BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbian police arrested 15 people in raids on suspected radical Islamists on Saturday after a lone gunman opened fire with an assault rifle on the U.S. embassy in neighbouring Bosnia, Serbia’s Interior Ministry said.
Friday’s broad daylight attack in the Bosnian capital paralysed central Sarajevo and saw shopkeepers scrambling for cover as the gunman paced up and down firing on the embassy before a police sharpshooter wounded him and he was arrested.
One police officer was also wounded in the attack and several bullets struck the wall of the embassy compound.
Police in Serbia said they had conducted raids in three towns in southwestern Serbia, including the mainly Muslim Novi Pazar, the hometown of the gunman identified as 23-year-old Mevludin Jasarevic.
“At 5 a.m. this morning, police launched an operation against the extremist Islamic Wahhabi movement in Novi Pazar, Sjenica and Tutin,” Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said in a statement. Wahhabism is a strict branch of Islam.
Fifteen people were arrested and police seized mobile phones and computers.
Bosnia’s Security Minister Sadik Ahmetovic said Bosnian authorities coordinated activities with their Serbian counterparts.
“Several locations have been raided and a number of individuals believed to have had links with the perpetrator have been interrogated in Bosnia,” Ahmetovic told reporters.
The state prosecutor Dubravko Campara said he had met the gunman but could not provide more detail on his motives in the interest of ongoing investigation.
Serbian media reported police had stepped up security around the U.S. embassy in the capital, Belgrade.
U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Patrick Moon said Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents were expected to conduct an investigation into the damage on the embassy building.
“This is a standard procedure if there is a damage to our property or personnel,” he said.
Security officials in Bosnia said Jasarevic, who was convicted of robbery in Austria in 2005 and deported to Serbia, had entered Bosnia on Friday morning. He visited hardline Islamists in northern Bosnia earlier in the year.
The Novi Pazar region has been raided previously.
In 2007, police uncovered what they said was an Islamist “terrorist” training camp, seizing plastic explosives, grenades and automatic weapons.
In 2010, Bosnian police also raided the northern village of Gornja Maoca which is home to followers of the Islamic Wahhabi branch. They arrested several men, suspected of destabilising Bosnia and seized a large cache of weapons.
The villagers there live in accordance with sharia law. Many young Bosnian Muslims, particularly from rural areas, have in recent years adhered to the puritanical Wahhabi sect under the influence of foreign fighters, most of whom left Bosnia after the 1992-95 war.
Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, Matt Robinson and Maja Zuvela; Editing by Sophie Hares