Bosnia imams speak out after attack on U.S. embassy

SARAJEVO Fri Nov 4, 2011 1:39pm EDT

Bosnian Muslims perform the ''Tarawih'' evening prayers on Laylat al-Qadr during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at an Islamic centre in Mostre village near Visoko city, about 35 km (22 miles) from the capital Sarajevo, in this August 26, 2011 file photo.   REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Files

Bosnian Muslims perform the ''Tarawih'' evening prayers on Laylat al-Qadr during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at an Islamic centre in Mostre village near Visoko city, about 35 km (22 miles) from the capital Sarajevo, in this August 26, 2011 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Files

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SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Imams across Bosnia issued a rare joint message during prayers on Friday condemning violence in the name of Islam, a week after an extremist attack on the U.S. embassy shook the country's overwhelmingly moderate Muslim community.

The assault by an Islamist gunman has revived questions over the threat from radical Islam in the Balkans.

"We have all been disturbed and upset by the heinous and perfidious act of terrorism against the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo," imams across Bosnia told believers at Friday noon prayers.

"We are particularly concerned and embittered by the violence, terror and crime that has been committed in the name of religion -- in this and previous such cases in the name of Islam," they said.

The 23-year-old gunman, a Muslim man from neighboring Serbia, fired at the city center embassy for 30 minutes, wounding one police officer before a sniper shot him in the leg and he was arrested.

At a court hearing, the gunman said he did not recognize the court, describing it as worthless before Allah. Two other men have been arrested and accused of aiding him.

All three are followers of the strict Wahhabi branch of Islam that has proved increasingly attractive to young people in Bosnia in recent years, particularly in rural areas, under the influence of foreigners who fought in Bosnia's 1992-95 war.

Bosnian media had criticized Muslim leaders in Bosnia for failing to condemn and distance themselves from Wahhabism, which is strongly identified in Bosnia with radical Islam.

The Islam traditionally practiced in Bosnia is moderate, and shaped by long coexistence with other faiths.

Many Bosnian Muslims -- Slavic people who converted to Islam in the 15th century when the Ottoman empire conquered the Balkans -- see their model of Islam as under threat from more radical branches of their faith.

"Don't fall into the trap of judging them as all the same," imam Mehmed Sljivo said during a sermon at the packed, elegant Ali Pasha mosque, where some prayed in the courtyard because they could not fit inside the building.

"Not all of them are terrorists or violent, we don't have the right to hate them, or judge them, or persecute them as though they were criminals."

(Reporting By Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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