Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Court Hears Mujahedin Took No Orders

Former Muslim fighter says El Mujahid unit in Bosnia had different rules from Bosnian army.
The war crimes trial of a former commander of the Bosnian army heard this week that foreign Muslim volunteers managed their own units and had a council that could over-rule government orders.

Aiman Awad, a Syrian citizen and former member of the El Mujahid unit of mainly foreign Muslim fighters, told judges in the trial of Rasim Delic that the volunteers had even tried to stop the Bosnian government signing the 1995 peace deal to end the war, and only reluctantly agreed to go along with it.

Delic is accused of failing to prevent or punish crimes committed by El Mujahid members, who executed and mistreated dozens of captured Serb and Croat soldiers in 1995.

Awad, who testified at special hearing held last week in Sarajevo, told judges that the El Mujahid unit governed itself during the conflict.

“The unit had internal rules that were not those of the BiH army,” he explained.

“The ‘Shura’ was a body made up of members of the unit that decided on every issue. Even when the army command would issue an order, the Shura would decide if we would take part in the attack or not.”

According to the witness, the Shura had so much power that they considered continuing the fight even after the Bosnian army had given the order to stop.

“It was decided that we would not continue because of our good relationship with the Bosnian Muslims. However, if the Shura hadn’t decided that, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

The witness said he came to Bosnia at the start of the war in 1992 in order to “fight to help the Muslims here”. He claimed his motivation for coming came from delivering humanitarian aid to Muslim refugees in Croatia and seeing the horrible things they had been through.

According to Awad, the El Mujahid unit was formed in the summer of 1993 at the request of foreign fighters that came from Islamic countries to fight in Bosnia. He claimed that he personally translated the request from Arabic to Bosnian and took it to the command of the 3rd Army Corps.

“The order to form the unit came in June or July 1993. I’m not sure if it came from the army headquarters or the 3rd Corps Command,” he said.

Prosecutor Daryl Mundis played video footage of the formation ceremony of the El Mujahid. The tape was played several times and it showed Abu Haris, the commander of the unit, saying, “Bosnia and the army headquarters have confirmed this ‘El Jihad’ unit as a regular army unit.”

Aiman Awad explained that El Jihad was another name for El Mujahid. According to the indictment, Delic in August 1993 ordered the creation of the unit within the army’s 3rd Corps.

The witness also stated that the formation of this unit was important because “there was a group of Bosniaks, along with the foreigners, that left their units in order to join ours, and they didn’t want to be considered deserters. Also, we wanted our unit to be legitimate, and not considered a paramilitary force”.

He claimed that he worked as a translator inside the group, and so was present at “meetings between the command of the 3rd Corps and the command of the unit, when orders were being given”.

Awad went on to give detailed explanations of military activities, as well as the role of the El Mujahid unit.

According to the indictment, in July and September 1995 the unit attacked the Krcevine and Vozuca villages in the Zavidovici municipality. During these attacks, large groups of hostages were taken and placed in the Kamenica camp for detainees, where they were subject to torture and murder by the mujahedin soldiers.

Delic is charged with knowing about these activities, being in a position to stop them, and not doing so.

During his cross examination by the defence, the witness admitted there were members of the unit that left before the end of the war who had committed some horrible crimes.

He smiled throughout much of his testimony, and even joked about certain questions he considered unimportant. He was also seen to wink at Delic during breaks in proceedings.

When he was asked to speak about the end of the war and the disbanding of his unit, Awad burst into tears, and the hearing had to be stopped for several minutes.

On regaining his composure, Awad then testified that Alija Izetbegovic, the then-president of Bosnia, had told his unit the news about the end of the war and that Delic had been present at the meeting.

“Members of the El Mujahid unit tried to convince President Izetbegovic that he shouldn’t sign a peace accord, but he kept saying that the war has to end,” stated Awad.

The witness also recalled the farewell dinner that was organised in honour of the disbanding of the unit.

“Rasim Delic was present there, and he expressed his gratitude to the members of the unit for all their help,” he said.

The witness testified in Sarajevo instead of The Hague, because he lacks a passport and wouldn’t have been able to return to Bosnia had he left. The trial will continue on February 14 in The Hague.

Denis Dzidic is an IWPR reporter in Sarajevo.

More IWPR's Global Voices