Special police units raided homes Saturday in a Bosnian village linked to the gunman who fired an automatic weapon at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo in what authorities called a terrorist attack. The raids came as 17 suspected associates of the shooter, all said to be members of the ultraconservative Wahhabi Muslim sect, were briefly detained in Serbia.
A convoy of police vehicles entered the isolated northern village of Gornja Maoca, known to be inhabited by many Wahhabis, and officers wearing black masks and camouflage uniforms surrounded several houses, according to an Associated Press video. The reporter saw the security forces enter some homes before officers asked him to leave.
The gunman, identified by police as 23-year-old Mevlid Jasarevic, is accused of shooting at the embassy building in Sarajevo for at least 30 minutes Friday, wounding a policeman guarding the facility, before a police sniper immobilized him with a shot in his leg.
An amateur video obtained by the AP shows what appears to be Jasarevic roaming a deserted intersection, waving his gun and occasionally turning toward the embassy building, shooting at the fence and facade. Another video caught him dropping on the ground after the sniper shot him.
Jasarevic is believed to be a follower of the Wahhabi sect, and police said he visited Gornja Maoca several times this and last year. Both the gunman and the police officer were hospitalized and their wounds weren't considered to be life-threatening, authorities said.
Bosnian and Serbian police have coordinated the response to the embassy attack, and the raids in Bosnia on Saturday were part of a joint operation. The village appeared blocked with police setting up checkpoints, stopping cars and searching them.
Police were searching several locations in Bosnia and questioning people, State Prosecutor Dubravko Campara said.
"We are cooperating with colleagues in Serbia, working with them and the U.S. Embassy," he said.
Houses searched, items confiscated
In Serbia, police said in a statement that as part of the detentions of suspects, some 18 houses were searched and computers and mobile phones confiscated. The 17 people held were later released after questioning, police said.
Wahhabism is a very conservative branch of Islam that is rooted in Saudi Arabia and linked to religious militants in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Police raided Gornja Maoca in February 2010 because its residents were accused of posing a security threat in Bosnia by promoting racial and religious hatred and illegally possessing weapons.
Many Bosnian Muslims are extremely protective of their relations with the U.S. because it was the driving force behind NATO military intervention against the Serbs during the 1992-95 war and brokered a peace agreement that ended the conflict.
Furious callers on live radio shows suggested the Wahhabi movement should be banned and its members expelled.
"Here I am searching the newspapers every morning looking for news about foreign investments so this place can move forward and then an idiot like this comes and destroys everything. It will take years for us to wash this," cab driver Ismet Besic said.
"It looks as if he was just waiting for cameras to show up, to be seen all over the world," Nermin Muftic, 38, said watching videos of the shooter on YouTube on his mobile phone with his friends during morning coffee.
"He just wanted to pull this show and hurt Bosnia. Who knows what people in the world think of us now," he said.
Islamist extremists joined Bosnia's 1992-95 war for independence. They were largely tolerated by the U.S. and the West because of their opposition to late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic's quest to create "Greater Serbia" out of the former Yugoslav republics.
Bosnian intelligence officials have said last year that at least 3,000 Wahhabis live in Bosnia.
Bakir Izetbegovic, one of Bosnia's three presidents, issued a statement Friday condemning "the terrorist attack on the embassy of the United States."
"The United States is a proven friend of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Its government and its people supported us in the most difficult moments in our history and nobody has the right to jeopardize our relations," he said.
U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Patrick Moon told reporters "this is a regrettable incident," and that his country has full confidence in Bosnian police and judicial authorities. He pledged "full cooperation" in the investigation, adding that an FBI team will arrive in Bosnia to assess the damage to the embassy.
Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.