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

Sarajevo Trial May Lift Lid on Assassinations

The anticipated trial of former security officials could reveal sensational details of political assassinations and even a plan to kill the Pope
By Ena Latin

Five former leaders of the Bosniak police and intelligence services are being investigated in connection with a series of mysterious crimes that rocked the country over the past decade.


Late last month, Bosnia's federal public prosecutor filed charges to the supreme court against Bakir Alispahic, former interior minister and first director of the Bosniak Agency for Investigation and Documentation, AID, his deputy Irfan Ljevakovic, the head of AID's Sarajevo sector, Enver Mujezinovic, and two key former police officers in the Bihac region, Edhem Veladzic and Ejub Ikic.


All five were detained on April 30 and are currently being held in Sarajevo's main prison. Although information is scarce, their court case promises to be one of the most sensational Bosnia has witnessed since the beginning of the 1992-5 war.


Police and intelligence sources say the five are allegedly responsible for numerous unsolved crimes - including assassinations - that took place on government-controlled territory during the war and immediately after it ended.


It is thought they were linked to, or possess key information on, numerous murders of Bosnian Croat returnees in central Bosnia, bomb blasts at Catholic sites, and the assassinations of one of AID's deputy directors, Nedzad Ugljen and the deputy interior minister, Jozo Leutar.


Media speculation links some of the suspects to the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II on his visit to Sarajevo on April 12, 1997, when an explosive device containing 23 anti-tank mines was discovered and defused under a bridge on the road the Pope's procession was expected to take.


The three main suspects, Alispahic, Ljevakovic and Mujezinovic, are believed to have organised a terrorist training camp in cooperation with the Iranian intelligence service MOIS in Pogorelica, in the Fojnica municipality, 40 km north-west of Sarajevo. There, specially selected Bosniak police and intelligence staff are thought to have been trained in espionage and terrorist skills between the summer of 1995 and February 1996.


The secret camp was discovered after American forces in the NATO-led peace force, IFOR, raided the site on February 15, 1996, one day after the then US secretary of state Warren Christopher had visited Sarajevo.


American soldiers carried out a helicopter air-borne operation on the remote camp, arrested the eight Bosnian trainees and three Iranian instructors and seized documents. This discovery, which many observers thought was well timed, enabled the US and western mediators in Bosnia to increase pressure on the Bosniak leadership to expel Islamic fighters and instructors from the country - one of the key provisions of the 1995 Dayton peace negotiations.


The then commander of peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, US General Michael Walker, handed the detainees from the camp to the internal affairs ministry the next day, February 16, 1996, with a written demand for legal proceedings to be taken against them. The premier at the time, Hasan Muratovic, accepted the demand but never acted on it.


Interestingly, although IFOR handed over the arrested persons, it took it six years to pass on the documentation that US forces captured in Pogorelica. It only submitted the documents to the Bosnian police in February this year. The forthcoming trial will probably shed light on this mysterious action.


The documents are of vital importance if light is to be shed on whether the camp was a legitimate police and intelligence training centre, or a terrorist base. For a long time following the raid, key political and police players in the Pogorelica affair claimed the trainees were merely receiving instruction of a type familiar to all police and intelligence services around the world.


The Pogorelica centre began working in summer 1995 and the best police officers were sent there. Training lasted two months, with trainees divided into groups of 12. A clue that the issue was far from harmless was given by the then chairman of Bosnian presidency, Alija Izetbegovic, in an interview to Ljiljan, the Bosniak nationalist weekly, in March 1996, in which he described Pogorelica as "our big mistake".


The final task of all those attending the camp is said to have been to write up an assignment, demonstrating the knowledge and skills they had acquired during the training. The assignments allegedly found on the site included assassination plans against well-known politicians, ways to cause public panic and methods of releasing compromising information about certain officials.


Some reports are said to have described plans to compromise the then chairman of Liberal-Bosniak Party, Adil Zulfikarpasic, the philosophy professor and prominent opposition politician Muhamed Filipovic, Nijaz Durakovic of the Social Democratic Party and the former interior minister Alija Delimustafic.


According police and intelligence sources, the documents also include plans to assassinate Fikret Abdic, the renegade Bosniak leader who during the war ran the self-proclaimed Autonomous Region of Western Bosnia. Five armed men were allegedly sent to Croatia to carry out Abdic's assassination in April 1996, but were intercepted and arrested by the Croatian police.


If the trial against the five men takes place, it is expected that some of Bosnia's highest political, military, and police officials will testify. The five men could each be sent to prison for over ten years.


Ena Latin is a pseudonym for a freelance journalist based in Bosnia.