AIM: start

Reactions in South East Europe
to the attacks on 11 September

AIM Sarajevo, October 11, 2001

Bosnia Haunted by Suspicions

How to Become a Wanted Person

This week, a B&H citizen, Bensaj Benkacen Medz, allegedly Bin Laden's very close associate, was arrested in Zenica, near Sarajevo. It is believed that he kept open phone line with bin Laden. Practically at the same time, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Srpska and President of the Serbian Party of Independent Social Democrats Milorad Dodik affirmed that there were still some 600 Mujaheddins left in B&H and that there were photographs proving that "during the war in B&H Alija Izetbegovic met with Osama bin Laden, whereas Haris Silajdzic (one of the former B&H Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and until recent President of the Party for B&H) was forced to withdraw from politics because of his close links with Al Khaid.

At the last session of the association of independent intellectuals "Circle 99" held in Sarajevo and later Press Conference in Banja Luka, the President of the Chamber of Nations of the B&H Parliament, Sejfudin Tokic, said that he was informed about the photo of SDA leader Alija Izetbegovic with the Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, but that he has not seen it. Actually, Tokic explained that he heard this from high representatives in Strasbourg at the last month's meeting of the Council of Europe. At the same time, Tokic said that that "it is obvious that some members of the former authorities maintained contacts with representatives of Islamic organisations which are suspected of terrorist attacks against the USA". Some foreign journalists, who had been in Sarajevo during the war, said recently that they even saw bin Laden personally in the building of B&H Presidency.

Responding to Dodik's statements, Izetbegovic called them childish lies claiming that he had heard of bin Laden for the first time some two or three years ago, that Dodik's statement was an attempt at diverting attention from crimes committed in B&H during the war, which according to Izetbegovic could not have been all committed only by 50 persons on the Hague's list of indictments, "but thousands of people who are today walking freely through the Republic of Srpska". Silajdzic who was away at that time did not react to this.

The mentioned Benkacen, for whose arrest the SFOR thanked and commended the B&H authorities, had been granted citizenship on January 4, 1996. He got it on the basis of the then (war) Law on Citizenship under which it was sufficient to pay USD 1,000 in state taxes and sign a statement on his loyalty to the state of B&H. According to reports of the Sarajevo dailies, the decision on the granted citizenship was signed by the then Assistant Minister of the Interior in the Government of the Republic of B&H, Borisa Arnaut. Also, a new B&H passport was issued to Medz this July 21.

According to the accompanying documentation from 1996, Interpol had not placed Medz on the wanted list and in 2001 he was not checked because he already had citizenship. At the same time, State Commission for the Verification of B&H Citizens naturalised between April 6, 1992 and the entry into force of the B&H Constitution did not check his file because he had not been granted citizenship in the period under review (B&H Constitution entered into force with the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in late 1995, i.e. before Medz got his citizenship). Only later verification of Medz's identity (after his arrest) showed that this citizen of B&H had several passports from a number of countries and two "origins" - one from Yemen and the other from Algeria.

An arrest made in Turkey poured oil on the fire in the story about suspects and arrests. A journalist of "Slobodna Bosna" (Free Bosnia), Edvin Avdic from Sarajevo was arrested at the Istanbul Airport. The reason for his arrest was that one Edvin Avdic had been on the Interpol's wanted list for three years for various criminal offences, including murder. As Istanbul police explained during one and a half hour talk, journalist Avdic was "saved" by his date of birth and parents' names, which differed from those in the police sheet of the other Edvin. And at that same time, the B&H Ministerial Council, i.e. Commission for Fight Against Terrorism introduced a new measure for all those coming to B&H by air - the so call "landing card" like the one introduced at American airports, which every foreigner would have to fill in with his personal and data on his stay in B&H. The same measure is being prepared for those who come by land, while a new visa regime, identical to the "Schengen" one has also been announced. This Commission, comprised of representatives of the SFOR, IPTF, OHR, OSCE, the American Embassy in B&H and Deputies of all Ministers in the B&H Government holds working meetings once a week so as to analyse the work done in the previous week, as well as its plans for the next one.

According to the latest information, Bensaj Benkacen Medz is allegedly not under suspicion of terrorism, but of giving false data, and would be remanded in detention for 30 days although not even an administrative suit has been initiated against him for stripping him of the B&H citizenship. Much more dust was raised by the arrest of journalist Edvin Avdic, who in the meantime (on Wednesday) returned to Sarajevo by plane. Editor-in-chief of "Slobodna Bosna", Senad Avdic alleged that the Federal Foreign Ministry was involved in the passport mix-up at the Istanbul Airport as it was seriously investigating who was passing confidential police information to journalists of "Slobodna Bosna". Senad Avdic claimed that he has personally inquired and found out that no wanted circular had been issued by Interpol for one Edvin Avdic and that the B&H authorities were to be blamed for this and similar situations because passports had been issued to foreign nationals without adequate verification. Front page of the penultimate issue of this weekly carried the claim "The fallen Minister of Police, Muhamed Beslic is protecting criminals and terrorists and announcing war on 'Slobodna Bosna' after it proved that the Police had issued B&H identity papers to suspicious persons, smuggled arms to Kosovo and protected persons from Supreme Court's wanted list". The latest issue did not come out, although it should have already appeared on the newsstands.

