Assassination attempt pulled quiet Fife street into spy plot

A QUIET Scottish street was perhaps the most unlikely setting for a state-sponsored assassination attempt in the murky world of international espionage.

But Vinko Sindicic's attempt to kill exiled Croat leader Nikola Stedul in Kirkcaldy's Glen Lyon Road had all the hallmarks of a classic spy novel, with a gunman licensed to kill by communist Yugoslavia descending on the Scottish town.

Feared assassin Sindicic fired at Mr Stedul at close range as he left his home to walk his alsatian dog Pasha 22 years ago.

But Mr Stedul, who had fled from the Balkan country 30 years before and was living in exile in the Fife town, remarkably survived the murder attempt and his would-be assassin was subsequently caught and jailed in Scotland.

Despite being having one bullet enter his mouth and smash his teeth, and with a second lodged in his chest, Mr Stedul survived, thanks to his dog, which thwarted the hit by barking at the assassin, who ran off and sped away in a car.

The shadowy episode on 20 October, 1988, had seen Sindicic arrive on Scottish soil tasked with the state-sponsored murder of Mr Stedul, president of the Croatian Movement For Statehood, for "speaking out" against Yugoslav communism.

Sindicic, a graduate of the Yugoslav spy school in the early 1960s, who was regarded as one of Europe's most dangerous criminals, arrived in Britain in as part of a three-man hit team masquerading as football fans in town for the Scotland v Yugoslavia World Cup qualifier at Hampden Park.

Sindicic, who was left as the lone assassin after his colleagues were stopped by Customs and sent home, travelled to Kirkcaldy and collected the guns he would use from a hide in a wooded area near the town.

He then launched his thwarted attack on Mr Stedul as he was out walking his dog, and fled the scene believing he had killed his victim.

Sindicic was caught soon afterwards at Heathrow Airport, as he waited to fly back home, and was jailed for 15 years following a trial at the High Court in Dunfermline. The court refused to believe the alibi given by Yugoslav diplomats in the UK, that Sindicic had been their guest at the time of the murder attempt.

Sindicic appealed against the conviction, but his challenge was thrown out, with an appeal judge accusing him of "time-wasting". After his conviction he was held in the maximum security unit at Perth prison, where he served ten years of his sentence.

Shortly after his release, he stood trial for the murder of Bruno Busic, a journalist, in Paris in October 1978.

At a hearing in Zagreb county court, Judge Damir Kos ruled it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that Sindicic had murdered Mr Busic, who was a close friend of Mr Stedul and also a political dissident.

Sindicic is now 67 and lives in Zagreb, Croatia, where he works in a private security company. He is also reported to own a luxury house in Rijeka, with hair salons and a dry cleaners on the ground floor.

Sindicic regularly gives interviews in the Croatian media.

In 2010, he was investigated over blackmail allegations dating back to 1983 and was arrested in Germany by police.

Sindicic was held for a short time in a Munich prison after his arrest.

The assassination attempt on the street in Kirkcaldy was dramatised in 1994 in a production for STV, The Yugoslav Hitman.