A suspect wanted for war crimes during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, moves one step closer to being sent back to Europe from Roanoke.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Virginia, federal Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou certified for extradition former prison guard Almaz Nezirovic, 54, of Roanoke, to Bosnia on Monday.
Investigators believe Nezirovic tortured Serb civilians detained at the Rabic camp, in the Derventa Municipality of Bosnia and Herzegovina between April-July 1992. The investigation found Nezirovic joined a paramilitary group called the HVO in 1992. After becoming a prison guard. Bosnian investigators claims Nezirovic beat, humiliated,, and traumatized unarmed civilian prisoners, hurting some of the prisoners severely.
Nezirovic's attorney, public defender Fay Spence, has said in court documents that he denies the charges. Spence argued in court papers that the alleged offenses did not amount to "crimes against humanity" as defined by international law.
She also had argued that Nezirovic was exempt from extradition because his actions were political. Nezirovic said he joined the HVO after Serbian troops attacked his hometown of Derventa. He described lying with his family on their living room floor and listening to grenades, and seeing a friend and others die from sniper fire.
Nezirovic previously testified that he joined "any army which can defend me and my family," and claimed that he believed the prisoners housed at Rabic were soldiers who had attacked Derventa.
Ballou accepted Nezirovic's explanation for joining the HVO but rejected his bid to invoke the "political exception" rule to extradition.
"The objective evidence in this case establishes that Nezirovic's alleged victims were civilians," Ballou wrote. "Courts have repeatedly held that there can be no justifiable connection between attacks against civilians and a political disturbance or uprising."
The judge also rejected Nezirovic's argument that his actions should be excused because they were not disproportional to the war's violence.
"Nezirovic's suggestion that the torture of civilians is somehow justified by the general cruelty of ongoing war is contrary to basic provisions of international law, which prohibit such crimes against humanity," Ballou wrote.
The U.S. Government filed for extradition of Nezirovic in July of 2012, under the treaty America has with Bosnia, as well as the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Since the federal court certified the extradition, the process next moves to Secretary of State John Kerry's office. He will decide whether of not Nezirovic will be sent back.
Nezirovic, who immigrated to Roanoke County about 15 years ago and worked as a welder, also is charged in U.S. District Court in Roanoke with concealing his wartime activities when applying for refugee status and naturalization in the United States.
The U.S. attorney's office said the extradition process will take precedence over the naturalization fraud case, which is not scheduled for trial.
(Information from the Associated Press was used in this story)
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