop still had my arm. I pushed his hand away and told him that I would just go to the car of my friends and tell them to call my family to tell them I was at the police station. The cops didn’t know what to do and before they could stop me, I was sitting in the car, door closed and telling the two mafiosi to give me their gun.
These two blokes didn’t realize the trouble I was in and were starting to make small talk with me: “Hey man, long time no see! Wanna take a ride with us? We drive you everywhere you want!”
I almost screamed at them: “I need a fucking gun, right now!”
They said that they were unarmed and I left the car from the other side, away from the cops. I started running while at the same I was fishing for the hand grenade in one of my jacket’s pockets.
Just when I had put my hand around the grenade, the first cop grabbed my arm again. I swung around and punched my fist with the grenade in it right into his face. He went down immediately.
By now, the second cop had pulled his gun out and was getting ready to shoot me. I ran as fast as I could! While I was running, I saw the shop windows to my right side shattering. The cop was shooting while, at the same time, he was running after me. Lucky for me, he wasn’t very accurate. I turned left into a small alleyway and the cop was close behind me. I ran and ran, but after two hundred yards the road ended and there was a high brick wall. I was trapped!
The cop realized that I had nowhere to go and stopped running. He aimed the pistol at me and just when I thought that he was going to pull the trigger, I saw his colleague approaching us. He had recovered from my punch and looked really pissed off! No doubt, it would be his privilege and honor to to kill me and therefore the other cop took his gun down for a moment to wait for his buddy to catch up with him and then kill me. I thought: “Now or never!” and raised both of my hands. While my right hand held the grenade, my left hand’s index finger was around the ring of the grenade.
Both cops froze, I had their full attention. I pulled the grenade’s ring and started talking: “If I go down, I’ll take you motherfuckers with me!”
We had a stand off: If they shot me, I would release the lever of the grenade and we would probably all die. And if I threw the grenade, they would have ample time to shoot me before the grenade would explode.
I took a look at the grenade in my hand and was shocked: the ring hadn’t pulled the pin out of the grenade as it normally should, but it just had broken off from the pin. This grenade, when thrown, wouldn’t explode at all! Thanks god, the two cops didn’t seem to realize that my grenade had a major malfunction, but sooner or later they would.
Time to act! I stepped forward and made a move as if I was going to throw the grenade at them. To my surprise, instead of shooting their guns, both cops threw themselves to the ground immediately.I turned around around and checked the wall behind me: very difficult to climb, but possible. I stepped a few yards back, ran towards the wall, jumped and got a grip on the top of the wall! I lifted myself over it and started running again.
Cops were everywhere now, but it was starting to get dark and I made it to the outskirts of the town where I arrived at the bank of a river. I jumped inside and swam to the other side.
I was safe! I couldn’t believe my luck! I slowly started walking to our base and thought about what had just happened. Unlike when I talked to the cops, my nerves where showing now. I started shaking and had to sit down for a while to calm down. After a while, I could continue my walk and I made it back to our base early in the morning.”
Photos: All photos by the author. Special thanks to Zenë Zahiti for telling me this wonderful story about his escape.