Interview: Edin Garaplija
interview by Ante SULJAK
Slobodna Dalmacija, Split, Croatia, September 12, 2000
[Serbian Language Version]
Following orders of the AID director, Kemal Ademovic, Edin Garaplija, an agent of the Bosniak intelligence service [AID], arrested Nedzad Herenda, one of the most active members of Seve [seva means lark], a notorious paramilitary unit, with the goal of getting a confession about the activities of the unit from him. By the way, Seve were acting under the auspices of the top Bosniak political leadership.
SD: Several days after the arrest, Herenda was found alive. Did he managed to escape?
GARAPLIJA: At one moment Herenda managed to get away. The agents who were guarding him were overworked and tired. You see, Herenda had been watched for a month. Then after the arrest he was processed for three days, meaning that we were getting his statement. That was according to the law that was in force at the time. At one point Herenda used the agent's lack of attention and tried to get his weapon. He attacked the agent, they pushed each other and the gun held by the agent fired. The bullet hit Herenda in the leg.
Body on the Road
At that time I had a meeting with Ademovic. I got a coded message to urgently return to the base. When I returned they told me that Herenda had been lightly wounded in the leg and that they had given him first aid, bandaged his wound and stopped the bleeding. They asked me what to do next. I informed my superiors, Ademovic and Masic, who was in charge of coordination, and they suggested that Herenda be removed.
What do you mean "removed"? Were they saying that he should be killed? What did you do with him?
At one moment Herenda fainted, probably as a consequence of his wound, as well as psychosis and fear inherent in the situation. We sort of panicked. Some of us thought that he had died. Masic claimed that Herenda was dead and that we should dispose of his body, although I tried to convince him that Herenda was alive and that he should be urgently taken to a hospital.
What did you decide in the end?
Since Masic insisted that Herenda was dead, we left his body next to a road...
However, according to a different version of that event, Herenda was found tied up inside a bag, with bullet wounds on his head and leg, but still alive... It was claimed at the time that he survived an execution by chance?
Herenda did not have a bullet wound in his head, but only a scratch. Later he claimed that he had been thrown in a manhole. However, all facts from the field indicate that he could not have been thrown in a manhole because of its narrow opening. Therefore, many facts, that were later established by a court, indicate that Herenda was lying, that he fabricated his story. Even the court appointed expert concluded that his wounds were not life threatening. What is beyond doubt is that Herenda had been left next to a road where, according to the witnesses, he was also later found.
Where is Herenda now?
There are three versions regarding his fate. According to one version, people who had issued orders for his crimes and the crimes of the Seva group moved him to Australia. The second version is that he was executed later in order to stop the further spreading of the whole case, and according to the third version Herenda is under watch of the investigators of the Hague Tribunal who are preparing an indictment for the committed crimes. The third option is the one closest to the truth.
How much did you manage to find out from Herenda? Were you satisfied with the information you got out of him?
It is difficult to talk about any satisfaction in this case. I was very disturbed by the information we got from Herenda... The facts and his testimony about them, it was outrageous.
Did he reveal the chain of command that controlled Sevas?
He said that the chain of command always went in the direction of Ugljen, Alispahic, Dautbasic, and all the way to the top political leadership including Izetbegovic. Since we are discussing these facts, not only did we find out everything we were looking for but in some cases Herenda provided so much detail that he said some horrific things.
What in particular?
For example, at one moment he talked about the training they received in Metkovic. Later they went to the Pogorelice camp [near Fojnica], after which, according to Herenda, they regularly practiced sharp shooting. "Herenda. How did you practice that?" I asked him and he replied that they would climb hilltops or building tops and then shoot at Serbs in Grbavica. "How did you pick your targets?" We would shoot at anyone, said Herenda. For example, they would pick out a woman, an elderly woman and then they would shoot at her. One of them would follow her movement and the other one shoot. When I asked him how he could be certain that the woman was not for example a Bosniak woman who by chance stayed in Grbavica, he replied that they watched for that. For example they made sure that their targets were wearing black [custom among elderly Christian women in rural areas of Bosnia and elsewhere in the Balkans]. That indicates Herenda's truly criminal character.
These sharp shooters... Were they professionals, people from abroad?
