The Jedinica za Specijalne Operacije or JSO, (Serbian: Јединица за специјалне операције, Translated: Unit for Special Operations), was elite special unit of Serbian police. The unit was raised as Resora Drzavne Bezbednosti or RDB.
The unit was formed in 1991, as a top secret formation. Because of its secrecy it had no name, and because of distinctive red berets, it got nickname crvene beretke (red berets). The first commander of JSO was former Legionaire Franko (Frenki) Simatović, and thus second nickname, frenkijevci (Franky's boys).
The unit made its name during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo in the 1990's. Its leaders and members are accused of having committed the most brutal war crimes throughout the former Yugoslavia (under direct orders from Milosevic, then at least with his approval). In addition, investigations have shown that the unit was responsible for political murders in Serbia itself in the late 1990's. Police have found remains of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, who disappeared in August 2000. He was considered a possible opponent to Milosevic in the presidential elections in September 2000. Police claim that four JSO members kidnapped and killed Stambolic, and that the motive was clearly political.
In 1997 RDB combat units were reorganised into a Brigade level unit: Jedinica za Specijalne Operacije (JSO), including the helicopter squadron. The JSO took part in numerous combat operations during the escalating Kosovo crisis. Mi-24V's were used to attack rebel training camps and hundreds of transport and medevac flight were carried out. During NATO Operation Allied Force JSO helicopters continued to fly liaison and medevac missions. No helicopters were lost.
In fall 2000, Zoran Đinđić, the opposition leader, was the mastermind of an opposition movement determined to oust Milosevic, he made some shady deals. One of these was with Legija and his men, whose refusal to obey Milosevic's orders during the popular unrest in Belgrade on October 5th, 2000, was considered the final blow to Milosevic's grip on the country. The unit even helped secure Milosevic's arrest in March 2001. In return, Legija and the unit were never prosecuted for crimes they are alleged to have committed during Milosevic's era and after.
In October 2001 the helicopters of the unit were publicly presented for the first time, during a joint exercise with military forces. Serbia's Interior Ministry (MUP) was reorganised in 2002, with the JSO being detached from the national security service and placed directly under the Interior Minister. The helicopters were combined with the police squadron to form a joint aviation unit Vazduhoplovna Jedinica MUP or VJ MUP (Translated: Serbian Interior Ministry Air Wing).
Although Legija was removed following a number of incidents - including the burning down of a disco in the northern town of Kula where the Red Berets have their base - his successor, Dusko Maricic, was considered equally unreliable.
Legija, by now the alleged leader of one of Belgrade's main mafia groups, the Zemun clan, continued to maintain contacts with ex-comrades in the Red Berets. In Đinđić last months, under increasing international pressure to clean up organised crime.
On March 12th 2003 the Serbian Prime Minister was assassinated. A state of emergency was declared following Prime Minister Djindjic's murder and the search for the murderers started. In what appeared to be the most extensive police operation ever to be conducted in Serbia, some 2,000 people were arrested in the two weeks following Djindjic’s assassination. Men that turned out to be related to this murder included:
- The Red Berets' last commander, Dusko Maricic;
- Their first commander, Franko Simatovic;
- Ex-security police chief and Red Berets founder, Mr Stanisic;
- The alleged assassin and Red Berets senior officer, Zvezdan Jovanovic;
- The mastermind behind the murder, Milorad Lukovic or Legija.
The unit was disbanded on March 25th 2003 and most of the members of the unit were transferred into new unit part of the Zandarmerija. Later on most of them served in a new unit called Vitezovi.
- Counter Revolutionary warfare
- Direct Action
Raised and Disbanded
- Raised: 1991
- Disbanded: March 25th 2003
- Ground Unit
- Helicopter Unit
- Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro