SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Bosnia charged three men with terrorism on Monday over an attack on the U.S. embassy in the capital Sarajevo last year that raised questions over the threat from radical Islam in the Balkans.
The gun assault by 23-year-old Mevlid Jasarevic from neighboring Serbia ignited fierce debate over the radicalization of Muslims in an impoverished region still recovering from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and trying to integrate with the West.
Jasarevic spent 50 minutes firing on the U.S. embassy in downtown Sarajevo from an automatic rifle in October last year, striking the building more than 100 times and seriously wounding one police officer. A sniper wounded the shooter and he was arrested.
The prosecutor’s office said in a statement that Jasarevic, Emrah Fojnica and Munib Ahmetspahic were accused of forming a terrorist group in the northeastern village of Gornja Maoca, home to adherents of the strict Wahhabi branch of Islam.
The group aimed to improve the status of their community through violence and “terrorist activities” against state institutions and foreign diplomatic missions, the statement said. Fojnica and Ahmetspahic were charged with helping Jasarevic carry out the attack and concealing evidence.
Jasarevic talked about his motives in a video filmed just before the attack and which the Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz posted on its website last week.
“I don’t need to explain why I attack Americans,” said the bearded man, sitting alone in a room with two automatic rifles leaning against the wall behind him.
“They have launched a fight against Islam and Muslims across the whole world. They kill Muslims, rape their wives, take away the old and the young, arrest, do whatever they want,” he said.
The vast majority of Bosnian Muslims practice a moderate form of Islam, but analysts say the turbulence and suffering of the 1990s may have deepened the faith of some. Most of the 100,000 people killed in Bosnia’s 1992-95 war were Muslims.
Some may have fallen under the influence of foreign fighters or mujahideen who came to Bosnia during the war to fight alongside Bosnian Muslims against Bosnian Serbs and Croats.
Most of the foreign fighters have since left, under pressure from the United States after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Analysts say the number of homegrown Islamists in Bosnia has increased in recent years, citing widespread poverty, stunted economic development and weak law-enforcement.
Many of them were not born when the war began, but were raised abroad and radicalized to fight for global causes, unrelated to their country, analysts say.
Jasarevic was born in the southern Serbian town of Novi Pazar, but spent many years in Austria.
Security experts and police officials say that since the war period, diaspora communities in the Austrian capital Vienna have played a significant role in the development of radical Islamist networks in the Balkans.
Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Matt Robinson and Alison Williams