They had several trained sharp shooters from outside, while others went through training and practiced in the manner described by Herenda. Therefore they did not care whether they were shooting civilians, women, children, elderly... They did not care whether there would be a reaction to their activities.
Perhaps, that was their intention after all?
It must have been, but hopefully someone will ask Herenda about that too. Whether that was their goal or whether they were ordered to exact revenge...
According to the information you obtained during the questioning, did Herenda and Seve perhaps participate in the massacre of twelve captured civilians and soldiers in 1992 in front of the Police headquarters in Sarajevo?
Not only was he there but he bloodied his hands. Namely, that group of civilians and prisoners of war had been brought in front of the Police Headquarters. The then commander of the special police unit Dragan Vikic recently testified about that event on TV OBN. Vikic claimed that at one moment he had heard several bursts of fire from a machine gun. When he went to check what was going on he was told that all the prisoners had been killed. Herenda confessed to us that he had killed the prisoners. He told us the details and said: "Yes, I shot at them. When they fell, I pulled out a handgun. With the handgun I 'confirmed' all of them one more time." Afterwards, he was given the task to remove and burn the bodies in order to hide the crime.
When we asked him why he had done that, his defense was that the victims were Chetniks [derogatory term for Serbs]. As if they were not human, as far as Herenda was concerned. As if he shot at twelve boxes, rather than twelve persons, tied up and unarmed. Herenda also said that Ugljen had ordered him to kill those prisoners. However, it is worrisome that no one in the judiciary has so far initiated an investigation in that war crime, although Vikic claims that immediately after the crime he informed the then Minsiter of Internal Affairs, Jusuf Pusina, and requested that Herenda be arrested and tried. However, no one has ever investigated Herenda and his superiors.
A French peace forces member was killed at the time with a sniper bullet. Are Seve behind that murder?
Yes, they are... The unofficial information was that an investigation of that murder had been opened. The murder took place in the center of Sarajevo, next to the building of the Executive Council, and there was a well founded suspicion that the murder had been carried out by Seve. Herenda confirmed that in a part of his statement. According to him, the French soldier was murdered in an attempt to accuse Serbs for the crime. However, investigators who worked on that crime immediately found out that the bullet could not have come from the Serb positions in Grbavica, as was claimed in the public. The whole case caused quite a stir but Delic, Dautbasic, Mujezinovic, and Ugljen tried to hush everything down and were largely successful in that.
Who murdered the young couple, a Muslim woman and a Serb man, on one bridge in Sarajevo, on the line of separation? That crime outraged the whole world and Serbs were blamed for it.
That is not true. This was perfidious propaganda of the people who gave orders to Seve. Herenda was specific in connection with that crime in his statement and stated that the couple had been murdered by Dragan Bozic from a sniper rifle. Herenda even described the spot from which Bozic killed them.
You've said in the past that Sevas also used the method of quiet liquidation. What is that?
Herenda told us that Dautbasic, together with an engineer of chemistry, Faik Kulovic, had built a type of syringe which could inject almost instantaneously a big dose of cyanide into the victim's body causing instantaneous death. After that an autopsy would be conducted by Dr. Ilijas Dobraca. He would find out that the cause of death had been natural, a cardiac arrest or something of that sort. Herenda stated that they had killed in that manner SDS representative in the Bosnian Parliament Najdanic and one person in Zenica, whose name I do not recall, but the name was recorded in Herenda's statement.
Were Sevas used for actions on the front, for example in Kazani, the ravine under the Trebevic Mt.?
Seve had a criminal role during the operation "Trebevic", actually an attempt to arrest the commander of the Tenth Mountain Brigade, Musan Topalovic Caco, and his collaborators. That was not known to the public and was discovered only after Herenda's arrest. Seve were given by Ugljan and Alispahic on the one side and Mujezinovic, Muslimovic, and Jasarevic on the other, a special task, an order to kill as many members of the Tenth Mountain Brigade of the Army of BH as possible. They were divided in two groups, prepared to start shooting at the same time. One group had the task to shoot members of the Tenth Mountain Brigade and the other group was supposed to shoot at the attackers. That caused a bloodbath in which several people lost their lives, which caused a forceful reaction. Later everything was transformed into a wider conflict.
What was the final goal of the people who ordered that massacre?
