MS Risk Blog

Islamic extremism in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Terrorist attack on a police station in Zvornik

Tensions are high in Bosnia and Herzegovina this week following an attack on a police station in Zvornik, the Serbian-dominated Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska, last week. The attack, which is being referred to as a terrorist attack, carried out on April 27, left one policeman dead and two injured. The attacker, who has been identified as Nerdin Ibric, a Bosniak man (Muslim Bosnian), was killed in the shootout with police officers at the station. The effects from the attack have had a ripple effect across Bosnia, reopening wounds and creating unease far from the town where the actual shooting took place.

According to Republika Srpska officials, the local man from Sapna, near Zvornik, parked his car in front of the police station, armed with a rifle and other weapons, got out of his vehicle and immediately started shooting at policemen, while shouting “Allahu Akbar”, Arabic for “God is Great”. Police have subsequently arrested two suspects in connection with the terrorist attack, whilst several locations in the Zvornik area were raided by teams from the State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, as well as local and entity police. However, the ramifications of this attack spread far wider than the small northeastern border town of Zvornik.

Before the war broke out in Bosnia in 1992, an estimated 60 percent of Zvornik’s population was Bosniak. However, following years of ethnic cleansing and expulsion in the region, as well as a massacre of the town’s non-Serbian citizens by Serb paramilitary groups at the beginning of the Bosnian war in 1992, the ethnic demographic of the town is very different today. After the war, in 1995, Bosnia was divided into two politically autonomous regions: Republika Srpska (the Serbian dominated entity) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (primarily inhabited by Bosniaks, Bosnian Croatians, and Serbians). With both entity governments linked by a central government in the capital, Sarajevo.

Tensions between the two political entities have already been strained of late, as after six months of political wrangling, Bosnia and Herzegovina only just secured its State-level and Federation entity governments. In April, the leaders of Bosnia’s ruling parties finally approved new State and Federation entity governments, after months of political infighting, administrative problems, and procedural shortcomings had blocked the formation of new governments on multiple levels. Whilst the entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been politically strained, so have the populations, and a terrorist attack like the one in Zvornik has only served to cause greater concern over the threat of Islamic extremism emanating from the region. As such, the attack has reopened unhealed wounds of ethnic violence across the country and raised security concerns among Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs alike.

Roughly 40 percent of Bosnia’s population is Muslim and although Bosnia’s Muslim population is known to practice a moderate form of Islam, an influx in Bosnians traveling to Syria and Iraq to join “Islamic State” in recent years has raised concerns about Islamist extremists carrying out terrorist attacks on home soil. Unfortunately, the attack in Zvornik is not Bosnia’s first taste of Islamic extremism this year. Among other smaller incidents, Bosnia’s northern village of Gornja Maoca, in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is home to followers of the “radical Wahabbi” branch of Islam, recently made headlines and heightened fears of Islamic radicalization of Bosnia’s citizens. Earlier this year, images of the village displaying Islamic State (IS) flags and symbols caused national and regional unrest. Therefore, last week’s terrorist attack in Zvornik coupled with alarming possibilities of Islamic extremism in the country has strained relations between Bosnia’s entities. Moreover, it has not only heightened tensions in the country, but Bosnia and Herzegovina’s regional neighbors are well aware that it has dangerous potential to threaten ethnic relations in the region and indeed, the stability of the Western Balkans.

A week on from the terrorist attack in Zvornik, the ethnic and political tensions that were exasperated by the attack are beginning to give way to major security concerns. As the local, entity, and state police, institutions, and international experts consider ways to improve Bosnia and Herzegovina’s current security situation.

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