SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A Sarajevo court convicted four Bosnians on Tuesday of financing terrorist activities and recruiting people to fight for Islamic State in Syria, sentencing them to up to 3 1/2 years in prison.
It was the first verdict under a new law meant to stop Bosnian citizens joining radical Islamist groups in the Middle East. The trend has affected other European countries as well, prompting tougher security measures and criminal prosecutions.
The court sentenced Husein Erdic to 3-1/2 years in prison for organizing the departure to Syria of Nevad Husidic and Merim Keserovic, while Husidic and Keserovic were jailed for a year for attempting to join the ultra-radical Islamic State.
A fourth man, Midhat Trako, was convicted of organizing and financing the departure of Husidic and Keserovic to Istanbul, a stop-off point on the way to Syria, and jailed him for 18 months, presiding Judge Biljana Cukovic told the court.
The four were arrested in February as Husidic and Keserovic tried to depart for Istanbul from Sarajevo’s airport.
Cukovic, reading out the verdict, said Erdic had acted in cooperation with unnamed individuals in Turkey. She said the investigators had intercepted his Skype conversations with Husidic and Keserovic which revealed details of recruitment.
About 46 percent of Bosnia’s population is Muslim and most -- known as Bosniaks -- practice a moderate form of Islam. But some young men, particularly from rural areas, have in recent years joined the puritanical Salafi sect, whose adherents have frequently become fighters in Middle East conflicts.
Bosnia has taken a tough line on suspected supporters of Islamist militants. Last year, the ex-Yugoslav republic passed a law envisaging jail terms of up to 20 years to curb recruitment and discourage young Bosnians from going to fight abroad.
Police estimate around 200 Bosnians, including women and children, have left to enter Syria’s civil war over the past three years, of whom more than 50 later returned home while around 30 were killed.
There are currently 17 people on trial in Bosnia for suspected links with militant groups in Syria and Iraq.
Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Mark Heinrich