Journalist Edvin Avdic, who last week in one of his regular reports for TV B&H from Pakistan said that he "has a list of all B&H citizens who were trained in camps in Afghanistan" found himself in the centre of attention of his colleagues from radio, TV and papers so that, for example, the today's "Oslobodjenje" (Liberation), in addition to the front page announcement, devoted an entire page reserved for "Politics and Society" to him. Next to Edvin's large photo is a questioning headline "A Fixed APB for A Journalist of New Bosnia?", explaining only in the subheading that Interpol's APB had been fixed during Avdic's stay in Pakistan, i.e. that three years old Austrian Interpol's wanted circular was recently updated in Sarajevo. The text explained how Avdic's personal data, passport and fingerprints were sent to Interpol during his stay in Pakistan (ten days), because he had no problems at border crossings when he first entered Turkey, nor when he came in or left Pakistan. He was proclaimed a wanted person upon his return to Turkey. Noticeably upset because of the situation in which he found himself (the police file of one Edvin Avdic contained his photo, his passport number and fingerprints!?)said that what he had been through could easily happen to any citizen of B&H: "We are living in a state which is still the stronghold of criminals hiding behind national and party identity. They are the reason all countries of the world we enter look upon us as suspects".

Chief of Cabinet of the current B&H Minister of the Interior, Nazif Dinarevic said for AIM that until it got official information from the Turkish Interpol Department, F MUP (Federal Ministry of the Interior) was still unable to comment on the circumstances under which Edvin Avdic was brought in at the Istanbul Airport and whether it was true that the same fingerprints were in both police files and how did that happen, but the fact remained that the Interpol Department from Vienna had put out an APB for one Edvin Avdic (born on February 26, 1962 in Mali Bradic, Commune of Bosanska Krupa) who was wanted for several criminal offences.

All this happened several days after the international alliance launched its strike against terrorism on Afghanistan and "The Times" published a geographical map with Bosnia and Herzegovina painted in different colours from those used for countries considered as America's "fellow-fighters" and Croatian explanation about the "Schengen" line passing by Croatia's right side and B&H's left side so that B&H was outside these "developments". The authorities of Bosnia&Herzegovina were, nevertheless, clear on this. "B&H is a member of this international alliance for fight against terrorism and the increasingly dense network, so that it has already been entrusted with clear responsibilities - to make all its potentials available. For that purpose it has formed a coordinating team known as Commission for Fight Against Terrorism, which is working, planning and exchanging information with all members of the alliance at the international level, including the FBI and CIA. Even the arrest of Benkacen Medz is a result of that exchange of information", explained for AIM Amer Kapetanovic, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. Asked whether B&H fared worse than other countries in this network due to the current events, including those described in this text, Kapetanovic explained that even in America there were many people for whom it would be hard to say whether they were terrorists or not. Situation was the same in France, Germany, Switzerland, etc. and that did not change their position within the "anti-terrorist alliance". "The same is true for B&H - namely, no one claims that there are no fundamentalists here, but the real question is not whether there are any here or not, but rather whether they will be discovered, arrested, proscribed. B&H has made its position in this respect very clear. Since September 11, over 10 people have been arrested in B&H and surrendered and not because it was proven that they were guilty or connected with terrorists, but because they were suspicious," explained Kapetanovic.

There are many in B&H who are not so willing to believe these Kapetanovic's allegations on B&H as an accepted partner in the strike against terrorism, i.e. that B&H was accepted as "equal" (at least in something) but think that this story about cooperation is just "wishful thinking". True, there are those who are not so sure whether the American strikes against Afghanistan represent the defence or are also a kind of terrorism; also quite a number of people claim that the American-European reaction to terrorism was actually masked American and European Islamophobia. People are in fear how will this reflect on B&H and who in B&H might take advantage of this newly created situation. Recently, the most frequently asked question is whether B&H is a victim of its recent past or could it, perhaps, profit from it? The "Oslobodjenje" columnist wrote: "Bosnia and Herzegovina can be compared with a marriageable girl whose happiness is spoiled by her past. The readiness of current authorities to give their contribution to the anti-terrorist coalition and numerous police raids organised after September 11, cannot erase stories in the influential Western media about B&H as a country which is harbouring Osama bin Laden's followers. They are not devoid of Islamophobia and exaggeration, but also give grounds for reasonable doubt. The country is now paying with interest the favourable treatment accorded to Mujaheddins by the former regime of the Party of Democratic Action, which was probably motivated by propaganda reasons, so that now we have to deal with loose ends of that scandal".


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