Shots Fired At U.S. Embassy In Sarajevo
Last updated (GMT/UTC): 28.10.2011 21:44
SARAJEVO -- A gunman opened fire today on the United States embassy in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, injuring one guard in what the country's president has called a "terrorist attack."
Bosnian authorities have identified the suspect as an ultraconservative Muslim from neighboring Serbia.
"On Zmaj od Bosne Street, close to the U.S. embassy, an unknown number of people opened fire. For the time being we are dealing with one attacker, but we are still looking for other people who may have been involved," Sarajevo Cantonal Police spokesman Irfan Nefic told RFE/RL's Balkan Service.
"During the action one police officer was wounded. He received medical care. Our officers from the cantonal police force were taking part in the security operation and they stopped the attacker by wounding him. He was given medical treatment at the spot and taken to a hospital by an ambulance,” Nefic said.
The gunman is expected to be released from the hospital into police custody tomorrow.
The policeman wounded in the attack was a guard who had been assigned to the embassy. Local medical officials told RFE/RL that he had suffered wounds to both ankles and that his life is not at risk.
No embassy staff was injured.
An eyewitness to today's incident, who gave his name as Admir, told RFE/RL by phone from his car that the shooting spree outside the embassy lasted some 10 minutes as police rushed onto the scene.
"There was the sound of automatic weapon fire like in a war. Individual shots were heard. It didn't last just a minute or two," he said.
Police managed to capture the shooter after a 30-minute standoff near the embassy, located in central Sarajevo, as frightened pedestrians watched from behind buildings and vehicles.
A video posted online purportedly shows the bearded gunman, wearing a long brown coat with exposed ankles -- an outfit typical of the ultraconservative Wahhabi branch of Islam.
Bosnian State Prosecutor Dubravko Campara later identified the gunman as 23-year-old Mevlid Jasarevic, a Wahabi follower from the city of Novi Pazar in southwestern Serbia.
He said the suspect had crossed the border into Bosnia earlier in the day and was carrying two hand grenades when apprehended.
The state prosecutor also said the suspect was under investigation by Serbian authorities, but did not provide additional details.
Serbian police said Jasarevic was briefly arrested a year ago for brandishing "a large knife" during a visit by the U.S. ambassador to Serbia and other Western envoys to Novi Pazar.
Today, Sarajevo Mayor Alija Behmen said the suspect "got off a tram with a Kalashnikov and started shooting at the American embassy."
Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosnian Muslim member of the country's tripartite presidency, said in a statement that he strongly condemns "the terrorist attack on the embassy of the United States in Bosnia-Herzegovina."
He called for a speedy investigation into the shooting spree and said the United States is a "proven friend" of the country.
Zeljko Komsic, the Croatian member of the Bosnian presidency, said, "Apart from being an attack against the U.S. Embassy, this is an attack against Bosnia and Herzegovina as well."
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that "several bullets struck the outside wall of the embassy building" in the incident, but did not describe it as a terrorist attack.
She also thanked the local police putting "their lives on the line" to protect the embassy and for quickly restoring order.
Meanwhile, Washington’s ambassador in Sarajevo, Patrick Moon, said the United States would not be deterred from its work in the country.
"This attack is something that's not going to deter the United States in what we do here. The United States is a friend of the Bosnian people and we are here to stay for the long term," he said.
Komsic, the Croatian member of the presidency, also noted that the attack came on the same day that Palestinian Foreign Riad Malki was in the capital to lobby for a vote in favor of the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations.
The country's presidents hosted Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman the previous day, as the Israeli side lobbies against the bid.
Bosnia currently holds a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, which is expected to take up the matter in the coming weeks. Bosnia's presidents are currently divided on how to vote.
It was not immediately clear timing of the embassy attack was linked to the foreign ministers' visits.
Komsic also said, "It's unfortunate that something like this happened, as we used a lot of energy telling everyone that we do not have terrorists, that we do not have camps for training terrorists. Now we have to do a lot of explaining to Western European countries and to the USA."
He visited the U.S. embassy late in the day and the country’s three presidents were also scheduled to meet.
Vlado Azinovic, a terrorism expert at the University of Sarajevo and a former editor at RFE/RL's Balkan Service, said that the incident could play into the hands of those in favor of dividing the fragile, multiethnic state.
"For a long time in Bosnia and Herzegovina there have been political forces finger-pointing in these kinds of events," said Azinovic. "They take it as justification for their own actions in favor of dividing the Bosnia and Herzegovina into two states. They keep saying that they cannot have a common life with the people who attacked the U.S. embassy today."
The U.S. embassy in Sarajevo closed briefly in March 2002 citing an unspecified threat, but the building has not previously come under attack.
written by Richard Solash in Washington, based on reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service in Sarajevo, with additional agency reports
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