Bosnian suspected of detainee abuse arrested in US

June 24, 2011 - 2:45 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Bosnian charged in Virginia with naturalization fraud was formerly a prison guard who abused Serb civilian detainees during the war in the former Yugoslavia, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Friday.

The two-count indictment says Almaz Nezirovic "willfully caused great suffering and serious injury" to Serb civilians at the Rabic prison camp in 1992. At the time, Nezirovic was a member of the Croatian military and was serving as a guard at the camp where Serb detainees were held.

After the three-year war ended in 1995, Nezirovic sought refugee status in the United States, where he later applied for a green card and to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. The indictment alleges that Nezirovic lied on his applications by falsely claiming he had not committed crimes outside the U.S.

Nezirovic, 52, made his initial appearance Friday in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville. The Associated Press left a voice-mail message for Joel Hoppe, the assistant federal public defender who represented Nezirovic at the brief hearing.

Nezirovic remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing Monday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

John Torres, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, D.C., and Virginia, said in a telephone interview that information from a foreign government helped U.S. authorities track down Nezirovic, who was arrested Thursday at his home in Roanoke.

Brian McGinn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said Nezirovic is unemployed and was living with his wife and son. He had no further details about Nezirovic's life in Roanoke.

Torres said several witnesses identified Nezirovic as a guard at the Rabic camp who was responsible for "beatings and torture of ethnic Serbs." Other members of Nezirovic's unit in the Croatian Defense Council have been convicted of war crimes against civilians at Rabic and similar facilities.

Torres said that if Nezirovic is convicted of the naturalization fraud charges, ICE will take him into custody and start deportation proceedings after he serves any prison sentence handed down by the federal judge. The offenses are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Nezirovic then could be tried for detainee abuse in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Torres said.

"That's typically what happens in these cases," he said.

Last year, for example, ICE removed alleged war criminal Juan Miguel Mendez to Argentina to be tried on charges of torturing and killing detainees during that country's "Dirty War" from 1976-1983.

The indictment against Nezirovic says he applied for admission to the U.S. as a refugee in February 1997 and failed to disclose that "he assaulted and inhumanely treated Serb civilians detained at the Rabic camp." He entered the U.S. as a refugee six months later.

In 1999, Nezirovic filed an application for legal permanent residence in the U.S. He did not disclose his military service and "declared under penalty of perjury that he did not knowingly commit any crime of moral turpitude in or outside the United States, for which he has not been arrested," the indictment says.

He made a similar declaration in an application for naturalization in 2004, the indictment says, and swore that he had never "persecuted (either directly or indirectly) any person because of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."

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Larry O'Dell can be reached at http://twitter.com/LarryOatAP