IOWA CITY – A former Bosnian soldier who fled police custody while awaiting trial for murder in the 1994 murder of a military colleague has been arrested and jailed in Iowa after living in the United States for decades.
Federal agents arrested Dzevad Pajazetovic in Des Moines on March 1 following a formal extradition request from Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to court documents. The 58-year-old man remains in custody and a status conference in his case is scheduled for Wednesday.
Pajazetovic had led a quiet life for years in the Des Moines area, most recently in the rapidly growing suburb of Waukee, where he and his wife bought a new home for $ 290,000 in 2019. He has grown children and has worked in a tire factory. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen and registered to vote in 2004.
Bosnian authorities claim that Pajazetovic was once a member of a military unit tasked with guarding the border with Croatia during the Bosnian war. They say he attempted to illegally bring fuel from Croatia to Bosnia in 1994 and was confronted by a Bosnian military police officer, Dervic Okic, whose duties were to prevent cross-border smuggling.
Okic demanded that Pajazetovic return 10% of the fuel for the military brigade. Pajazetovic refused and the two started arguing, authorities say. Prosecutors say Okic fired three warning shots into the ground, then Pajazetovic shot and killed Okic.
The murder took place during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War in which the country’s three main ethnic factions – Muslim Bosnians, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Christian Serbs – fought for control after the break-up of Yugoslavia. Over 100,000 people were killed in the war, most Bosnians, and over 2 million, more than half of the Bosnian population, were forced to flee their homes.
Pajazetovic was released in 1996 pending trial and fled to the United States. He was then tried in absentia, convicted in 1999 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. At trial, a lawyer representing Pajazetovic argued that his actions were in self-defense after one of Okic’s shots hit him in the leg and injured him.
The Bosnian Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 2000 but reduced his sentence to 11 years.
Thousands of Bosnian refugees who fled during the war resettled in Iowa in the 1990s. Today, approximately 20,000 Americans of Bosnian descent live in the state, according to the Bosnian American Association of the United Nations. Iowa.
Bosnia and Herzegovina first requested Pajazetovic’s extradition in 2016 as part of its diplomatic treaty with the United States, and submitted additional information in 2018, according to court records.
Federal prosecutors in Iowa called Pajazetovic “a significant flight risk and danger to the community.” They note that he fled detention as he faced criminal charges in the 1990s, and argued that he would be prompted to do it again if released on bail. In addition, they noted that the “gravity” of his crime would also endanger public safety if he were to flee.
“The granting of a bond of any amount whatsoever would not guarantee the presence of Pajazetovic in court and would invite embarrassment of the United States in the conduct of its foreign affairs,” argued the US prosecutor’s office by interim Richard Westphal in a March 2 case.
Magistrate ordered Pajazetovic’s detention in federal custody pending prosecution
Rhonda Shafner, AP news researcher in New York, contributed to this report.