In Bosnia, U.S. Embassy Shooting Resurrects Old Fears
October 29, 2011
In Sarajevo, Irma Maric's Friday afternoon was shattered by gunfire. She describes watching a brazen 30-minute rifle assault carried out by a suspected Islamist on the U.S. embassy unfold from her office window:
"I looked out of the window and I saw people running, like kids, also. They were [fleeing], because of the fear...When you see, through the window, people lying down on the streets, it's the first thing I remember: the 1990s in Sarajevo," Maric said.
The Bosnian capital was under siege during the region's 1992-1995 war. Maric, a 28-year-old born and raised in Sarajevo, describes the city as calm today.
Political and religious leaders in the Balkans are voicing concerns over what some are describing as a "terrorist" attack on the embassy on October 28. The building has been temporarily closed.
Armed With A Kalashnikov
Sarajevo Mayor Alija Behmen said the attacker "got off a tram with a Kalashnikov and started shooting at the American embassy." He was wounded in the leg by a police sniper and is now in custody. At least one police officer was also reported injured.
An eyewitness to the incident, who gave his name as Admir, told RFE/RL by phone from his car that the shooting spree outside the embassy lasted some 10 minutes as police rushed onto the scene.
"There was the sound of automatic weapon fire like in a war. Individual shots were heard. It didn't last just a minute or two," he said.
The attack is believed to be the work of 23-year-old Mevlid Jasarevic from the southern Serbian city of Novi Pazar. Bosnian officials say the gunman is tied to the fundamentalist Wahhabi branch of Islam brought to the region during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war by way of fighters from Algeria, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, and the Middle East.
The Saudi-based movement is connected to various religious militants in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They represent a minority, however, within Bosnia's large Muslim community.
Bosnian Security Ministry Sadik Ahmetovic told reporters in Sarajevo on October 29 that authorities are working together to investigate the attack.
"This attack against the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo is a terrorist attack and the authorities are coordinating their investigation with the Serbian authorities," Ahmetovic said.
"the Security Ministry of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with other law-enforcement agencies, will make every possible effort to ensure that all possible perpetrators and accomplices of this serious act are apprehended and prosecuted. The authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina will search all the sites that have any kind of links to the bombing of the U.S. embassy."
Both Jasarevic and his home town of Novi Pazar have been in trouble with the law before.
Officials say Jasarevic entered Bosnia on October 28, although it was not immediately clear whether or not he entered legally. He was convicted for robbery in Austria in 2005 and deported to Serbia.
Serbian police said he was also detained for a short time last year on charges of wielding "a large knife" during a visit by the U.S. ambassador to Serbia and other officials to Novi Pazar.
Meanwhile, at least 15 people suspected of belonging to a Wahhabi sect were detained early this morning in Novi Pazar and two other Serbian towns.
Novi Pazar, which has a large Muslim community, was in the spotlight in 2007 after the police found what they said was an Islamist "terrorist" training camp there.
The incident resurrects long-standing concerns over the rise of Islamic extremism in the region. Reports in recent years have warned that some areas serve as breeding grounds for the so-called "white" Al-Qaeda -- a term used to refer to Islamic fundamentalists with European features thought able to blend in more easily in the West.
The incident is likely to have Muslims on their guard for potential reprisals against the attack. Maric worries that her last name -- which she describes as "very Islamic" -- will cause her problems.
Sarajevo continues to see occasional violence and tension between its Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox religious communities.
Reporting by Milad Obradovic of RFE/RL's Balkan Service. Written by Kristin Deasy in Prague.
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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