By Valerie Hopkins
While politicians and clerics condemn the attack, presumed to be the work of an Islamic extremist, analysts are divided over its significance.
Bosnian politicians and Muslim religious leaders in Bosnia and Serbia condemned Friday’s attack on the US embassy in Sarajevo.
Mustafa Ceric, Bosnia’s leading Muslim cleric, echoed the sentiments of many politicians, saying that “an attack on the American embassy is an attack on us [all]”.
Ceric said the Islamic community in Bosnia would “resolutely oppose any individual or group who threatens peace and security in this city and this country”.
The Prime Minister of Bosnia’s Serb-led entity, Republika Srpska, also condemned the attack.
“Wahhabis have proven countless times that they pose a security threat in Bosnia and this is just confirmation that we must take more decisive action against those who are willing to endanger people’s lives for the sake of radical ideas and goals,” Aleksandar Dzombic said.
The assailant, identified as Mevlid Jasarevic, aged 23, from the predominantly Muslim town of Novi Pazar in southwest Serbia, began his attack at 3:35pm on Friday.
Carrying two hand grenades and a Kalashnikov, he disembarked from a tram on Sarajaevo’s main traffic artery and began firing at the American embassy for almost half an hour, shooting sporadically. Eyewitnesses say that he shouted demands to see an American.
The lone gunman injured a security guard, who medics say is now in a stable condition. After half an hour, a sniper incapacitated Jasarevic by shooting his right ankle.
The bearded man is believed to be a member of a small sect of Islamic fundamentalists known as Wahhabis.
Jasarevic’s aunt, Senada Jasarevic said that Mevlud had been a good kid but then became radicalized in the small Bosnian town of Gornja Maoca, known as a secretive Wahhabi community.
“We tried to dissuade him from Wahhabism, but we failed,” she told Sarajevo-based Daily Dnevni Avaz from her home in Novi Pazar.
“We knew what the Wahhabis do, but we could not convince him out of it. He simply wanted to. He was a nice guy, but his behavior worsened when he left Novi Pazar for Bosnia two years ago.”
According to her, he left his home two years ago and started a family in Bosnia. She said he was married to a woman named Mirel and had one son, Kerim. She said on his last visit to his birth place two months ago, he did not mention planning any attacks, but that he made a number of strange faith-related statements.
She said that her nephew was suffering because his parents divorced. His father lives in the Czech Republic, while is mother lives in Austria.
While Jasarevic was living in Austria in 2005, he was sentenced to three years in prison for stealing €100,000. After prison, he was kicked out of Austria and returned to Novi Pazar, before moving to Gornja Maoca.
Jasarevic and another suspected wahabbi were reportedly detained by police in Novi Pazar in November 2010 during a visit of ten ambassadors to the town.
Jasarevic and the other man were questioned by police as potentially dangerous for the diplomats. Jasarevic had a knife in his possession when he was detained at that time.
Bosnia’s State Prosecutor, Dubravko Campara, said Jasarevic had entered Bosnia on Friday morning.
Approximately 200 employees, half American, were locked in the American Embassy compound during the brief siege as police ensured the safety of the surrounding premises. The embassy confirmed that aside from the wounded police officer, no embassy staff were harmed.
“Ambassador Patrick Moon expresses his gratitude for the swift response by local police forces whose operations stopped the attack on the embassy compound,” spokeswoman Sanja Pejcinovic told Balkan Insight. “Our thoughts and prayers at this time are with those who put their lives on the line to protect the embassy.”
Reactions over the significance of the incident are mixed. While politicians have rushed to condemn the attack, experts seem divided on its significance.
Sarajevo political science professor Vlado Azinovic said the events on Friday in Sarajevo shared some key characteristics with other terrorist attacks perpetrated by Wahhabis in the region.
“We been having these ‘isolated’ incidents for too long to keep claiming it is an isolated incident,” Azinovic told Balkan Insight.
He was referring to three other terrorist attacks on Bosnian soil in recent years. Two men are currently being tried in the State Court for these offences.
Security Minister Sadik Ahmetovic said the country’s continued political impasse—Bosnia has yet to form a state government 13 months after elections— was one reason why police may have been unable to prevent the attack. Continued political stagnation will have a negative impact on country’s national security, he added.
“Any suggestions that would give Bosnia a more efficient security system very often, or almost always, face obstacles preventing the reform,” he said.