SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A Bosnian Muslim cleric was sentenced to seven years in jail on Thursday for recruiting fighters to join Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, under a new law aimed at stopping people becoming militants in the Middle East.
Husein Bosnic, known as an unofficial leader of the ultra-conservative Salafi movement in Bosnia, was arrested last year and was among 17 others on trial in Bosnia for suspected links with militant groups in Syria and Iraq.
Bosnic, sporting a long beard but not dressed in his trademark Salafi robes, showed no emotion as the verdict was read in court. He was guarded by special forces officers in balaclavas, who also acted as security outside the court house.
None of his supporters were there for the verdict.
“Defendant Husein Bosnic is guilty of ... consciously, during 2013-14 from the position of religious authority, publicly inciting, recruiting people and organizing a terrorist group,” the chairman of the court council, Amela Huskic, said.
Prosecution and defense lawyers both said they would appeal, and Bosnic’s lawyer, Adil Lozo, said the trial was “politically fabricated”.
Huskic said that mitigating factors in Bosnic’s favor were that he was married with 17 children and had no previous convictions, but she also said he had shown no remorse and maintained that he was only interpreting Islam.
In his lectures held in Salafi strongholds in western and northern Bosnia and published on YouTube, Bosnic had promoted and spread Islamist radicalism, citing selective parts of the Koran to convince believers that killing so-called infidels, or non-Muslims, would absolve them of any previous sins, she said.
“At least six Bosnian citizens, who attended Bosnic’s lectures, were killed in Syria, while others stayed there to fight, representing a threat for security in Bosnia when they return,” Huskic said, citing witness testimonies.
Although most Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks, are moderate, some have embraced Salafism under the influence of foreign fighters who came to Bosnia during its 1992-95 war to help Muslims fight against Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.
Last month, in the first verdict under the new law, Bosnia’s state court convicted four other people for financing terrorist activities and recruiting Bosnians to fight in Syria and sentenced them to up to 3-1/2 years in prison.
Police estimate about 200 Bosnians, including women and children, have left to join fighters in Syria’s civil war over the past three years, of whom more than 50 have returned and about 30 have been killed.
Editing by Louise Ireland