Bosnia Seeks Stiffer Penalty for Local ISIS Recruiter
by Stephen Schwartz
Authorities in Bosnia-Hercegovina have initiated a new proceeding against Husein Bilal Bosnić, a prominent local Wahhabi preacher, reports the Sarajevo daily of record, Oslobođenje [Liberation]. Bosnić is already behind bars, convicted of organizing groups to join the so-called "Islamic State" (ISIS).
In 2014, Bosnia-Hercegovina imposed prison sentences up to 10 years for jihadist recruitment, later increasing the maximum to 20 years. Husein Bosnić, in his early forties, was arrested for ISIS agitation and sentenced in November 2015 to seven years' incarceration. Bosnić was apprehended at the notorious Wahhabi enclave of Gornja Maoča in northeastern Bosnia, which has been raided repeatedly by Bosnian security personnel and where ISIS flags have been displayed.
The prosecutor called for 20 years' imprisonment for Bosnić, who was charged with inciting and participating in terrorism by enabling Bosnians to join ISIS. Bosnić's trial was the second under the new law; earlier in 2015, four individuals were jailed based on the anti-jihadist regulation. Two of the imprisoned, Nevad Hušidić (29) and Merim Keserović (19), received one year sentences for attempting to enter ISIS territory via Turkey. Husein Erdić (33), who organized their journey, received 3-1/2 years, while Midhat Trako (67), who covered expenses, received 18 months.
In March 2016, before the appellate panel of the Court of Bosnia-Hercegovina, state prosecutor Ćazim Hasanspahić called for an extension of Husein Bosnić's punishment, noting "During the trial not once did [Bosnić] regret or express regret for those who died on the battlefield in Syria."
In response, Adil Lozo, Bosnić's defense attorney, asked his client be freed or retried, claiming no evidence was presented Bosnić sent people to fight and that his radical statements were mere theological commentary.
Judge Miloš Babić of the appellate panel noted a decision would be rendered as prescribed by Bosnian law.
Lozo's argument that Bosnić should be retried because his diatribes were simply religious discourse echoed his strategy in the 2014-15 trial.
One of the lead witnesses against Bosnić at that time was Selvedin Beganović, an imam in the border region where Bosnić was active. Beganović testified Bosnić preached in mosques without Islamic religious training and lacked the official approval of the country's established Islamic Community.
More important, Beganović, who said he had been attacked physically several times by Bosnić's supporters, claimed Bosnić "called young men to go to jihad. He tells them to go fight a war, to die as [Islamic martyrs]."
Lozo replied by belittling Beganović's religious knowledge and dismissing the expertise of other prosecution witnesses.
Bosnić's 2014-15 trial disclosed at least 15 identified Bosnians had gone to Syria, later appearing within the ranks of ISIS or the al Qaida-affiliated Al-Nusra Front. One of them, Abdullah Ramo Pazara, obtained U.S. citizenship before leaving for Syria in 2013.
ISIS and its metastasized Wahhabism have little appeal for European, Western-looking Balkan Muslims, but assiduous preachers like Husein Bosnić have enlisted a stream of recruits for jihad in Syria.
Eleven Bosnians from the northwest zone where Bosnić was active were held as pro-ISIS conspirators in Sarajevo in December 2015, followed by the capture of six more, including individuals with heavy weapons, in January 2016.
Also in January, the Bosnian State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) detained a 29-year-old from the northwestern area associated with Bosnić. Identified only as M.K., the suspect was returning to Bosnia from Turkey and was believed to have fought in Syria from November 2014 to June 2015.
The German news service Deutsche Welle (DW), in November 2015, cited Bosnian intelligence services that estimated 200 of the country's citizens had gone to Syria as jihadists. DW quoted threats to Bosnia by ISIS, conveyed on an Internet site, "Vijesti Ummeta" (Global Muslim News), which calls itself "a Bosnian-language IS portal." The site glorified the Paris attacks last November and warned that bloodshed would soon strike the Balkans. "You fools, Bosnia is awash in the blood of mujahedeen," the site declared. "This blood was not spilled in vain, this blood has already brought forth fruits, and these fruits will soon make your heads roll from your necks."
[Note: Because of an author's mistake, this text as it appeared in The Weekly Standard Blog misidentified Husein Bosnić in the fourth paragraph, substituting the name of state prosecutor Ćazim Hasanspahić. CIP regrets the error.]