SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A man being re-tried for attacking the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo in 2011 apologized for his “stupid act” on Wednesday and told the court he had been manipulated and then abandoned by his radical Islamist mentors.
Mevlid Jasarevic seriously wounded a police officer when he fired at the embassy for more than 40 minutes using an automatic rifle. The attack ignited fears about the radicalization of Muslims in Bosnia as it recovered from the wars of the 1990s.
Jasarevic was found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to 18 years in prison by Bosnia’s state court in December 2012. The verdict was revoked on appeal in July and a new trial ordered after judges said the original trial was flawed. Defense lawyers had argued they did not have access to witness testimony and evidence.
“I truly apologize and regret any problems that my acts have caused to anyone,” said Jasarevic, now 25, who was clean-shaven and wearing a white shirt and jeans.
At his first trial he had a long beard and wore a traditional Wahhabi robe and cap. He often boycotted hearings, saying he obeyed only Allah and did not recognize the court.
Most Bosnian Muslims practice a moderate form of Islam. Analysts say that recent years have seen a rise in the number of home-grown Islamist militants, many raised abroad and radicalized to fight for global causes unrelated to Bosnia.
Jasarevic, originally from Serbia, was a member of the strict Wahhabi branch of Islam, which gained a foothold in Bosnia after its 1992-95 war. He had lived for three years in an isolated community of Wahhabi adherents in the northeastern village of Gornja Maoca.
He said he had embraced Islam as a 16-year-old while serving a prison term for bank robbery in Austria, where he grew up. In Gornja Maoca, he told the court, he was shown videos depicting the plight of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
“I felt the need to do something, to get attention for the sufferings of the Muslims in the East,” he said. “I did not plan this dangerous, tragic and unbelievably stupid and sad act.”
He said his mentors distanced themselves after he was arrested, telling him he had “misunderstood” their messages.
“Believe me, I understood them well and turned their words into acts,” Jasarevic said. He said he was now ready to help the authorities stop “any youngster from going to fight in Syria”.
Dozens of Wahhabi followers in Bosnia are reported to have been recruited to fight on the side of rebels in Syria’s civil war. Three have been killed.
Jasarevic asked the court to cut his original prison term and take into account the fact that he was not part of any organized group and acted on his own as a “confused young man”.
Prosecutors said Jasarevic had committed a planned terrorist act aimed at harming people and property.
The court will give its verdict on November 20.
Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic, Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Janet Lawrence