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Bosnian state court. Photo: BIRN BiH
Prosecution expert witness Azra Alajbegovic, a psychiatrist, told the trial of Jahja Vukovic at the Bosnian state court that the defendant suffered psychologically because he was only 14 years old when he was taken to Syria.
Alajbegovic explained that, on the basis of an interview she conducted with the defendant, she learned that after being taken to Syria at the age of 14, Vukovic then lost his father and his home, so he joined military units in order to survive, and was detained and tortured.
She said that when he was taken to Syria, Vukovic was a child whose parents made decisions for him. Everything that happened to him afterwards was a consequence of going to Syria, and the hardships he suffered led him to join the military units, she told the court.
Alajbegovic said that the defendant needed professional help, and that his time in detention was hard for him.
During cross-examination, defence lawyer Senad Dupovac said that Vukovic “never accepted the Wahhabi and Salafi code of conduct” while he was in Syria. The expert witness agreed.
“While he was there [in Syria], he lived the way he had to, but he did not accept that as his philosophy of life,” Alajbegovic said.
When asked by judge Branko Peric about her recommendations for Vukovic’s treatment, she said she did not know whether the state had projects or a strategy for such people, but he could seek professional help at home, provided that a family member took him in.
Vukovic is charged with having been in Syria from 2014 to 2020 and fought for military units of al-Nusra Front, which was declared a terrorist organization by the United Nations. According to the indictment, Vukovic took part in terrorist activities under the name Abdulaziz.
A State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA inspector told the court that he participated in the investigation, and that a video made in Syria of several people, including the defendant, was found.
The SIPA witness, whose name cannot be published because of a court ruling, said that the video was posted on Telegram application via a user account named Abdulaziz. He said that one witness identified Vukovic on the video.
A photo album made on the basis of the video was shown in the courtroom. It depicted a person sitting, but the person’s head could not be seen.
Defence lawyer Dupovac asked the SIPA inspector how it was possible to identify a person whose head could not be seen, but the inspector said the identification had been carried out by a witness.
Dupovac asked the SIPA inspector why he said during the investigation that it was probably Vukovic, while he was sure it was him today. The inspector said that, according to all the information available, there was no doubt that it was the defendant.
Witness Mario Janecek from the State Security Ministry told the court that the al-Nusra Front was on the UN’s list of terrorist organisations from May 14, 2014, and that prior to that date it had been active as part of al-Qaeda. He added that there were several different variations of the group’s name.
He said that Bosnia was obliged to take action against members of that group.
At the beginning of the hearing, the defence confirmed that it submitted to the prosecution a proposal for a plea bargain. The trial has been postponed for an indefinite period of time to give the parties time to potentially conclude the plea bargain.