Kentucky woman accused of Bosnian war crimes

By Jennifer Hewlett / McClatchy Newspapers (MCT), March 17, 2011

LEXINGTON, Ky. — U.S. authorities have arrested a 51-year-old Croatian-born woman in Kentucky who is accused of war crimes against civilians during the Bosnian civil war in the 1990s.

Azra Basic, who was living in Stanton, Ky., is accused of torturing and murdering ethnic Serbs at prison camps from April to June 1992. Bosnia and Herzegovina officials want Basic returned to that country to stand trial.

Documents filed in U.S. District Court in Lexington detail gruesome acts of torture and murder alleged to have been committed by Basic while she was apparently a commander in a Croatian army brigade.

Eyewitnesses Radojica Garic and Dragan Kovacevic said Basic murdered Blagoje Djuras, who had been beaten to unconsciousness by Croatian police and soldiers, by slitting his throat with a knife, according to a court document.

“After that, Azra took us by the hair and dragged us to the wound on the neck from which the blood ran and made us drink that blood,” Garic said.

Sreten Jovanovic testified he was forced to drink gasoline, beaten into unconsciousness, and had his hands and face set on fire by Basic, according to the court document.

Mile Kuzmanovic said Basic ordered him and others to swallow a handful of salt and eat Yugoslav money, then hit him with boots, weapon butts, metal bars, electrical cables and batons, the court document said.

Kuzmanovic said Basic and other soldiers forced him to lick blood off of floors covered in broken glass and to crawl on those floors with a knotted rope in his mouth, which soldiers used to pull out prisoners’ teeth. Kuzmanovic said his fingernails were pulled out with pliers and that “Azra herself, made a cut on my left auricle with some kind of pliers.”

Another witness said that, in addition to cutting off Kuzmanovic’s ear, Basic carved a cross and four S’s on Kuzmanovic’s forehead.

Mormir Lazic said Basic carved crosses into the foreheads and backs of various prisoners.

The International Criminal Police Organization, commonly known as Interpol, located Basic in Kentucky in 2004. A district court in Bosnia and Herzegovina issued an international arrest warrant for Basic in October 2006. The U.S. received a formal request to extradite Basic to Bosnia and Herzegovina in February 2007.

The U.S. government requested more evidence pertaining to the alleged offenses, which Bosnian prosecutors provided in February and April 2010, according to federal court records.

Lexington attorney Patrick Nash, who is representing Basic, said he was not aware of any previous international extradition cases in the Eastern District of Kentucky.

“These are extraordinarily serious charges, so it requires an extraordinary level of care on my part,” he said. “The allegation is that she was a participant in this war. By all accounts this war was very complicated, with religious elements in it. I’m not sure that present-day historians even have a handle on it as to what happened during that war,” Nash said. […]


Meet your neighbors, Americans! In fact, whenever one watches horror movies about the hillbilly mutilators of Kentucky, West Virginia, or the backwoods of Louisiana or Mississippi, keep in mind that there’s a good chance these people may be Croatians. At the very least, instead of calling them “sadistic,” we can just call them Croatian.

Meanwhile, the four S’s, which none of these mainstream news reports saw fit to explain (did the reporters even bother asking or looking it up?), are the four C’s (Cyrillic for ‘S’) that appear on the Serbian coat of arms, one in each of the quadrants of the cross. The symbol appears on the Serbian flag, though not on the Serb Republic’s flag since the Bosnian Muslims wouldn’t allow it. The S’s stand for “Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava,” or “Only Unity will Save the Serbs.” So she was marking Kumanovic as a Serb, the equivalent of carving a Star of David into a Jew’s face.

An AP report had a few additional details:

…The Croatian-born Basic is wanted in Bosnia on charges of committing war crimes against ethnic Serb civilians in 1992. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Arehart wrote in a complaint requesting extradition that Basic is wanted in Europe on charges of murder and torture.

Arehart says Basic, a one-time member of the Croatian Army, is accused of killing at least one person and torturing others at three camps from April to June 1992. Witnesses said Basic forced one man to drink gasoline, another to drink human blood and carved crosses into the flesh of a third man.

It is unclear why Basic was in Kentucky. Court records list her as having lived at two addresses in in the town of Stanton.

Bosnian authorities charged Basic in January 1993 as an unknown, using witness statements, medical examinations and forensic experts between 1992 and 2001 to identify her. Interpol traced Basic to Kentucky in 2004 and an international arrest warrant went out in 2006.

Arehart’s complaint says Basic’s alleged crimes took place at three camps near the majority-Serbian settlement of Cardak in Derventa. Witness[es] said the Croatian military took ethnic Serbs from the Cardak settlement around April 26, 1992 and subsequently tortured them.

Radojic Garic, listed in the complaint as a witness, said Blagoje Djuras was beaten unconscious. Garic said Basic then stabbed him in the neck, killing him, and dragged other Serbs to the body “and made us drink that blood.”

…Arehart said Kovacevic identified a picture of Basic in December 2009. Another man, Sreten Jovanovic, told investigators in September 1992 that he was forced to drink gasoline, beaten unconscious and his hands and face were set on fire by Basic, who was wearing a military police uniform from a brigade in Rijeka, a port city in Croatia.

Arehart wrote that a subsequent medical examination concluded that Jovanovic suffered “torture in captivity.”

Other witnesses listed in the complaint said Basic and other soldiers beat and burned them and pulled their nails out with pliers.

