SARAJEVO Bosnia's state court sentenced an Islamist radical to 18 years in prison on Thursday for a gun attack on the U.S. embassy and said the country faced a growing terrorist threat.
The court found Mevlid Jasarevic, a 24-year-old originally from neighboring Serbia, guilty of organizing and committing a terrorist act, said judge Branko Peric, who presided over the panel of judges.
Emrah Fojnica and Munib Ahmetspahic, indicted with helping Jasarevic organize a terrorist group in northeast Bosnia, were freed for lack of evidence, Peric said.
"Never before in its history has Bosnia faced such forms of terrorism," Peric said, explaining the lengthy prison term given Jasarevic. The maximum sentence for acts of terrorism in the former Yugoslav republic is 20 years.
Jasarevic spent 50 minutes in plain sight firing from an automatic rifle at the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo in October last year, seriously wounding a police officer before he was hit by a police sharpshooter and arrested.
The court said Jasarevic had plotted the attack in Gornja Maoca village, known for its adherence to the strict Wahhabi branch of Islam, and had got hold of a large amount of weapons, ammunition and other military equipment.
In a homemade video filmed just before the attack, Jasarevic said he would target the U.S. embassy because Americans "have launched a fight against Islam and Muslims across the world".
"If there was no Gornja Maoca, there would be no Jasarevic," Peric said, warning that terrorism has become a serious problem in the Balkan country.
The sentence given Jasarevic was the heaviest handed down by the state court, which has convicted 12 people of conspiring or organizing terrorist attacks since it was created in 2002.
The wars of the 1990s, when federal Yugoslavia fell apart, sharpened the sense of religious identity of some in the Balkans, fuelled since by poverty. The majority of the 100,000 people killed in Bosnia's 1992-95 war were Muslims.
GUNMAN BOYCOTTS TRIAL VERDICT
Neither Jasarevic nor other two defendants attended the pronouncement of the verdict. His lawyer said he would appeal against the sentence, while the prosecutor announced an appeal against the court's ruling to release the two other men.
Throughout the trial, the three defendants, dressed in long Wahhabi robes and caps, refused to stand when the judges entered the courtroom.
Jasarevic described the court as "worthless before Allah" and said last week his conviction would do nothing to stop anyone from launching similar attacks.
"This is not the message only to the court but also to the state, and must be taken seriously," Peric said.
Most Bosnian Muslims, also known as Bosniaks, practice a moderate form of Islam. But analysts say recent years have seen a rise in the number of home-grown Islamists, many raised abroad and radicalized to fight for global causes unrelated to Bosnia.
Jasarevic was born in the southwest Serbian town of Novi Pazar but lived for a number of years in Austria, where he spent time in prison for robbery.
(Editing by Matt Robinson and Andrew Roche)