Bosnia arrests 25 in swoop on organized crime
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnian police arrested 25 people on Wednesday on suspicion of multiple murders, drug-trafficking and robbery in what it described as the largest crackdown on organized crime since the country's 1992-95 war.
Organized crime in the western Balkans grew out of the wars that tore apart socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s, leaving the region awash with weapons and a key transit route for drugs and other illicit goods trafficked from Asia to western Europe.
Bosnian media reports said one of the locations raided on Wednesday was a hotel owned by Naser Kelmendi, an ethnic Albanian on a U.S. list of international drug kingpins in June, but police declined to name any of the suspected ringleaders.
At a news conference, the head of Bosnia's state security agency SIPA, Goran Zubac, said the operation was "the most complex and largest action in Bosnia-Herzegovina so far."
"This is the beginning of the end of organized crime in Bosnia," he told reporters. Zubac said the operation, codenamed Lutka (Doll), was continuing with the cooperation of other security agencies in the Balkan region.
Wednesday's arrests are in part linked to the 2007 murder of Bosnian Muslim warlord Ramiz Delalic, who was involved in organized crime after the war. Reports say police at the time investigated Kelmendi's possible involvement in the murder but he was never arrested. Zubac said police had now solved the case.
Kelmendi, 55, is a Kosovo-born Albanian with Bosnian citizenship suspected by the United States of trafficking heroin and cocaine to Europe through the Balkans.
With his sons and brother, Kelmendi owns a number of businesses in Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo, including hotels and a trucking company. He has been investigated in Bosnia on 13 criminal charges but never brought to trial.
In June, U.S. President Barack Obama added Kelmendi to a list of now 97 drug lords who face U.S. sanctions under the U.S. Kingpin Act.
The response of Balkan governments to organized crime has been patchy at best. Croatia has made the most progress as it nears membership of the European Union next year, but weak governance and ingrained corruption has stymied the fight elsewhere.
(Editing by Matt Robinson and Mark Heinrich)