The short version: Bosnian police arrest 5 terrorism suspects, seize weapons, bomb-making manual

Some analysis, excerpted below: Terror plot thwarted in Bosnia

The dots begin to connect in a radical network that reaches from Bosnia across Western Europe as police in Bosnia arrest five suspected of plotting to attack Catholic and EUFOR objects…The ongoing investigation shows so far that the group involved in the alleged plot is connected with earlier terrorism-related arrests in the country, and that the network extends to Western European capitals.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Federation Anti-Terror Unit on 20 March arrested five [Bosnianb] men: Rijad Rustempasic, Muhamed Meco, Abdulah Handzic and Edis Velic, all in their early thirties and from Sarajevo, along with Muhamed Ficer, from the central Bosnian city of Bugojno, who was released from custody after questioning.

The four arrested in Sarajevo were members of the local Wahhabi movement….Federation Anti-Terror Unit and the State Prosecutor’s Office have strong evidence that Rustempasic’s group was planning attacks on Catholic Churches and international forces within the country during the Easter holidays.

According to the authors’ source from the Federation police, who are running the investigation, the alleged leader of the group is Rustempasic, who was born and raised in Bugojno but moved to Sarajevo four years ago.

On condition of anonymity, the police source said that Rustempasic was one of the most notorious and most violent Bosnian radical Muslim[s] they had so far investigated, and that the suspect has managed to evade prison thanks to the tolerance of the local authorities in Bugojno. Since the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in December 1995, Rustempasic’s name has appeared in connection with several investigations related to the terrorism and radical Islam.

During the Bosnian 1992-1995 war, Rustempasic was a member of the El-Mujahid unit, headquartered in central Bosnia. The unit was under the official jurisdiction of the Bosnian Army during the war, though it operated autonomously and was comprised of foreign fighters from Islamic countries. The author’s police source said it was during that period that Rustempasic developed his bomb-making skills.

Federal police suspect that Rustempasic was responsible for mining the tower of the Catholic Church in the village of Humci, near Bugojno, in July 1996. No suspects were ever arrested in connection with the attack. Police also suspect that Rustempasic was behind numerous threats against Bosnian Croat returnees to Bugojno and other central Bosnian cities where there is a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) majority.

In 2004, Rustempasic was arrested by NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) troops in Bosnia for illegal possession of weapons and suspicion of terrorist-related activities. The international forces had found nearly five kilograms of explosives in his possession. For that crime, the court in Bugojno sentenced him to five months parole, during which time he relocated to Sarajevo.

The group came under closer scrutiny by the Anti-Terror Unit and the Bosnian State Intelligence Agency (OSA) after an intercepted telephone conversation between Rustempasic and another arrested member of the group.

“Christmas passed and we didn’t do anything,” one of the group’s members told Rustempasic late on 25 December 2007, alerting the authorities.

Federal police had reason to believe that the next opportunity to attack would be the next Catholic holiday, Easter. Analyzing intercepted communiqués, police concluded that would be targets of the group are Sarajevo central Cathedral and Franciscan Monastery in Central Bosnian city of Fojnica.

Aside from Catholic institutions, police also have reason to believe that the group was planning to sabotage electricity supply stations and launch attacks against European Forces (EUFOR) Liaison and Observation Team (LOT) here.

EUFOR has 45 LOTs stationed across the country. One of the intercepted telephone conversations between Rustempasic and another group member mentioned international community targets and talked about locations where international soldiers were based, particularly those coming from countries involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Most of the weapons seized during the raid on six locations were found in Rustempasic’s apartment in Sarajevo’s old town, where he lives with his family.

According to Muhamed Ficer - Rustempasic’s brother-in-law who was arrested and released in connection with the plot - the weapons found in the apartment did not belong to Rustempasic but to his brother, currently living in Austria.

According to Ficer, Rustempasic is unemployed (along with the others arrested), and depended on financial assistance from his “brothers” (Wahhabi’s) from Austria.

According to Rustempasic’s neighbors from Sarajevo suburb of Sedrenik, the house in which he has lived for free for the last four years is owned by Bosniak Deso Karisik, who lives in Germany.

Another member of the arrested group, Edis Velic, also has a criminal past. According to the police source, Velic spent some time fighting in Chechnya several years ago. Last year, he was fired from a Sarajevo-based private security company after a shooting incident in which Velic shot the owner of a second hand stall in the open market in the legs.

Velic and another detainee, Abdulah Handzic, were present at the recent protests against the deportation of foreign mujahideens and against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Notably, police spotted Velic and Handzic burning US and EU member country flags at the protests.

In October 2005, Federation police arrested five men, three of whom were indicted and later convicted on a string of terror charges.

Mirsad Bektasevic, a Swedish national from Serbia; Danish-born Turkish citizen Abdulkadir Cesur; and Bosnian national Bajro Ikanovic were arrested in late 2005 in two Sarajevo suburbs. The three were found guilty of “intending to carry out a terrorist act” in Bosnia or another European country with the aim of forcing the withdrawal of troops from Iraq or Afghanistan.

During the raid on the home of Bektasevic and Abdulkadir police found a suicide bomb belt, nearly 20 kilograms of explosives, guns and a bomb-making video.

According to the police source, Bektasevic was also in contact with Rustempasic in the two-month period between his arrival in Bosnia and his arrest.

After Rustempasic’s group was arrested on 20 March, local authorities discovered several locations, in almost unapproachable mountainous parts of Bosnia, with cottages where military equipment was held and the surrounding area used for military-style exercises. Those locations were discovered after analyzing a map found in Rustempasic’s apartment.

They also found another map containing coded signs. Police believe, once decoded, the map will lead to more hidden [sites] or even potential targets.

“But now we are troubled with the fact that four days prior to Easter, and one day ahead of the group’s arrest, a duffle bag containing military equipment arrived in Sarajevo from a Western Europe country, and could be linked to the group,” the police source said.

The whereabouts of the bag is still unknown, and police are focusing their investigation on this, hoping for cooperation from those arrested…

An article in the Christian publication The Trumpet cites a subscription-only Stratfor analysis explaining Bosnia’s strategic position in regard to radical Islam’s war on Europe”:

Considering the country’s geography and political instability, Bosnia-Herzegovina is potentially an excellent haven for radical Islamist groups. Historically, the region that includes Bosnia has served as a channel for the world’s traders and invaders. It is both a major gateway and a hub for all types of people coming to Europe. These include militant Islamists, who covet Bosnia’s strategic position between the Middle East and Europe…Bosnia is an ideal place for Islamists looking to rest, train and raise money-due to the Balkans’ popularity among smugglers-for upcoming missions.