SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A suspected radical Islamist fired on the U.S. embassy in the center of the Bosnian capital with an assault rifle on Friday in an attack that lasted 30 minutes.
A police officer was seriously wounded and shop workers scrambled for cover in Sarajevo’s busy city center until a police sniper wounded the gunman and he was arrested. Several bullets struck the outside wall of the compound.
“We have opened an investigation into a criminal act of terrorism,” prosecutor Dubravko Campara told a news conference. He said two hand grenades had been found on Jasarevic.
Bosnia’s state prosecutor identified the bearded man, armed with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle, as 23-year-old Mevludin Jasarevic, a Serbian citizen from the mainly Muslim town of Novi Pazar. A Reuters photograph showed him to be a tall man with a brown coat and a long beard.
Security officials said that Jasarevic, who was convicted of robbery in Austria in 2005 and deported to Serbia, had entered Bosnia on Friday morning. Campara said the prosecution had worked closely with Serbian security officials on the case.
Almir Dzuvo, the director of Bosnia’s OSA information and security agency, said that Jasarevic had visited a community of hardline Wahhabi Islamists in northern Bosnia earlier this year.
“He crossed the border this morning, came into Bosnia and committed a terrorist act,” Dzuvo said. He declined to say whether Jasarevic had had accomplices in Bosnia.
Bosnia, which was torn apart by war between Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs in 1992-95 as Yugoslavia collapsed, is a close ally of the United States in the turbulent Balkans.
Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, condemned the attack, saying the United States was a “proven friend” of Bosnia.
“This is a shot at the friendship between America and Bosnia-Herzegovina, this is a shot at Bosnia,” Izetbegovic told reporters. “This is a great temptation for Bosnia.”
Zeljko Komsic, the chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, called the attack “a classical act of terrorism.”
A police spokesman said the gunman had been taken to hospital but that his injuries were not life-threatening. A hospital spokeswoman said a man had been admitted under police escort with gunshot wounds to his upper leg.
“The doctors cleaned his wound, he is completely stable and will leave hospital tomorrow,” the spokeswoman said.
Police spokesman Irfan Nefic said one police officer had been seriously wounded and had been operated on.
The U.S. embassy in Sarajevo, a mainly Muslim city, closed briefly in March 2002 citing an unspecified threat, but the building has not come under attack before.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland thanked the Bosnian police for stopping the attack, adding:
“Our thoughts and prayers at this time are with those who put their lives on the line to protect the embassy.”
Additional reporting by Maja Zuvela and by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Kevin Liffey