by Esad HECIMOVIC
"I was in Sarajevo when the explosion took place, at a concert of Ilahijas [spiritual and patriotic Muslim songs] ‘Message'. They told me over the phone about a fire near my home. I tried to figure out what was going on, over the phone, during the concert. We returned to Travnik around midnight," Mesinovic relates after leaving the prison. The next day Mesinovic spent at home. He expected to be questioned by the police in connection with the explosion that gravely wounded his neighbor. He believed that police would be interested in him both because he is Vidovic's neighbor and because of his legal dispute with the Vidovics regarding the ownership of a parcel of land. On Tuesday, he was on the Vlasic mountain when he was informed that the Police had arrived in front of his house. They showed him a search warrant in connection with the Vidovic case and asked him whether he had any weapons at home. He responded that the had a "Kalashnikov" machine gun. They asked a few more questions and initiated the search.
Musical selam [Islamic greeting] to mayor: "They found five bombs, about 200 bullets of caliber 7.62, two fuses, a rifle-adapter for firing of hand-held rockets. They also took away some wire, a sticky tape, a file... They could have found all of that in 1997, when they searched the house for the first time because of some robbery in the neighborhood. I received a suspended six-month sentence then. I did not hide anything, because I had no reason to hide anything. Soldiers from Krajina had stayed in my house during the war and the weaponry stayed behind," Mesinovic says. "They assigned soldiers from Krajina to different households," he explains, adding that during the war, until 1995, he was a policeman with the police station in Travnik.
Mesinovic denies any conflict with the Vidovics. According to his explanation, Perica Vidovic, the son of the victim, during the war sold 335 meters square, next to the house of the Mesinovics, to his mother for $1,100. They used that land for three years. Trouble and disputes started only after the death of Fikreta Mesinovic. Although the police still hasn't found even the possible attackers, nor what their motivation might have been, it is expected that the police suspected Alija Mesinovic exactly because of the legal dispute. The case has been handled by the Municipal Court in Travnik.
On February 21, Alija Mesinovic was subjected to several hours of interrogation with a polygraph. Although Mesinovic claims that he was interrogated for nine hours, the police told him that, according to the official transcript, the interrogation lasted only two hours. Besides Mesinovic, the police questioned other neighbors and relatives. Most of the questions they recall had to do with the way in which the explosive device could have been planted and detonated. Mesinovic claims that a prisoner in the prison in Busovaca passed him the article from Dani about steel balls from anti-personnel mines MRUD. According to Police reports these steel balls were used in 1998 and 1999 in assassinations of ethnic Croat policemen in Sarajevo and Travnik. In a conversation with Dani, Mesinovic claims that that is why he replied to one of the questions, whether he knew what the explosive device was, by saying MRUD. Mesinovic says that after that reply, inspectors told him that was all they needed to know.
"They demanded from me to confess something I hadn't done. I was at a concert of religious music in Sarajevo. The police pressure was so strong that they might have been able to force a fake confession if I hadn't been at that concert in Sarajevo. The mayor of Travnik, Besim Halilovic, saw me at the concert. It seems he is afraid to say that. They say he denied meeting me at the concert, even though we said selam to each other," Mesinovic relates. According to his explanation, the police offered him a deal for his confession until he met with the investigative judge of the Municipal Court in Travnik. Such offers have never been proven in court in similar cases.
Police officials in Travnik were, for the duration of the investigation, mostly busy and unreachable. Federation BH police detectives are in charge of the investigation in connection with the most recent and eight earlier unsolved murders and assassinations of ethnic Croat returnees and policemen in the Travnik region. Alija Mesinovic and his family hired two lawyers - Ahmed Kulenovic from Travnik and Danilo Stijovic from Zenica.
Personal or political motivation: "I immediately realized that the police had found a wrong suspect. I believe that this investigation and picking of such a suspect were supposed to provide an alibi for all the unsolved murders of ethnic Croats in the Travnik region. Statements of some officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Police) of the Central Bosnia canton indicate as much. They hastened to announce that they had a suspect even though they had no evidence. My client and I regret serious consequences of this crime and condemn terrorism. We are convinced that by releasing my client from custody the Police is going back to searching for true culprits, people responsible for this one and all the previous attacks," lawyer Stijovic says.
