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Arrest Of Terrorist With Bosnian Passport Causes Concern

The arrest of a leading Islamic terrorist in possession of a Bosnian passport is creating further woes for Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's joint presidency.
By Janez Kovac

The arrest of leading Islamic terrorist Mehrez Adouni last week in Turkey has implications for Bosnia.


Picked up at Istanbul airport on September 17 by Turkish secret police, the 30-year-old Adouni, who is on Interpol's 'Red List' of most wanted suspects, is reported to be an associate of Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi Islamist linked to a string of terrorist outrages.


According to the Turkish press, it is believed that Adouni had come to Istanbul to assassinate either Italian foreign minister Lamberto Dini or US under secretary-of-state Marc Grosman, both of whom were scheduled to visit this week.


The issue in Bosnia is how someone on Interpol's Red List could get his hands on a Bosnian passport. Was it a genuine passport, a diplomatic document or a forgery? The opposition Social-Democratic Party demanded an explanation.


On Monday, Bosnia's interior ministry confirmed that Adouni has Bosnian citizenship. According to their statement, Adouni lived in Bosnia between May 1 1993 and May 5 1995 and that he had requested Bosnian citizenship on December 18, 1997 which was granted five days later. Interpol expects states to detain for extradition any of the 5,000 plus criminals on the Red List that its officials come across.


This statement immediately triggered a chain reaction. Bosnia's joint government formed a special commission to review all Bosnian citizenship; the SDP demanded emergency sessions of the Bosnian and the Federal parliaments; and the ruling Bosnian Croat HDZ party stated that Mujahedeen villages and training camps still exist in central Bosnia.


This latest scandal to hit Sarajevo threatens further embarrassment for Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the Bosnian joint presidency. Izetbegovic has already been publicly criticized on numerous occasions by international and especially US officials for failing to stop suspected Islamic terrorists from finding refuge in Bosnia.


Moreover, according to Bosnian police sources quoted in the Sarajevo press, Adouni did have strong links with Bosnia. Tunisian-born Adouni began his terrorist career in Afghanistan and is believed to have been behind several bombings and attacks in Africa and Europe, especially in Italy. He is reported to have been once arrested and sentenced to jail in Italy, but to have later escaped.


Adouni arrived in Bosnia in 1993 and along with many other Islamic fighters became a member of the el-Mujaheed combat unit during the war. During his stay in Bosnia, Adouni lived in the central Bosnian town of Zenica and was wounded several times. He is believed to have left Bosnia in 1997 when the US administration pressured Izetbegovic to expel local and foreign Islamic fighters from Bosnia by conditioning international financial aid on their departure.


Clearly, however, Izetbegovic was reluctant to lose those whom he considered important wartime allies, with the result that many Mujahedeen have remained. Living in remote, devastated and abandoned Bosnian Serb villages in central Bosnia, they acquired Bosnian citizenship by marrying local women.


Since then, the low-level but continuous presence of Mujahedeen has been a problem throughout central Bosnia. Not only have they prevented the return of Bosnian Serb refugees to the villages they occupied, but they also disturbed local Muslims with their way of practicing Islam, which was alien to Bosnian tradition.


Nobody knows whether Adouni still has a wife and family waiting for him somewhere in Bosnia, but local police believe he was behind the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, during the latter's April 1997 visit to Sarajevo.


On that occasion, federal police discovered and deactivated an explosive device under a bridge that the Pope's vehicle was just about to cross. The bomb contained several anti-tank mines and large quantities of plastic explosive, connected to a Motorola ham radio-triggered device.


According to expert opinion at that time, not even the Pope's heavily armoured vehicle could have withstood the blast had the explosive detonated. An investigation was launched, but as with so many similar bombings in Bosnia since 1995, no leads have turned up.


Turkish newspapers reported that Adouni will be extradited to Italy within the next 18 days, according to Turkish law. But even from his prison cell, he is likely to remain a major embarrassment for Izetbegovic and Bosnia's Muslim leadership.


At present, Izetbegovic and his ruling SDA party face allegations of rampant corruption and, as a result, growing dissatisfaction among the electorate.


In the latest development, the association of survivors of Srebrenica, until recently the staunchest SDA supporters, publicly called for Izetbegovic's resignation as a result of corrupt practices in the pensioners' and war-veterans' funds as well as the unsatisfactory speed of the return of refugees.


In an open letter, the survivors said that they do not consider Izetbegovic a "traitor", but complain that he is "utterly cynical" when it comes to the dire position of war veterans.


"We are afraid that this way you will be fighting for the interests of Bosniaks [Bosnian Muslims] until there are no more Bosniaks on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. That is why we ask you to leave before all the people leave," the Srebrenica refugees concluded.


Janez Kovac is a pseudonym for an independent journalist from Sarajevo.


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