SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A Bosnian court on Thursday convicted a man who opened fire on the U.S. embassy of terrorism and sentenced him to 18 years in prison.
Mevlid Jasarevic shot at the embassy in Sarajevo for 50 minutes with an automatic rifle, injuring a local policeman before authorities shot him in the leg and arrested him. He said in a video made before the Oct. 28, 2011, shooting that he wanted to force NATO to pull out of Afghanistan and for Bosnia to stop harassing his Islamic sect.
Alleged accomplices Emrah Fojnica and Munib Ahmetspahic were acquitted. The court said the prosecution did not prove the three were an organized terrorist group. The prosecutor's office said it will appeal the acquittal.
All three are followers of the Wahhabi sect — an austere brand of Sunni Islam that authorities in Bosnia see as a threat. The sect members claim not to recognize state authorities and have settled in Gornja Maoca, a village in north Bosnia which police have raided several times and found illegal stacks of weapons.
None of the three appeared in the courtroom for the verdict — they previously said they do not recognize the court. Jasarevic has been in custody since the attack.
Judge Branko Peric said Jasarevic's sentence was the harshest the court has ever handed down for terrorism and should serve as a warning.
"Never before has Bosnia-Herzegovina faced people who do not recognize its authority," Peric said, adding that residents of Gornja Maoca neither vote during elections nor do they agree to be buried in communal cemeteries. They also teach their children according to their own curriculum.
"It doesn't mean that such communities are terrorist camps, but they do have such potential," Peric said. "If there was no Gornja Maoca out of full state control, there probably would have not been Mevlid Jasarevic."
During the trial, Jasarevic often had to be removed from the courtroom because of his comments. During closing statements he declared that the judges can punish him but they won't stop future attacks.
"That was not just a message for this court, it was a message for Bosnia-Herzegovina," Peric said. The court sent a message back to the Gornja Maoca community by opting for almost the maximum sentence for Jasarevic.
"The only way for the judicial authorities to respond to his message was to embrace a harsher penalty policy," Peric said.
Jasarevic's lawyer, Senad Dupovac said later that "obviously the sentence was supposed to represent some kind of a general prevention, but it came at the expense of my client."
Dupovac said he will appeal.
The U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia, Patrick Moon, welcomed the ruling and said his government recognizes the good work of Bosnia's prosecutors.
"We have been very pleased with the strong cooperation between the U.S. and the Bosnia-Herzegovina authorities," Moon said. The U.S. indicted Jasarevic for attacking U.S. government property and its officials but has never asked for his extradition.
"We have full confidence in Bosnia-Herzegovina's legal and judicial authorities," Moon said.
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