Usually there is talk about eight unsolved murders of Croat returnees and policemen in the Travnik region. The police is now again announcing that culprits will be found soon, but it is unclear what this optimism is based on. Police officials informally say that they have been assured by the investigators that a breakthrough in the case is imminent. In the series of earlier, unsolved murders the police also investigated possible personal motives for attacks and personal connections between victims and possible attackers. In case personal motivation for the attack can be proven, charges of terrorism would be rejected. The essential characteristic of terrorism is political motivation for attacks.
In the most recent attack, the police still hasn't specified what type of the explosive device was used. In first reports after the attempted murder of Vlatko Vidovic, it was said that he had stepped on an anti-personnel mine. Even though much weaponry and other means for killing remain in this settlement after the war, the frontline never went through the yards of local houses, just like minefields were never laid in them. Consequently, it is believed that this was not an accident involving a previously undetected mine, but a deliberate attack. The victim left the house in order to put out a fire on a haystack. That is why it is believed that someone waited nearby for Vidovic to come out and activated the explosive device. Another ethnic Croat in the neighborhood received a threatening phone call after the attempted murder of Vlatko Vidovic.
It is obvious that the police is repeating the approach tried in all the investigations conducted in the autumn of 1997, concerning murders of ethnic Croat returnees in the village of Nule near Travnik. Then, the Police also focused on alleged personal motivation for crimes, and even disputes in families of victims. In the most recent case, the attempted murder of Vidovic, the police is obviously considering that possibility as well. In one of such reports, we could read assertions of unnamed police sources that "there are indications that one member of the Vidovic family was feuding with Vlatko because Vlatko had sold off his land".
Over the last few years, the biggest post-war series of crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina took place exactly in central Bosnia. In this region, between Zenica, Travnik and Bugojno, "ethnic cleansing was least efficient". In the territory of only several tens of kilometers square, along only one road, Croat and Bosniak enclaves follow each other. Therefore, central Bosnia remains "closest to the ideal of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society". On the other hand, it is also an example of ethnic conflicts that survived all international attempts to unify local authorities, spanning several years. For years after the signing of the Washington agreement [setting up the Federation BH], which concluded the military conflict between Bosniaks and Croats, every attempt to integrate multi-ethnic authorities and a multi-ethnic society in central Bosnia was blocked by questions about unresolved series of crimes after the war.
Culprits know: Most observers and investigators of the cases, in unofficial conversations, are convinced that "victims are not guilty", nor is there any personal connection between victims and culprits in the series of murders of Croats in central Bosnia between February 1997 and March 1999. Victims were selected randomly, and their murder was the "message". That was always the message that intimidated because of cruelty and accuracy of the murderers whose identity remained unknown. Can such intimidation of an ethnic group be described as terrorism?
One of the definitions of terrorism, used by the American Ministry of Defense, states that "terrorism is deliberate use of violence or threat of violence for the sake of intimidation, with the ultimate goal of forcing, or intimidating authorities or societies to accept goals that are predominantly of political, religious, or ideological nature". Bosniak, Croat and international investigators all agree with such a description of the goals of the crime, but diverge in definition of possible political, religious or ideological goals of the criminals. Bosniak investigators most frequently claimed that these murders were the result of disputes between Croat criminal groups. International investigators claimed that the HDZ was exploiting these crimes for intimidation of Croat refugees, trying to dissuade them from returning to territories where Croats are not a majority of population. Croat investigators usually suspected radical Islamic groups of foreign and local extremists. Very few enquire about concrete evidence. Consequently, in the most recent case, it should be demanded that the Federation BH and cantonal police first disclose everything they know about the explosive device that was used on February 16. The first question for Alija Mesinovic and others forced to take polygraph tests was whether they knew how the explosive device was placed and activated. All of them gave the correct answer - culprits know how that was done. Police information about concrete evidence from the place of the explosion is at this point only out of the reach of public.