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Feature 08 Sep 14

Bosnia Steps Up Crackdown on Islamic Militants

The arrests of 16 Bosnians suspected of recruiting Muslim radicals to fight in Syria and Iraq have been criticised by their families, but the authorities plan to continue their crackdown.

Elvira M. Jukic BIRN Sarajevo

Husein Bilal Bosnic, believed to be one of the leaders of the strict Islamic Wahhabi movement in Bosnia, was among the 16 people arrested on Wednesday in a nationwide operation by hundreds of police to detain suspected financiers and recruiters of Muslim fighters for the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

A video of Bosnic was recently published in local media, showing him making a speech openly supporting the Islamic State (formerly known as the ISIL or ISIS), the militant force trying to carve out a fundamentalist caliphate in Syria and Iraq, for which some Bosnians have gone to fight.

  Photo by AP

Vlado Azinovic, a professor at the Sarajevo Faculty of Political Science and an expert on terrorism issues, said it was clear that Bosnian Muslims had been involved in these conflicts, albeit in relatively small numbers.

“It is estimated that in these three years since the conflict in Syria started, around 160 men from Bosnia and Herzegovina were there and some 20 women,” Azinovic told Balkan Insight.

“These are mostly people who come from the social, economic and even geographical margins, with no propensity for work or abilities, with limited education, who believe they are fulfilling their holy mission there,” he argued.

But the families of some of the suspects arrested this week insisted that they have been unjustly targeted.

The grandmother of one of those detained, Elvir Muratovic from the Sarajevo district of Brijesce, said he was a nice man who had not done anything wrong.

“He was golden, golden, he couldn’t be any better,” Sida Muratovic told local media. “And if there was anyone here who had anything to say against him... that he was bad, God save us.”

His brother, Emir Muratovic, said that he was arrested simply for “practicing Islam”.

“They are trying to stop that. I don’t understand for what reason they [police] came,” was quoted as saying in daily newspaper Oslobodjenje.

“What terrorism? They are creating terrorists. Everyone they see with a beard, they arrest him,” he said.

“They carried away books that could be found at my place too and CDs that they could find at anyone’s home. Everyone writes and publishes what he wants, but a Muslim who wants to practice his religion can’t do it,” he added.

  Photo by AP

The radical Muslim news-portal Vijestiummeta argued that last week’s arrests by Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) violated people’s rights.

“This act of state terrorism and the brutal violation of the rights of the arrested is best illustrated by the fact that SIPA brought with it media crews which recorded and photographed the arrested,” said a comment article on the Vijestiummeta site, arguing that the media exposure had compromised the suspects’ rights to the presumption of innocence.

Vijestiummeta referred to a previous operation in Gornja Maoca in north-east Bosnia in February 2010, when around 600 policemen detained eight people including Nusret Imamovic, the alleged leader of the Wahhabi community in the area. All of them were later released without charge.

Also detained on Wednesday was Hamdo Fojnica, the father of an alleged Muslim fighter who was recently reported killed in Iraq.

  Emrah Fojnica, Photo by Vijestiummeta.com

Emrah Fojnica died while allegedly carrying out a suicide bomb attack, according to Vijestiummeta, which reported that his father was happy that his son died in such a “heroic” way.

“As activists from the social networks said, he [Emrah Fojnica] was ready to conduct a shahid [martyr] operation, if needed. The same sources said that his father was happy and said ‘Takbir’ [Allahu Akbar] during the phone call when he got the information that his son had passed away,” Vijestiummeta reported.

In 2011, Emrah Fojnica was charged with helping Mevlid Jasarevic attack the US embassy in Sarajevo, but was released due to the lack of evidence. Jasarevic was sentenced to 15 years in prison for carrying out a terrorist attack during which he wounded a policeman.

Mirza Kovac, a lawyer from Sarajevo who defended Emrah Fojnica at the time and succeeded in proving that he was not involved in the US embassy attack, said that his client seemed disconnected from reality.

“He was a nice guy, but he was weird,” Kovac told Balkan Insight. “It is as if he was in some other world, with another understanding of reality.”

When contacted by BIRN, the Fojnica family declined to comment on Hamdo Fojnica’s arrest.

  Photo by AP

However, seven of the 16 suspects were released afterward and local media reported that one of them was Hamdo Fojnica.

Azinovic speculated that last week’s arrests were part of a wider international crackdown on jihadi recruiters.

“This is surely part of an international effort which can be seen in some other countries such as Kosovo or the UK,” he said.

Last month police in Kosovo arrested 40 people on suspicion of membership of terrorist groups linked to the Islamic State.

“It is recognised that our people were involved in what is happening in Iraq and the ISIS violence, they are participating in perpetrating that violence there,” Azinovic said.

  Photo by AP

It appears certain that despite criticism from the families of those arrested and from hardline Islamists, the Bosnian authorities will continue with the crackdown on those suspected of providing fighters for insurgent forces in Syria and Iraq.

The State Investigative and Protection Agency has said that it cannot reveal many details about last week’s operation yet, but its director, Goran Zubac, has promised that there will be more arrests this week.

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