BELGRADE – A court in Belgrade heard prosecutors accuse 15 suspected radical Islamists of running training camps and plotting assassinations inside the country, Beta news agency reported Monday.
“˜The defendants organised a criminal group in order to jeopardize the security of Serbia by planning attacks against police and murders,” deputy prosecutor Jovica Jovanovic said in his opening remarks, Beta reported.
The defendants face charges of terrorism and illegal possession of arms.
All but two defendants, believed to be followers of the radical Wahhabite sect of Islam, were arrested last year near Novi Pazar, the main town in the southern Sandzak region, which has a large Muslim population.
Prosecutors say they had set up secret camps in the region for terrorist and military training.
They also alleged that the defendants had planned both an attack against a police station in Novi Pazar and the murder of Muarem Zukorlic, a local mufti, or Muslim cleric.
Gee, they should know better than to misunderstand their religion like that.
Jovanovic said the group had close ties with fellow Islamists in neighbouring countries and several other countries.
The indictment alleged the group had asked their commanders in Bosnia, Saudi Arabia and Austria for approval to kill Zukorlic””and had eventually decided to do so, Beta reported.
No attempt on Zukorlic’s life took place before the arrest of the suspects.
Jovanovic said that in a search of defendant Mehmedin Koljsi’s computer, police had found maps of Belgrade and photographs of several buildings in the capital including a hotel, a theatre and the US embassy.
At the end of the prosecution’s opening remarks, the first defendant, Senad Ramovic, pleaded not guilty, state-run Tanjug news agency reported.
Ramovic said the indictment was “˜based on hate towards Islam and Muslims,” adding that it looked like “˜it was written by (US President George W.) Bush or CIA agent Zukorlic,” the mufti named as a target in the indictment.
Other defendants are expected to enter their plea in the coming days.
Wahhabis are followers of a fundamentalist movement in Sunni Islam as practised in Saudi Arabia, who insist that their beliefs are those of the first three generations of Muslims.
Although local media reports say that their presence has increased in the Balkans in recent years, experts believe that they are still marginal.
The authorities have blamed the radicalisation of Sandzak, whose 420,000 population is 45 percent Muslim, on tensions between two of the region’s rival political parties.