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Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bosnic Speeches May Have Driven Young Men to Syria, Says Expert Witness

The speeches of a high-profile Salafist in Bosnia have encouraged young men to join Islamic State (IS) forces in Syria, according to the testimony of an expert witnessat a Bosnian court on Wednesday.

Vlado Azinovic, 51, professor at the national security department of Sarajevo's Political Sciences University, evaluated some 53 hours of evidence against informal Salafi leader Husein "Bilal" Bosnic.

Bosnic stands accused of inciting and recruiting Bosnian citizens to join IS fighters in Syria, and organizing a terrorist group.

Although Azinovic said that it was impossible to establish a direct consequential connection between Bosnic's speeches and the departures of Bosnian citizens to Syrian battlefields on the basis that one would have to individually interview each who had left, he said he believed Bosnic's speeches had factored in their decision-making processes.

The prosecution had provided 53 hours of material to Azinovic, including Bosnic's speeches as well as footage from exorcisms that Bosnic had performed on young men.

Azinovic told the court that Bosnic's narrative represented a national security risk for Bosnia and Herzegovina because it instilled fear into citizens who were not part of the Salafi group. 

"Bosnic frequently used episodes from the history of Islam and selectively chose passages from the Kur'an which would incite believers to depart for battlefields in Syria, so they can fulfill God's mission," he said.

He told the court that the video material showed Bosnic referring to those who do not follow the Salafiinterpretation of Islam as "monkeys, pigs and traitors".

Azinovic also described the structure of the audience who attended Bosnic's speeches – the socially marginalized, uneducated, unemployed and, in many cases, people with psychological problems.

"Those people see Bosnic as a good father and husband, and as an authority whose word must be followed," he said.

Explaining that he believed Bosnic held great power over members of the Salafi community, Azinovic described exorcisms contained in the video evidence which showed that his followers saw him as a healer. He described how Bosnic would grab the forehead of a young man, who would immediately appear to fall under a trance. Other Salafi members would then hold the young man to the ground as Bosnic held a Kur'an tightly against his chest, telling the "spirit" possessing the boy to leave his body.

Defense lawyer Adil Lozo protested Azinovic's evaluation of evidence on the grounds of competency. Azinovic teaches terrorism-related courses as a university professor, and Lozo argued that since Azinovic is not a theological expert, he is incapable of recognizing that Bosnic's speeches are rooted in the teachings of Islam.

Lozo says that his client is being persecuted due to his religious beliefs.


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