Police in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, RS, have arrested 30 persons suspected of involvement in Islamist radical activity and of posing a possible security threat, RS police confirmed on Thursday.
The mass arrest, carried out exclusively by Bosnian Serb police and without the usual coordination with state and other security agencies, has raised concerns among Bosniaks in the country.
Some of them say Bosnian Serb leaders are using the recent terrorist scare to target Bosniaks in general, especially returnees, and intimidate them into leaving Republika Srpska.
The police operation, code-named “Ruben,” was launched on Wednesday, and on Thursday the Republika Srpska Interior Minister Dragan Lukac provided details.
Lukac said the entity police raided 32 locations across Republika Srpska and seized quantities of weapons, ammunition, bullet proof vests, uniforms and other military equipments.
They also arrested 30 persons, 11 of whom will be handed over to the entity Prosecutor.
The arrests were made on the base of information on persons known to be in possession of weapons and ammunition, who are related to Islamic radical movements or who had either fought in Syria or were known to be recruiting people to go there, Lukac said.
The dragnet follows the April 27 attack on the police station in Zvornik in which one policeman was killed and two others were injured. The assailant, a 24-year-old alleged radical Islamist, was killed in the shootout.
The attack, one of the worst terrorist incidents in Bosnia in recent years, increased ethnic and political tensions across the country.
However, the scale of the Bosnian police operation has raised concern and criticism among Bossniaks and their officials.
Sadik Ahmetovic, a Bosniak MP in the state parliament coming from Republika Srpska, said all Bosniaks were being treated as terrorists.
“Bosniaks are in fear and feel like it's 1992," he said, referring to the year when the civil war started in Bosnia and when thousands of Bosniaks were killed by better armed and better prepared Bosnian Serb forces.
Ahmetovic said the Bosniak population did not support terrorism and stressed that all persons linked to terrorism needed to be brought to justice.
However, he said the Bosnian Serb police were now arresting people who were not even religious, which raised suspicions as well as reviving fear among Bosniaks who had returned to Republika Srpska since the end of the war.
“This has turned into a hunt for all Bosniak returnees in Republika Srpska. This immediately has to stop because a selective approach can endanger peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Ahmetovic said.
Ahmetovic’s party, the Party of Democratic Action, SDA, the biggest Bosniak national party, held a meeting on Thursday related to the security situation following the mass arrests.
The SDA reiterated its support for the fight against terrorism but stressed that raids and arrests need to have a proper legal base. It concluded that the RS police operation had political motives to it, aimed at intimidating non-Serb population who had returned to the entity since the end of the war.
Similar concerns were voiced by the Bosniak mayor of Srebrenica, the eastern town notorious as the site of the massacre of around 8,000 Bosniaks by Bosnian Serb units in 1995.
Camil Durakovic said that several people arrested in the Srebrenica area were ordinary, hard working people who had nothing to do with religious radicalism.
“Things that happened during the raids...were a direct attack on the dignity of those people and their basic human rights,” he said, adding that Bosniaks were questioned by the RS police about kitchen knives and ordinary religious books that were found in their homes.
SDA as well as other local officials and experts expressed concerns about the fact that state security institutions were neither informed nor involved in the RS police operation.
One senior official from Bosnia’s state judiciary told Balkan Insight that the police operation violated state competencies because anti-terrorist actions fall under the responsibility of state prosecution and police and security agencies.
Bosnian officials said this situation was worrying as it comes only days after the RS President, Milorad Dodik, accused Bosnia’s state institutions of negligence for not preventing the attack in Zvornik, also announcing the possible establishment of a separate intelligence agency in the entity.
The RS interior minister meanwhile tried to alleviate Bosniak fears during his press conference, adding that anyone arrested but found to be innocent would be released speedily.
“All those who have radical extremist intentions must know that the police will be breathing down their neck 24 hours a day,” Lukac said.
RS President Milorad Dodik also reacted in a statement in which he said the police action had in no way targeted Bosniaks but was aimed at protecting all citizens of Republika Srpska.
“This action is aimed at gathering information about possible security dangers,” Dodik said, adding that the operation was lawful because it was coordinated between the RS police and prosecution.
“All Bosniaks can live peacefully in RS. Bosniaks are not people who should be given the etiquette of 'terrorists' in the same way that some of their representatives once tried to collectively engrave the word 'criminals' on the Serbs,” he said.
Par: Elvira M. Jukic