Bosnia: SFOR Frees Suspected Extremist - IWPR
- Bosnia: SFOR Frees Suspected Extremist
The NATO-led peacekeepers' decision to release a
Muslim accused of links to al-Qaeda may not be enough
to ease fears of human rights abuses.
By Nermina Durmic-Kahrovic in Maoca (BCR No 402,
NATO-led peacekeeping troops have released a suspected
Islamic extremist they had been holding for three
months without charge.
Sabahudin Fiuljanin was handed over to the local
authorities on January 30 after an outcry over the
circumstances of his detention.
Amnesty International, the Bosnian government and the
country's top human rights court had claimed that
NATO's Stabilisation Force, SFOR, had flouted the 1995
Dayton peace agreement - which states that troops
should maintain stability but not overrule local law -
and that the its anti-terror campaign had led to a
number of civil liberties abuses.
Bosnian law allows a suspect to be held without charge
for 30 days - but Fiuljanin had been detained for
three times that period. He was allowed to see a
lawyer only twice, and was denied family visits
throughout his incarceration.
Fiuljanin, a resident of Maoca, was arrested on
suspicion of spying and accused of links to al-Qaeda
in November, when he was allegedly discovered in front
of an SFOR base in Tuzla with anti-tank weapons in his
Amnesty International spoke out strongly against
SFOR's decision to hold him without charge after the
30-day limit, stating, "The obligation to respect
human rights applies to all members of international
and inter-governmental organisations exercising law
enforcement functions - including NATO."
Bosnia's Human Rights Chamber demanded on January 11
that SFOR hand over Fijuljanin to the Bosnian
authorities, claiming that local and international law
had been violated. The country's tripartite presidency
made a similar call.
SFOR had refused to comply with these requests, but
freed their prisoner on the grounds that the local
authorities could now take over the investigation.
Following Fiuljanin's release, his lawyer Osman
Mulahalilovic told the media that his client had
handed in all his weapons in October following an
While Fiuljanin was expected to give a statement to
the local police, it is uncertain if further charges
will be pressed against him. SFOR spokesman Major
Shawn Mill told journalists at a press conference on
January 30 that there was an "on going investigation"
into the Fiuljanin case, and that they still
considered the suspect to be an "extremist".
His arrest had sparked a series of SFOR patrols and
house searches in Bosnia, as part of a crackdown on
suspected extremists. This pressure allegedly forced
around ten Maoca families to flee their homes earlier
"Those families had to leave in the midst of such a
harsh winter," complained Sulejman Osojkic, a member
of the dwindling Muslim community.
"They [SFOR] claim that they are for democracy and
human rights, and call us extremists. Why - am I an
enemy of SFOR?"
While the Maoca community includes a number of radical
Muslims who fought during the war in Bosnia, they deny
all links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
Locally, they are known as Vehabije - a name given to
those who follow puritanical interpretations of Islam.
Police and other local officials in the Tuzla canton -
which has jurisdiction in the area - have repeatedly
said that the community did not pose a threat.
"So far we have not had any incidents or complaints
about members of this group from their neighbours, nor
people of different nationalities who live with them.
There are no indications that they represent a special
danger to the safety of the area or the community they
belong to," Tuzla police commissioner Ivica Divkovic
He said the Maoca community was made up of Bosnian
citizens and Muslims from neighbouring Yugoslavia.
Locals say there are around 20 such families still
living in the area.
SFOR spokesman Major John Dowling explained that the
increased SFOR activity was part of Operation Harvest,
which was designed to collect illegally stashed
weapons from the war, and had nothing to do with
targeting Muslim radicals.
He added that the NATO-led force had received no
complaints from any of the locals, and insisted that
its activities had been misinterpreted. "SFOR treats
all people equally - we have no preference for any
ethnicity, religion or nationality," he said.
But Admir Mujkanovic, president of the municipality
that includes Maoca, told IWPR he had warned SFOR a
few months ago that residents were being upset by the
frequent patrols and late night helicopter flights.
"They told me this would not happen again, but that
has remained just a promise," he said.
Nermina Durmic Kahrovic is a regular IWPR contributor
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