A Bosnia and Herzegovina citizen living in Arizona was sentenced to nearly six years in prison after Homeland Security Investigations found he concealed his war crimes from immigration authorities to move to the United States, officials announced Wednesday.
Sinisa Djurdjic tortured people in prison as a guard in 1992, according to the testimony of five Bosnian Muslims who were held at the camps, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Arizona. Djurdjic obtained refugee status and permanent residence in the U.S. for two decades by lying about his prior military and police service, the release added.
"Our lives were ruined by people like Sinisa but we managed to rebuild them and his conviction is one of the final bricks in our house of peace," one of the victims told the court.
Immigration authorities have arrested and deported multiple people tied to human rights abuses in the Bosnian war over the years, and international courts have convicted high-ranking officials of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. The war, from 1992 to 1995, killed an estimated 100,000 people and displaced 2.2 million others. About 8,000 Bosniak men and boys, primarily Muslims, were killed in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
District Judge Jennifer Zipps sentenced 50-year-old Djurdjic to 70 months in prison and three years of supervised release after he was found guilty in May of visa fraud and two counts of attempted unlawful procurement of citizenship.
"We commend the courage and tenacity of the Bosnians who testified against the defendant and held him accountable for his false statements while seeking legal status in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino. “Providing opportunities for refugees and asylees is quintessentially American. Safeguarding those opportunities requires vigilance to ensure that the American dream is foreclosed to those who lie about a disqualifying past.”
Arrest after yearslong investigation
In 2000, Djurdjic moved to Tucson, Arizona, under the refugee program, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Nine years later, Homeland Security Investigations launched a probe after receiving a roster of a Serbian police brigade suspected of wartime atrocities during the 1990s. Djurdjic was listed as a brigade member, and his involvement was confirmed in a yearslong international probe, according to prosecutors.
Djurdjic was a prison guard at two prison camps north of Sarajevo, and both were established by a Bosnian-Serb military unit that espoused ethnic cleansing during the war, the U.S. attorney's office said.
But Djurdjic repeatedly lied about his past in immigration applications, court documents added, which inquire about involvement in wars, prisons, and the use of weapons.
Others with ties to war crimes arrested or deported
Over the years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested and deported multiple people tied to human rights abuses during the Bosnian massacre. In May, Homeland Security Investigations arrested a former Bosnian prison camp supervisor who allegedly participated in beating people at the prison and misrepresented his past in immigration and citizenship applications.
In 2019, ICE deported at least two people after serving prison time for lying about their involvement in war crimes in Bosnia on immigration applications, including a prison guard and a member of the Bratunac Brigade.
In May, ICE said Homeland Security Investigations was investigating more than 160 cases of suspected human rights violators. The agency said it has stopped more than 350 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S. since 2003.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bosnian war criminal living in Arizona gets 70 months in prison