Former Bosnian prison guard extradited to Bosnia-Herzegovina for war crimes trial
WASHINGTON – The United States government extradited a wartime camp guard to Bosnia last week, following an extended investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and legal proceedings that spanned multiple years.
Almaz Nezirovic, 54, formerly of Roanoke, Virginia, was extradited July 1 to Bosnia, where he is accused of perpetrating torture and inhumane treatment against Serbian civilians detained at the Rabic Prison Camp in Derventa Municipality. He was charged in Bosnia with committing war crimes against civilians between April and July 1992 during the Bosnian War.
In April 1992, Nezirovic joined a mixed Croatian-Muslim paramilitary group in northern Bosnia, and became a prison guard. Bosnian officials charge that while serving as a prison guard, Nezirovic committed war crimes by beating, humiliating and traumatizing unarmed civilian prisoners, causing severe personal injury. This included allegedly stripping victims naked, beating them severely with a club, and forcing them to eat grass on which others had urinated.
In 2009, ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center received information from the Bosnian Prosecutor’s Office in Sarajevo about suspected war criminals who had absconded. The center and HSI Washington, DC special agents initiated an investigation after identifying and locating Nezirovic in Roanoke, Virginia. In April 2010, HSI special agents identified and interviewed former prisoners of the Bosnian camp who had been severely beaten in 1992. That investigation led to a criminal indictment in the Western District of Virginia U.S. District Court.
On June 23, 2011, HSI Washington, DC special agents arrested Nezirovic at his residence pursuant to a two-count indictment charging him with naturalization fraud due to his omissions and false statements about his wartime activities and other conduct during his application for citizenship. On April 19, 2012, he was indicted on a superseding five-count indictment for unlawful possession of immigration documents and unlawful application for naturalization. In July 2012, the United States, on behalf of the government of Bosnia, filed a complaint to extradite Nezirovic pursuant to an extradition treaty between the two countries, which has been in place since 1901, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
“The investigation and extradition of individuals like Mr. Nezirovic are paramount to the mission of Homeland Security Investigations and to the safety and security of the United States,” said Special Agent in Charge Clark Settles. “War criminals will not be left to hide in our communities; they will be hunted down and made to face the consequences of their crimes.”
Nezirovic was subsequently taken into custody July 17, 2012, on a provisional arrest warrant pending the outcome of the extradition matter. On September 16, 2013, after several hearings, a United States Magistrate Judge in Roanoke, Virginia, found sufficient evidence to sustain the allegation under the treaty and certified the request for extradition to the Secretary of State.
Nezirovic then filed a petition for review with the U.S. District Court in Roanoke, Virginia, and the District Court denied his petition on March 13, 2014. After hearing oral argument in December 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Nezirovic’s arguments that his extradition was untimely or precluded by an exception in the treaty for political offenses.
“This extradition marks the culmination of years of legal effort to have Mr. Nezirovic properly face trial for the horrible acts of abuse he is charged with committing against civilian victims while he was a prison guard in Bosnia, despite the fact that he later left that country,” Acting United States Attorney Anthony P. Giorno said. “The case marks a significant achievement in law enforcement’s important, ongoing efforts to help bring international fugitives such as Mr. Nezirovic to justice, consistently with the laws and treaty obligations of the United States.”
The investigation was conducted by HSI Washington, DC and ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center along with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs. Former United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy and Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Wright represented the United States. The extradition was conducted by the U.S. Marshals Service in conjunction with Bosnian law enforcement partners and was facilitated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
HSI is committed to rooting out alleged human rights violators who seek a safe haven in the United States. ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center investigates human rights violators who try to evade justice by seeking shelter in the United States, including those who have participated in war crimes and acts of genocide, torture, the use of child soldiers and extrajudicial killings. These individuals may conceal their past to enter the country and attempt to blend into communities in the United States.
Since fiscal year 2004, ICE has arrested more than 296 individuals for human rights-related violations under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders and physically removed more than 740 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States. Currently, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations has more than 140 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,800 leads and removal cases involving suspected human rights violators from 97 different countries.
Over the last four years, ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center has issued more than 67,000 lookouts for individuals from more than 111 countries and stopped 161 human rights violators or war crime suspects from entering the United States.
Members of the public who have information about foreign nationals suspected of engaging in human rights abuses or war crimes are urged to contact ICE by calling the toll-free HSI Tip Line at 1-866-347-2423 or internationally at 001-1802-872-6199. They can also email HRV.ICE@ice.dhs.gov or complete the HSI online tip form at www.ice.gov/tips.