By Bedrana Kaletovic
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s state investigation and protection agency (SIPA) initiated an operation Wednesday (September 12th) that they said is the biggest undertaking against organised crime in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the region.
Hundreds of police participated in arresting 25 people suspected of being involved in at least six unsolved murders and attempted murders, bank armed robberies, drug trafficking and other offences.
“We will not stop there because we believe there are that many more people connected to these organised crime groups who are suspected for a series of planned murders and robberies in the amount of over 5 million euros just in BiH,” Sadik Ahmetovic, minister of security, said.
Among the arrested are high-ranking state investigation and protection agency as well as border police officials.
Serbia and Montenegro are also participating in the operation because many of the arrested and the suspects who remain at large are citizens of these two countries.
To underscore the importance of the police action and of regional co-operation, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Montenegro Internal Affairs Minister Ivan Brajovic joined Ahmetovic at a news conference announcing the operation’s results.
“This is only the first phase of the operation,” Goran Zubac, director of the agency, told SETimes.
The agency has prepared criminal indictments for 43 additional suspects, Zubac added.
One of the operation’s main goals is to capture Naser Keljmendi, a Kosovo Albanian suspected of masterminding organised crime in BiH and the region.
The US placed Keljmendi on its black list in June for his involvement in organising trafficking of heroin, cocaine and acetic anhydride in the Balkans and the rest of Europe.
The Organised Crime and Action Reporting Project, a regional NGO, reported that Keljmendi has long been suspected by the US and regional authorities as leading one of the three strongest Albanian criminal families in the Balkans.
It said Keljmendi works closely with Muhamed Gasi, the reputed capo of the Albanian mafia in BiH.
BiH police said Keljmendi fled to Montenegro or Serbia, and re-affirmed the importance of the regional police co-operation to bring the operation to fruition.
Officials expressed hope that dismantling BiH’s biggest crime syndicate will cripple organised crime in the country and seriously shake the Balkan’s criminal underworld.
“The operation may last for years … because we have many open questions in BiH and the region concerning fighting [organised] crime,” Ahmetovic said.
Citizens and political parties praise the police action, though some lament the fact it took police very long to act.
“We constantly heard stories the police is powerless to deal with crime. This operation proves it is not and should have acted years ago,” Erna Dzafro, student from Sarajevo, told SETimes.
But the operation also revealed disturbing evidence the suspects planned to murder police investigators working on their cases in order to frighten the police and the public into inaction.
The much talked about murder of Jozo Leutar, deputy internal affairs minister of FBiH, who died in car bomb blast in 1999 was never solved, but the public now sees an opportunity for a breakthrough.
“Finally, there is hope for the Leutar family,” Hasib Tobudic, Sarajevo resident who lives in the building next to which the murder took place, told SETimes.