Analysis 01 Apr 16

Bosnia ‘Failing to Share Terror Threat Intelligence’

Returnee fighters from Syria and Iraq pose “biggest threat”, says Bosnia’s security minister, yet officials confirm intelligence-sharing between the divided state’s police agencies is slow or even non-existent.

Denis Dzidic, Amer Jahic
 Bosnia's fragmented post-war constitutional set up has left the country's 15 police agencies struggling to coordinate terrorism investigations . Photo: Anadolu Agency

Six days a week Ibrahim Delic lives in the small village of Bocinja in central Bosnia and takes care of his sheep.

On Mondays, however, he travels to Sarajevo to stand trial on charges of having fought in Syria.

Fighter numbers

Around 120 Bosnian men are thought to be currently fighting in Syria and Iraq with ISIS and Al Nusra, 30 are believed to have died in the conflicts so far

50 are known to have returned to Bosnia, some are standing trial accused of fighting in Syria and Iraq

The number of Bosnians leaving to fight in Syria and Iraq dramatically declined in 2014. The departure date of around 20 Bosnians is unknown, however, the following numbers are believed to have left for Syria and Iraq in these years: *         

2012: 15

2013:  114

2014:  19

2015:  15 known to have left for Syria and/or Iraq

61 women and 81 children are believed to have travelled to Syria and Iraq **

Sources: Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA (February 2016)

* The Lure of the Syrian War: The Foreign Fighters Bosnian Contingent - Azinovic, Jusic (2015)

** Azinovic, Jusic – updated research (March 2016)


Delic is one of about 200 Bosnian Muslims, all members of the Salafi community, who have travelled to Syria and Iraq since 2012. Most are believed to have fought with jihadi groups, including Islamic State, ISIS, and Al Qaeda-affiliate Al Nusra.

According to Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, at least 30 have been killed in the conflicts and 50 have now returned home, Delic among them.

Once a destination for foreign fighters during the 1990s, Bosnia has become a significant country of origin for jihadi fighters, particularly given its relatively small population of around 3.8 million.

“Until mid-2013, we had no idea people were going or planning to go, we just found out all of a sudden about 100 had left,” says Goran Kovacevic, a professor at Sarajevo University’s criminal sciences faculty.

As the scale of the problem became apparent, Bosnia adopted law reforms in June 2014, creating a number of new offences including “enlisting in a foreign military, paramilitary or para-police unit”.

The new laws have been applied retroactively, which is why Delic and others who are accused of fighting in Syria and Iraq since 2012 are now on trial. Many are angry they are being tried for offences that did not exist at the time they left for the Middle East.

“No one forbade those travels in 2013. I went to oppose Bashar al-Assad. America was against him and so I think it was fine,” Delic told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN. 

He denies fighting in Syria and says he went solely “to help the Syrian people” and “see where all the Bosnians were going and… bring them into one group”.

Delic insists he poses no risk to security and that he returned home disillusioned by the “anarchy” he witnessed in Syria. The authorities, however, disagree.

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