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Bosnia: Transfer Of Terrorist Suspects To U.S. Raises Many Questions

  • Jolyon Naegele

The handover by Bosnia-Herzegovina to U.S. forces of six suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists on 18 January raises questions about Bosnia's shaky sovereignty as much as the accompanying street protests raise questions about the activities in Sarajevo of Saudi Wahhabi proselytizers.

Prague, 21 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Bosnia-Herzegovina handed over to U.S. peacekeepers six Algerians whom the U.S. suspects of terrorist activities.

Bosnian authorities, acting with the knowledge of U.S. intelligence intercepts of cellular telephone conversations, detained the six last October on suspicion that they were planning to attack the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. But the Bosnian (Muslim/Croat) Federation's Supreme Court in mid-January ordered that they be released for lack of sufficient evidence after the U.S. refused to hand over recordings of the intercepted conversations.

However, the Bosnian government complied with a U.S. request to hand over the six suspects. Bosnian Federation police, UN civilian police, and possibly U.S. members of NATO-led SFOR peacekeepers participated in the handover.

SFOR spokesman Mike Odom insists the NATO-led peacekeeping force had nothing to do with the handover: "This was not an SFOR operation, nor a NATO action."

Odom conceded, however, that U.S. forces from SFOR may have participated in the transfer.

Five of the six suspects are naturalized Bosnian citizens, and one of the six carries a possibly falsified Yemeni passport, in addition to his Algerian and Bosnian documents.

More than 100 protesters spent the night of 17-18 January outside Sarajevo's central prison in an unsuccessful bid to prevent the six from being transferred. Many of the protesters, including women in chadors, pounded on cars and blocked traffic by lying in the snow-covered street, surrounded by riot police.

A UN police spokesman told RFE/RL that security forces did not use unnecessary force to disperse the demonstrators to clear the way for the detainees to be taken from the prison.

But Sadiha Delic, the Bosnian wife of one of the six deportees, Mustafa Ait Idir, expressed outrage at what she says was police brutality: "They really showed the true face of their democracy. What is called the struggle against terrorism is really a fight against Islam, against Muslims, and against us, a nation that wants to live in justice and dignity."

Doctor Zoran Hadziahmetovic, who works in the emergency room of Kosovo Hospital in Sarajevo, says no demonstrators or other civilians came in seeking treatment that night, but that eight policemen sought medical care for injuries incurred in the scuffle.

The organizer of the protest was the Active Islamic Youth, based at the new King Fahd Mosque and Islamic Center in Sarajevo. It was founded in 1995 to spread the views of the Saudi Wahhabi sect.

The same group in May staged a demonstration in Sarajevo in which participants waved Saudi flags and threatened violence in response to an anti-Muslim demonstration by Bosnian Serbs in Banja Luka. And in March 1999, the Active Islamic Youth broke up a meeting of Bosnian women who had gathered to express solidarity with Afghan women suffering oppression by the Taliban.

U.S. officials say the six suspected terrorists will be transferred to the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, where more than 110 other suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters are being held.

The chairman of Bosnia's Helsinki Human Rights Committee, Srdjan Dizdarevic, says Bosnia -- by handing over the six Algerians -- violated the European Human Rights Convention and overruled a decision by the country's Human Rights Court. As a result, he says, the Bosnian government "is putting in question the functioning of the state and legal institutions of the system and rights of Bosnia's citizens."

Dizdarevic insists the Algerians are innocent: "We have been told that they will be taken to Cuba. I hope they will not be taken there because I don't know what I am going to do. This story is not over, and it won't be over until justice is done. They are not guilty. Why are they saying that this is not a war against Islam but against terrorism? Now it's more than clear that this is a war against Islam and not against terrorism, because they are not terrorists."

A leading Bosnian parliamentarian, Sejfudin Tokic, told a news conference the decision to hand the six over to the U.S. was made "without any external pressure" and is in accordance with Bosnia's constitution, sovereignty, and interests.

It is not quite clear what the legal justification for the handover was. The deputy head of the Bosnian Supreme Court, Vlado Odamovic, denies the court ruled on deporting the suspects: "Deportation is out of the question, since the Supreme Court does not have the right to pass judgment on deportations. It can rule on the procedure that the courts have taken regarding these people until now -- the [lower] court's decision to release them from custody. But the Supreme Court does not have the authority."

Bosnia's Human Rights Court -- which consists of six Bosnian judges and seven international judges and is the court of last instance for all of Bosnia -- has also voiced its opposition to the government's handover of the six Algerians.

And the Serb member of Bosnia's state presidency, Zivko Radisic, has expressed frustration that his office had received inadequate information about the transfer. "We have demanded that the presidency be fully informed about this. This is definitely an issue which can have serious consequences on bilateral and multilateral relations," Radisic said. "We are also really eager to show that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a law-abiding state, which has institutions and regulations which must be respected and for which responsibility must be taken."

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