In August 1992, witness Cedo Maric told Bosnian investigators that Basic cut a cross and four “S'’ letters into his forehead before hacking his neck below the Adam’s apple. […]

“But — wait! wait! wait! — what’s going on here? I was just torturing Serbs. I thought the world wasn’t supposed to care! What the f—?”

Liz, who circulated this item, quipped, “If the arrests of other Croat barbarians are any lesson, there’ll be huge demonstrations and vigils on the streets of Zagreb, Rijeka, etc. demanding the release of their ‘war veteran who fought valiantly for her homeland.’”

Indeed, one by now recognizable pattern among Croatian generals and other Croats on trial for war crimes is that when questioned about Serbs with missing ears or fingers, or Serbs found drowned with their hands tied behind their backs, the answer is always the same: I did what I had to do to defend the country.

That is, in the urgency and split-moment life-threatening situations of war, one can’t very well kill the enemy efficiently without first carving stuff into him for three hours while making him crawl on glass or watching him drown for five minutes. Anything else would simply be unprofessional, behavior unbecoming of a Croatian soldier.

Drinking blood is another Croatian motif. In this case, we have Croatians forcing Serbs to drink Serbian blood, and while Croatians did at least this much in WWII as well, they also licked blood from knives used to slaughter Serbs.

Another pattern that this story revisits is the particular cruelty and sadism of female Croat Nazis. The female concentration camp guards had quite the reputation in WWII Croatia. Consider how young this bitch was when she entertained herself thus in 1992: about 30.

Basic. Just your basic Croatian.

Maybe I’ve watched “Wrong Turn” and “The Hills Have Eyes” too many times, but this looks exactly like the kind of person whose hands I don’t want to fall into when visiting Kentucky.

Meanwhile, I might mention here that I recently watched a video in which Croatian POWs were interviewed — along with mercenaries fighting in their war — and what they said was revealing. A lot of people who went to fight in the Croatian (and Bosnian) war were people fulfilling a need to kill. “I want to kill. I am merciless,” one says outright. There are men who seek out legalized murder wherever they can find it, i.e. war. Surely none was as satisfying as the Croatian and Bosnian wars.

UPDATE: Another AP report: Neighbours: Croatian woman charged with war crimes cared for elderly, friendly

STANTON, Ky. - If Azra Basic needed a place to run from the bloody aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia, her small-town Kentucky neighbours said she found it.

The Croatian woman locals knew as “Issabella” settled years ago in this rural, hilly area and took jobs bathing elderly nursing home patients and working at a sandwich factory.

This week, acquaintances were shocked to hear the secret that Bosnian war crimes investigators said Basic has been hiding for two decades. As a soldier in the Croatian army, she killed a prisoner and tortured others by forcing them to drink human blood and gasoline, authorities said. She was arrested on Tuesday by federal agents.

“She’s a lovely person, very diligent in her work,” said 88-year-old Henrietta Kirchner, who was one of Basic’s patients at the Stanton Nursing Center for about a week when she was recovering from a broken leg.

According to court documents, the 52-year-old Basic is charged with fatally stabbing a prisoner in the neck in 1992 during the bloody conflict in eastern Europe. Court documents accuse her of numerous other atrocities, including: setting a prisoner ablaze, pulling out prisoners’ fingernails with pliers, ripping off a man’s ear with pliers and carving crosses and the letter “S'’ into another man’s flesh.

The accusations were “very shocking” to 44-year-old former neighbour Brian Rice.

“She’s a pretty nice person,” said Rice, who lived near her for about two years until she moved in November. “If I was standing here right now and … she drove by, she would throw her hand up and if the window was down, she would speak and say ‘hi’ by my name.”

It’s unclear why Basic chose to settle down in Stanton, a town about 45 miles (72 kilometres) east of Lexington known for its annual corn festival. But Rice said if she was looking for a place to get away from her past, she had found it.

“Everybody sticks to themselves around here,” he said. “We don’t have no neighbourly get-togethers. We speak if we know you.”

Basic was an employee at the Nestle Prepared Foods plant that makes Hot Pockets-brand sandwiches, the company said, declining to provide additional details.

Jo Epperson, a clerk at the local smoke shop where she said Basic bought a carton of Kentucky-made 24/7 Menthol cigarettes once a week, said she once asked Basic what brought her to the area.

Epperson said Basic responded vaguely that “she was part of the war,” but didn’t elaborate.

Bosnian authorities have been building a case against her for years, taking statements from witnesses, forensic experts and doctors between 1992 and 2001 to identify her…The complaint filed by U.S. Attorney James Arehart accuses Basic of committing crimes at three camps near the majority-Serbian settlement of Cardak in Derventa. Witnesses said the Croatian military took ethnic Serbs from the Cardak settlement in late April of 1992 and tortured them.

What’s this now? A casual mention of CONCENTRATION CAMPS IN BOSNIA THAT WERE NOT RUN BY SERBS AND KILLING MUSLIMS? Doesn’t this need to be explained to Americans? How are they going to get their minds around this possibility, which has been carefully kept from their awareness? More to the point, how are journalists and politicians going to keep Americans on program vis-a-vis the Balkan wars if this sort of thing can so casually find its way into the pages of a metro daily? The article closes with this paragraph:

…Court records show that during Basic’s arrest, federal marshals arrested Theodore S. Loman, 63, who was also listed as living at the residence, on a charge of being a convicted felon in possession of firearms. A federal affidavit said marshals found several pistols and rifles in the house when they arrived to arrest Basic, who they found in the doorway of the kitchen.

Like I said, Basic fit right in.