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A gun grows in Brooklyn - Connecting the American weapons market to the insurgency in Kosovo

At Elk City Ammunition and Arms in St. Mary's, Pennsylvania, Florin Krasniqi presses his eye against the sight of a 50-caliber, single-shot rifle.

"What exactly are you going to do with it?" asks the salesman, warily sizing up his customer.

"Elephant hunting," Krasniqi replies.

"When is your hunt?"

"In about a month."

"We don't get many elephant hunters in here," says a gun salesman to Florin Krasniqi, an Albanian-American businessman who smuggles weapons from the U.S. to the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The elephant in the room is the long-standing ethnic conflict between the Serbs and Albanians that, despite NATO's and the United Nations' interventions in Kosovo, has killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of people - and at any moment could re-ignite.

The spark is Florin Krasniqi, a Kosovo-born, Albanian-American roofing contractor and gun smuggler who has raised $30 million for the Kosovo Liberation Army. Based on Stacy Sullivan's book Be Not Afraid For Your Sons Are in America, The Brooklyn Connection chronicles Krasniqi as he deftly navigates two contradictory worlds: In one scene, he and several men unload Kalashnikov rifles from the back of a van in rural Albania, pack them onto a horse, and set off through bucolic pastures to deliver the weapons to their fellow soldiers; in another, he grills chicken for his family during a backyard pool party at his comfortable home in Bay Ridge.

"I've known him for 10 years and I still don't know what he's capable of," says Krasniqi's wife, Danusha, as her husband flips chicken nearby.

Director Klaartje Quirijns skillfully probes this ambiguity, juxtaposing Krasniqi, the likeable family man adept with barbecue tongs, with the cunning and wily warrior equally expert at firing a Baretta.

Nor does Quirijns back away from the difficult questions: "What is the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist?" he asks Krasniqi.

"I fight for what I believe is right," Krasniqi replies, assuredly. "I would not harm innocent people. No innocent Serbs have died as a result of our weapons."

POV: The Brooklyn Connection

10pm Tue, Jul 19

That is impossible to know, as is fully understanding the cultural and political factors fueling the long-standing hatred between Albanians and Serbs. In 1998, ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo violently tried to secede from Serbia and join Albania. In turn, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic pursued a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Albanians, displacing more than 700,000. In 1999, NATO intervened with a bombing campaign that ended the war, but the United Nations controls Kosovo, which is still officially part of Serbia. "It is unfinished business for us and the Serbs," says Krasniqi, who, like many Albanians, sees the UN as a barrier to independence - and revenge.

Brooklyn also touches on the irony of the American weapons market; indirectly, gun buyers and sellers are arming soldiers for a war in a country most Americans couldn't find on a map. At an Army surplus store, Krasniji fills a shopping cart with camouflage uniforms. "You can buy everything you need for an Army," he says, almost giddily, "radios, night-vision goggles, Kevlar vests."

En route to Albania, Krasniji checks his 50-caliber rifle as baggage at the US Airways counter. After a few perfunctory questions from airline officials, Krasniji is allowed to board, his weapon in cargo.

On the flight, Quirijns asks point-blank, "Have you killed someone?" Krasniqi smiles uncomfortably. "No, I would never do that. Don't ask that. Never personally, but with weapons, yes."

By Lisa Sorg


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