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Bosnian cleric on trial for recruiting Islamic State fighters

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A Bosnian Muslim cleric accused of recruiting fighters for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq went on trial on Wednesday under a new law that is designed to stop people joining militants in the Middle East.

Husein Bosnic, known as an unofficial leader of the ultra-conservative Salafi movement in Bosnia, was arrested in September along with four other men who were later released due to a lack of evidence.

The prosecution accuses Bosnic, also known as Bilal, of publicly inciting and recruiting people to commit a terrorist act and organizing a terrorist group during 2013 and 2014, “consciously and from a position of religious authority”.

Bosnic denies the charges against him.

His trial is the first launched under a law adopted last April which sets jail terms of up to 10 years for financing terrorist activities and recruiting and fighting abroad.

“The defendant has called on believers to take part in activities of the Islamic State at public gatherings and via YouTube,” said prosecutor Dubravko Campara, adding that Bosnic’s calls had inspired many Muslim Bosniaks to leave Bosnia.

“At least six people from his organization were killed while others are still fighting and therefore represent a threat for security in Bosnia once they return.”

Bosnic, who has 17 children and is based in northwestern Bosnia, has received a “significant amount of money” from Arab countries, Campara added.

In his speeches, Bosnic glorified martyrs for Islam and said killings were justified in the struggle for the faith, according to excerpts read by Campara.

Police say up to 180 Bosnians, including women and children, have left for Syria over the past three years, of whom more than 50 have since returned to Bosnia while more than 20 were killed.

Islamic State militants have seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq since last summer.

His lawyer said Bosnic was being prosecuted not for any criminal activity but for publicly expressing his religious beliefs. He accused prosecutors of violating Bosnic’s religious freedom.

Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks, account for around 45 percent of the country’s population. They tend to be secular or practise a moderate form of Islam.

But some young people, particularly in rural areas, have in recent years converted to the puritanical Salafi sect.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Gareth Jones