(AP) — A former Bosnian prison camp guard living in the U.S. is eligible for extradition to his native country to face war-crimes charges, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
Almaz Nezirovic of Roanoke County, Virginia, is accused of torturing Serbians at the Rabic prison camp in 1992 during the civil war in the region of the former Yugoslavia now known as Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnian officials charge that Nezirovic beat, humiliated and traumatized unarmed civilian prisoners.
A judge in Bosnia-Herzegovina issued a warrant for Nezirovic’s arrest in 2003, six years after the defendant entered the U.S. as a refugee.
In 2013, a federal magistrate found sufficient evidence supporting the allegations and certified Nezirovic as eligible for extradition, pending approval of the U.S. State Department. A district judge let that ruling stand. The appeals court ruling followed.
The court rejected Nezirovic’s claim that he could not be extradited because too many years have passed since the alleged crimes occurred. It also found no merit in his claim that his extradition was barred because his actions were political.
“The torture of prisoners cannot be justified on the basis that such torture has occurred in the context of a political disturbance,” Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote for the appeals court.
Nezirovic’s attorney did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the ruling.
Acting U.S. Attorney Anthony P. Giorno stressed that the ruling does not mean Nezirovic is guilty of the accusations, “but rather ensures that the validity of those charges will be heard in the appropriate venue in his home country.”
According to court papers, in 1992 Nezirovic joined a paramilitary group, the HVO, and became a prison guard. The HVO, or Croatian Defense Council, was formed by the Bosnian Croats as they sought to form their own breakaway republic during the war. It had no ties with Bosnia’s Muslim-dominated government.
Bosnian authorities allege that Nezirovic beat civilian detainees with a baton and a rifle and forced some prisoners to crawl on the ground naked and eat grass on which others had urinated.
Nezirovic also was charged in federal court with concealing his wartime activities when applying for refugee status and naturalization in the United States. That case was dropped last year because of Nezirovic’s likely extradition.
– By Larry O’Dell