A swift, bloodless raid on a quiet ski chalet exposed what NATO forces say was a terrorist school where Iranians trained Bosnian government agents. The raiders seized high-powered weapons and explosives, booby-trapped toys and detailed kidnap plans.
NATO made a public display of the find, which appeared to show Bosnian authorities in flagrant violation of the troubled peace treaty that NATO troops are trying to enforce. They detained 11 heavily armed men, including three with Iranian papers.
“No one can escape the obvious, that this is a terrorist training activity going on in this building and it has direct association with people in the government,” said U.S. Adm. Leighton Smith, commander of NATO forces in Bosnia.
Speaking to reporters Friday, the day after the raid, he called the white, three-story chalet “an abomination.”
Smith and other American officers showed reporters documents that they said proved that three of the men detained were Iranians who were training agents for the Bosnian Interior Ministry, which runs the national police force. NATO officials said the other eight were Bosnians.
One detainee, an Iranian with a diplomatic passport, was released. NATO which has no judicial authority in Bosnia - said it would turn the other 10 over to Bosnian government authorities soon and expected the government would deport them.
Thursday afternoon’s swoop on the chalet was daring, secretive and timely for NATO.
It came just before a weekend summit in Rome where foreign mediators are expected to reprimand leaders from all of Bosnia’s factions - and their mentors in Serbia and Croatia - for not complying with the Bosnian peace accord.
Smith’s linking the chalet to the Muslim-led Bosnian government would put the latter in clear violation of the accord and could give mediators the leverage they need to cajole all sides back into compliance.
Bosnia’s Serbs are already in violation for breaking contact with NATO-led forces over the government’s arrest of two Serb military officers on suspicion of war crimes.
NATO officers insisted Friday that the timing of the raid near Fojnica, 20 miles west of Sarajevo, was sheer coincidence.
The Bosnian government protested that the operation was “unnecessary and inappropriate” and claimed that the chalet was used to train “special anti-terror units of the Interior Ministry to arrest war criminals.”
Smith said he had telephoned President Alija Izetbegovic after the raid, and that the Bosnian leader “related to me his conviction that this was an old training activity, that it was in fact being closed down and that the people we detained here were here to remove all the equipment.”
The Bosnian government previously had said that all foreign forces who had fought alongside the rival factions had left the country - in compliance with the peace accord that set a Jan. 17 deadline for their departure - and said that any who remained would become law-abiding citizens.
Inside the chalet, American servicemen guided journalists through two rooms with tables bearing bombs, detonators, booby-trapped toys and toiletries and documents. In one room, tables were upturned and drawers dumped on the floor.
One serviceman showed reporters an Iran Air ticket to Tehran for an Iranian “who was here on the ground, who was here in the building and was caught.” A portrait of the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini lay on a table.
Smith showed reporters a rack of 60 automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and a sniper rifle with a long green silencer. The arsenal also included hand grenades, detonators, blasting caps and explosives.
On one table was a small red car and other children’s toys, shampoo bottles and other household goods wired with explosives, as well a model of a civilian house that one serviceman described as a “mockup for an assassination.”
He picked up a folder that he said was titled: “The Special Operations Project to Kidnap the Serbian Officer for Liaison at the PTT Engineering Building in Sarajevo.” Last year, a number of ethnic Serbs employed by the United Nations at the Sarajevo Post, Telephone and Telegraph building disappeared without trace.
“The terrorists obviously didn’t get any classes on the Geneva Convention” banning assassinations and attacks on civilians, he said. “But they did, this picture indicates, show a new and useful way to blow a child’s sneakered foot off,” said the American, pointing to a diagram showing a child’s foot hitting a pressure-activated bomb.
Other than Smith, NATO officials at the chalet refused to give their names or let themselves be photographed.
They said they had found lists of Interior Ministry officials who had been trained at the center, and would track them down.
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