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Delic Trial: Who Controlled Foreign Fighters?

Prosecution witnesses give contradicting testimony on level of control Bosnian army allegedly exercised over Muslim foreign fighters.
By Daniel Barron
The trial of former Bosnian army chief Rasim Delic this week heard several former Bosnian Muslim members of the El Mujahed give conflicting evidence over whether their unit was subordinated to the Bosnian army - a key question in the trial.

Delic, a wartime chief of staff of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, ABiH, is charged with failing to prevent or prosecute crimes committed by foreign Muslim volunteers, known as Mujahedin, who were members of the El Mujahed unit.

The prosecutors allege that in August 1993 Delic personally ordered the establishment of the El Mujahid unit comprised of foreign volunteers, which was then subordinated to the ABiH 3rd Corps. According to the indictment, this unit remained part of the 3rd Corps until its disbandment on December 12 1995.

Apart from foreign fighters, a number of Bosnian Muslims were also members of this unit.

This week, the prosecution’s line of questioning focused on establishing continuity between the Mujahedin and the regular units of the ABiH, which is an essential component of their case - they must establish that Delic exercised authority over the Mujahedin fighters who committed the crimes in order to prove that he is culpable for failing to punish them.

First to take the stand this week was Bosnian mujahed Hasib Alic, who left the 306th Mountain Brigade of the ABiH to join the Mujahedin in May 1993.

Alic told the judges that he did not feel he had deserted the ABiH when he joined the El Mujahed detachment, and no disciplinary action was taken against him. The prosecution showed the court documents indicating that Alic formally remained a member of the ABiH until the end of the war in December 1995.

The second witness, Saban Alic, also joined the 306th Mountain Brigade at the outbreak of the Bosnian War, and left for the El Mujahed unit in June 1993. He also testified that he did not feel that he had left the ranks of the ABiH when he joined the Mujahedin.

However, when the defence pressed him to clarify his statement, Alic explained that he did not feel that he had left the ABiH because he continued to fight the same enemy - the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, and the Bosnian Serb Army - after joining the Mujahedin.

Both witnesses admitted under cross-examination by defence counsel Vasvija Vidovic that once they joined the Mujahedin, they no longer took orders from ABiH commanders or indeed had any contact with any ABiH units.

Alic testified that orders in the El Mujahed detachment were given by the unit’s emir, or leader, an Arab named Abu Haris, and the shura, the group’s religious war council.

No one could issue orders to the Mujahedin without the approval of the shura, Alic testified. He also said that ABiH members “wouldn’t even dare to look at” the Mujahedin, let alone attempt to control them.

At one point, when Alic said that the locals considered the Mujahedin “the best soldiers”, Judge Flavia Lattanzi pressed him, on his use of the word “soldier”, to clarify whether the Mujahedin were part of an army.

While Alic did not answer the question directly, he did testify that the ABiH largely existed only on paper, and that it resembled “a peasant uprising”.

The third witness testified under protective measures, and appeared under the pseudonym PW2. Much of his testimony was given in closed session at the request of both the prosecution and the defence.

PW2, a Bosnian Muslim guest-worker in Slovenia at the outbreak of the war, returned to Bosnia to join the 1st Krajina Brigade of the ABiH in the spring of 1992, and moved to the Bosnian Army’s 7th Muslim Brigade later that year. In the summer of 1993, he joined the Mujahedin

During his evidence-in-chief, PW2 confirmed that he had been under the command of Abu Haris, and that he had not felt the need to notify anyone that he was leaving the 7th Muslim Brigade to join the Mujahedin.

During cross-examination by the defence, PW2 admitted that no one could have prevented him leaving the 7th Muslim Brigade, and that he knew that numerous soldiers simply left their units and returned to Croatia, although they were not supposed to.

PW2 also identified an ABiH general in the company of Mujahedin commanders in a photograph shown to him in court, and testified that there had been several Bosnian army commanders present at a farewell ceremony for the foreign Mujahedin in 1995, although he could not confirm that Delic had attended.

The group of Mujahedin didn’t have a name when he joined them, said PW2 , but they subsequently became the El Mujahed “part of the Bosnian army”.

Asked what he meant by “part of the Bosnian army”, the witness said “by formation, by establishment”.

“We were given our status as a detachment, and we belonged to the 3rd Corps,” he told the judges.

Before joining the El Mujahed, PW2 testified, he engaged in combat operations alongside them as a member of the 7th Muslim Brigade. Pressed by defence counsel Vidovic to elaborate, the witness explained that the Mujahedin had remained between half and one kilometre away from the ABiH regular units during combat.

When asked by Judge Lattanzi who ensured coordination between the Mujahedin and the ABiH, PW2 said that perhaps it had been interpreters, as many of the Mujahedin spoke only Arabic.

When Presiding Judge Bakone Moloto asked whether the Mujahedin and the 7th Muslim brigade had fought “as allies”, PW2 responded, “We fought together, which means we launched counter attacks in response to Serb attacks. Who provided command, I really wouldn’t know.

“The [Mujahedin] were rather autonomous in the doings. They did their own things.”

Confirming the testimony of the previous two witnesses, PW2 told the judges that the decisions of the shura were binding upon the El Mujahed unit, and that Mujahedin did not engage in combat if they had not been given permission to do so by the shura.

In fact, he said, armed clashes between the 7th Muslim Brigade and the Mujahedin had occurred at one point because of the Mujahedin’s insistence on acting independently.

Daniel Barron is an IWPR reporter in London.

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