Bosnia and Herzegovina: Preacher Accused of Twisting Islam, Sending Boys to Syria

Published: 23 April 2015

Husein Bosnic

By Igor Spaic

An imam has accused the radical preacher Husein Bosnic, the informal leader of Bosnia's Salafi community, of misappropriating Islamic teachings to persuade young men to fight for the Islamic State (IS).

Selvedin Beganovic, 43, who is a religious leader at a mosque in Trnovi, north-west Bosnia, testified at a hearing yesterday that Bosnic taught a twisted version of Islam that diverged from the view of the country's official Islamic community.

Husein "Bilal" Bosnic is standing trial for inciting terrorist activities, recruiting Bosnian citizens to fight in Syria, and organizing their departure.

Beganovic claims to have been assaulted multiple times by Islamic extremists in his hometown of Velika Kladusa. He said he believed Bosnic had been involved, since the attacks were made by people who attended Bosnic's speeches, and also coincided with court hearings in the case against Bosnic.

"What Bosnic is doing and telling people is snatching away Islam," said Beganovic."He does this by calling out to young men to go to jihad. He tells them to go fight a war, to die as Sehids [people who die on Allah's path]."

Beganovic said knew Bosnic and had been friends with him between 1996 and 2000, after which they broke contact. He said Bosnic was not radical at the time, but that he had since changed.

To give speeches in a mosque in Bosnia, one must have a special permit given by the official Islamic community. Beganovic claimed that Bosnic did not have one, and that he did not have an official religious education. He also emphasized that the Islamic community did not agree with Bosnic's speeches he saw on Youtube.

Beganovic described Islam as a religion of love and peace, and said people like Bosnic had falsely tied Islam to terrorism.

The witness also described the groups of people who usually attended Bosnic's speeches. He said they fell into two categories: the poor and uneducated, and criminals who "hide behind their beards" to continue their criminal activities.

Beganovic also said that older members of the Salafi group were communicative and normal, whereas those under 30 tended to be neither tolerant nor accepting.

"Such people threaten me, as a representative of a certain way of practicing religion, that they will kill me," said Beganovic.

The court also heard the testimony of Muslim cleric Birnas Sabic, 48, from the city of Zenica, whose brother Muaz died in Syria on April 29, 2013. The prosecutor also planned to hear the testimony of Arifa Bajramovic, whose son Emrah Filipovic died in Syria in 2014 in his early twenties. Bajramovic did not attend yesterday's hearing, instead sending a letter to the court explaining that she now lived in Germany and had nothing to say.

Adil Lozo, lawyer for the defense, questioned Beganovic's usefulness as a witness, calling him a "village imam" without sufficient knowledge of the Islamic terms used in the courtroom.

Prosecutor Dubravko Campara requested an extension of Bosnic's pre-trial detention, to which Lozo objected.

"The prosecutor is trying to extend Bosnic's detention long enough for the court to have to rule against Bosnic in order to cover all of the time he already spent in jail," Lozo told reporters after the hearing.

According to Lozo, the prosecutor has provided no evidence of Bosnic sending anybody to Syrian battlefields. Bosnic denies the charges against him.