US arrests Bosnian fugitive wanted for 1994 military killing

IOWA CITY, Iowa — A former Bosnian soldier who fled custody while awaiting trial for murder in the 1994 killing of a fellow military officer has been arrested and jailed in Iowa after living in the U.S. for decades.

Federal agents arrested Dzevad Pajazetovic in Des Moines on March 1 following a formal extradition request from Bosnia-Herzegovina, court documents show. The 58-year-old remains in custody and a status conference in his case is scheduled for Wednesday.

Pajazetovic had been living a quiet life for years in the Des Moines area, most recently in the fast-growing suburb of Waukee, where he and his wife purchased a $290,000 new home in 2019. He has adult children, worked at a tire factory, and he became a naturalized U.S. citizen and registered to vote in 2004.

Bosnian authorities say Pajazetovic used to be a member of a military unit responsible for guarding the border with Croatia during the Bosnian War. They say he tried to illegally bring fuel from Croatia into Bosnia in 1994 and was confronted by a Bosnian military police officer, Dervic Okic, whose duties included to prevent cross-border smuggling.

Okic demanded that Pajazetovic surrender 10% of the fuel for the military brigade. Pajazetovic refused and the two began arguing, authorities allege. Prosecutors say Okic fired three warnings shots into the ground, then Pajazetovic shot and killed Okic.

The killing took place during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War in which the country’s three main ethnic factions — Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Christian Serbs — fought for control after the break-up of Yugoslavia. Over 100,000 people were killed during the war, most of them Bosniaks, and upward of 2 million, or over half of Bosnia’s population, were forced to flee their homes.

Pajazetovic was released from custody in 1996 while awaiting trial, and fled to the United States. He was later 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 wounded him.

The Supreme Court of Bosnia 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, around 20,000 Bosnian-Americans live in the state, according to the Bosniak American Association of Iowa.

Bosnia-Herzegovina first requested Pajazetovic’s extradition in 2016 under its diplomatic treaty with the U.S., and submitted supplemental information in 2018, court records show.

Federal prosecutors in Iowa called Pajazetovic “a significant flight risk and danger to the community.” They note that he fled custody when he was facing criminal charges in the 1990s, and argued he would have incentive to do so again if released on bail. In addition, they noted that the “serious nature” of his crime would also jeopardize public safety if he were to flee.

“Allowance of bail in any amount would not guarantee Pajazetovic’s presence in court and would invite the possibility of embarrassing the United States in the conduct of its foreign affairs,” the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Richard Westphal argued in a March 2 filing.

A magistrate ordered Pajazetovic held in federal custody pending further proceedings.

His attorney, J. Keith Rigg, declined comment.

AP news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.