Macedonia Terror Operation
Confusion abounds in Kumanovo, Macedonia, as gunfire and explosions fill the streets during a battle between Macedonian police and a "foreign terror group," on Saturday. Reuters/Ognen Teofilovski

This story has been updated.

UPDATE, 5:21 p.m. EDT: Macedonia's interior minister reports that five police officers have been killed and more than 30 have been wounded in the country as a result of what the minister described as an operation against an "armed group," Reuters reported.

Original story below.

A day after thousands of Macedonians took to the streets of their capital, Skopje, to protest alleged police brutality, Macedonian police said they’re caught in a violent battle with a foreign “well-trained terrorist group,” on Saturday in a northern town not far from the capital. The National Liberation Army, a regional militant group that fought the Macedonian government in 2001 in an attempt to break off a part of the country, claimed responsibility for the “attack,” but the Macedonian Interior Ministry claimed earlier Saturday that the battle was the result of a planned operation against the group.

At least four police officers were injured in street-to-street battles with the group, who police said attacked them with assault rifles, sniper rifles and explosives in Kumanovo, less than 10 miles from the Serbian and Kosovar border and 18 miles from Skopje. The battle was ongoing as of 2:30 p.m. local time, GMT+1 (8:30 a.m. EDT), according to the Macedonian Interior Ministry. Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said the group was “planning organized attacks against state institutions.”

“The information we collected in the past few days indicate that the group entered Macedonia illegally, from a neighboring country, and through its supporters took shelter and fortified, preparing for terror attacks,” said Kotevski, according to Macedonia’s state-run media agency. He added that the group’s base of operations was located in a predominantly ethnic Albanian part of Kumanovo but did not specify from which country authorities believe the group originated. The police raid reportedly took locals by surprise.

Macedonia Terror Operation
A man reunites with his family members after they were rescued by the police near a police checkpoint in Kumanovo, Macedonia May 9, 2015. Reuters/Ognen Teofilovski

Protesters who took to Skopje’s streets on Friday want conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his coalition government to step down, citing massive corruption, abuse and ethnic quarreling in government between Macedonians and Albanians as their main gripes. Protest began on May 5 and have been held each day since at 6 p.m. local time. Macedonia, like most other Balkan states, has a history of ethnic tension, which came to a head in 2001 in a yearlong violent ethnic Albanian insurgency. Kumanovo was central in that conflict.

Recent revelations that the government tried to cover up the death of a 22-year-old man four years ago during a celebration of the Gruevski coalition’s electoral victory provided a spark for Friday’s protests. Many protesters were heard saying “no justice, no peace,” a phrase that sprung forth during waves of anti-police brutality protests in the United States over the last year.

Macedonia’s opposition is helping to organize the protests and has a massive rally planned for May 17. Macedonia became independent in 1991, following the breakup of Yugoslavia. The region has been devastated by violent, ethnic-based power struggles since then, most notably during the brutal war in Kosovo between ethnic Serbs and Kosovar Albanians in the years leading up the turn of the century.