PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - A single mother accused of committing war crimes in the Balkans was ordered held without bond on Friday to await a hearing on a request for extradition to her native Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A U.S. magistrate judge ruled that Rasema Handanovic, 39, who moved to the United States in 1996 and became a naturalized citizen in 2002, was a flight risk and danger to the community.
She is accused of killing 15 to 16 unarmed Croat civilians and prisoners of war in the village of Trusina as a member of the Bosnian army’s special Zulfikar unit in April 1993, according to witness statements cited in her extradition request. Prosecutors said the witnesses had served with her in the Bosnian military.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Atkinson told the judge that Handanovic had threatened suicide while in custody, and he referred to her suffering a “psychotic event” just before her initial court appearance on Wednesday.
Handanovic, dressed in a blue prison uniform, said nothing and appeared calm during her hour-long hearing on Friday, in marked contrast to her demeanor on Wednesday when the judge ordered the defendant to compose herself.
Defense attorney Lisa Hay argued that her client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a war victim herself.
“She suffered sexual assault at the hands of law enforcement personnel (in Bosnia), and her fiance was murdered,” Hay said.
Hay also told the judge that disability payments received by Handanovic, a former security guard, were the sole source of financial support for her 11-year-old son and elderly parents who lived with her in the Portland suburb of Beaverton.
But prosecutors say her extradition request painted Handanovic as a cold-blooded killer who “committed abhorrent, wanton crimes, especially serial murder.”
“She is readily capable of intimidating (or worse) the witnesses who gave statements against her,” prosecutors said in their court filings. All the witnesses reside overseas.
Handanovic was arrested on Wednesday, at about the same time as the arrest of a man from Everett, Washington, Edin Dzeko, 39, accused of similar atrocities as part of the same army unit.
The charges stem from a 1993-94 war between Bosnians, Muslims and Croats that was ended by a Washington-brokered peace deal. A Bosnian state war crimes court was set up in 2005 to try thousands of suspects and take over mid- and low-ranking cases from a U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Handanovic’s extradition hearing was tentatively set for June 28.
Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Bohan