Analysing all the information provided by Herenda, it is possible to come to a conclusion that the task of Sevas was to provoke an internal conflict in the Army of BH, probably in order to weaken the defense against the Serb aggressor.
Do you know whether Seve participated in the forced evictions of Serbs and Croats from their apartments in Sarajevo?
Yes, Herenda described several cases of transfer of certain Croats or Serbs. Their task was to take them to Stup [Croat positions] of towards Pale [Serb positions] and turn them over.
Turn them over to whom?
He was not specific in this case. Perhaps he was not sure. His task was to simply take those people and make sure they were delivered. He would take them to the previously agreed spot, but it is not known what happened with them afterwards.
What else did you find out from Herenda?
You see, Herenda gave his statement for three days, for seventy two hours. He said many horrific things. A lot has been said, and it would demand a lot of space... There were contacts in the Netherlands, transfer of drugs, transfer of money via diplomatic mail etc. There is a lot of that.
Who was given the material in connection with Herenda's statement?
New information was daily transferred to director Ademovic. We had meetings on two locations. One location was the Bare cemetery, on the outskirts of Sarajevo, and the other one the Big Park in the center.
Assassination Attempt on Halilovic
Who gave the order to assassinate General Halilovic?
This is a very interesting part of Herenda's statement. Why? Because it proves that Sevas were not only used against Serbs and Croats but also for the showdowns with the political opponents among Bosniaks. At that time General Halilovic had split up with the military and political Bosniak leadership and was simply fired. After that the people from the top Bosniak leadership ordered Herenda to assassinate Halilovic. Sevas placed an explosive device. The idea was to accuse the Serb side of a grenade attack. The assassination was carried out by a group of three agents. One of them was an expert for explosive devices, the other one was following Halilovic and the third one was Herenda as the chief of that group.
Who were the other two?
Their names are known and were passed along to the investigative bodies.
What happened next?
They got information from the usual points, from Mujezinovic and intelligence points that followed Halilovic and eavesdropped on his phone conversations. They provided information that Sefer Halilovic was on his way home. The previous night they had placed an explosive device by attaching it from below to the balcony of Halilovic's apartment. They decided to conduct the operation in that manner because Halilovic's apartment was on the second floor so that that was the easiest assassination method. They were monitoring the apartment from one of their usual stations directly across the street from the apartment. From there they watched and activated the explosive device. Fortunately for Sefer Halilovic he had stopped somewhere on his way home and in the meantime the brother of Halilovic's wife went out on the balcony with his sister, Halilovic's wife. Unfortunately, he was dressed in battle fatigues since he had been mobilized and was active in the Army. At that moment Herenda and the team mistakenly identified him as Halilovic and activated the bomb. Sefer Halilovic's wife and her brother died in that explosion. Fortunately, their two small kids were at the time in a different room and were not hurt. However, Herenda, at the moment he activated the explosive device did not know where the children were and whether they would also be killed. That again illustrates the criminal character of Herenda and Sevas, as well as the people who ordered them to carry out these attacks.
How is it then possible that the public was told that a Serb grenade had hit Halilovic's apartment?
You see, a sort of a disguise of the operation was immediately conducted. Namely, the Bosniak media close to the authorities published that a Serb, probably misfired grenade, had caused the explosion. Experts were sent to the scene. Only one of them, Dr. Neset Muminagic did not succumb to the pressure and concluded that the explosion was not caused by a Serb grenade but by an explosive device. His report has been hidden from the public for a long time. The other experts wrote that the explosion had been caused by a misfired Serb grenade. That clearly shows the way in which terrorists activities of Sevas were hidden. Herenda told us details about the assassination.
Thank You Note from Alija Izetbegovic's Office
The Hague investigators, to whom I testified for several days, have an important document. Namely, Alija's nephew Bakir Sadovic, also known as Zujan, who is at the same time his office chief of staff, sent a thank you letter to Nedzad Ugljen in which he thanked him for an action of killing of civilians, mostly women in Grbavica, carried out by Seve. The very name of the unit, Seve, was not mentioned in the public. The Bosniak authorities tried to hide their existence in all ways possible. However, after the murder of Nedzad Ugljen, one Sarajevo newspaper published an obituary with the text "Farewell to Nephew from Sevas".
Translated on October 26, 2000