A Peabody construction worker accused of being one of the executioners who slaughtered some 1,200 Bosnian Muslim men in 1995 was charged yesterday with entering the United States illegally by claiming refugee status and not revealing his role in a notorious Bosnian Serb Army unit that took part in the worst massacre of civilians in Europe since the end of World War II.
Despite being a suspected war criminal, Marko Boskic, 40, was able to enter the United States four years ago under his own name and moved to Peabody, where he hardly kept a low-profile. Boskic had repeated run-ins with the law that led to numerous arrests on charges of drunken driving and serious assaults.
In April, he was arrested by Peabody police and charged with drunken driving and possession of an open container of alcohol after he crashed his Dodge Intrepid into a pole at 2:41 a.m. Most recently, on Aug. 11, Peabody police cited him for leaving the scene of an accident.
US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan said federal authorities launched an investigation of Boskic after receiving a tip. Sullivan said authorities methodically built a case against Boskic, leading to his arrest Wednesday night at his Peabody condominium. During an initial appearance at US District Court, Boskic was ordered held without bail.
In an affidavit dated Wednesday -- exactly one year to the day after Boskic was accused of participating in the massacre during testimony at the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague -- a federal immigration agent alleged that Boskic committed fraud when he failed to disclose that he was part of the 10th Sabotage, or Diversionary, Unit that was among the Bosnian Serb Army units that killed some 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from the town of Srebenica in July 1995.
Specifically, Boskic is accused of carrying out the orders of others when he was one of eight men who gunned down 1,200 men at a farm in Pilica, a village near Srebenica.
US government officials say Boskic was able to enter this country and live in Massachusetts in part because of a loophole in federal immigration policies. Currently, federal investigators track only Nazi-era human rights violators, to prevent them from entering the United States. A bill pending in Congress would expand the authority of a key government office to investigate those accused of atrocities elsewhere.
Gregory C. Nevano, senior special agent with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in his affidavit that in 1999, while living in Germany, Boskic sought refugee status to gain entry to the United States and said he had fled Bosnia because of his "refusal to join the army to fight in the war."
"I didn't want to fight in an ethnic war against people I lived with -- I was forced to flee," he was quoted as saying. "Also because I am a Croat I didn't want to fight."
Nevano said that in a section where applicants are required to disclose all past military service, Boskic reported only his mandated service with the Yugoslav Army in 1983-84. According to Nevano, Boskic said on a questionnaire filed with his immigration application that he fled first to Berlin, where his brother lived, to avoid being called up for military service in Kosovo in 1998, the year before NATO led a 72-day war against Milosevic's regime.
Nevano said US officials obtained a videotape from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague that shows Boskic in uniform, holding a rifle, at an awards ceremony presided over by Radislav Krstic, the overall commander of Bosnian Serb forces who carried out atrocities in and around Srebenica. A confidential witness who was in Boskic's unit and attended the Oct. 14, 1995, awards ceremony confirmed Boskic was there, Nevano said. In 2001, Krstic was convicted of genocide for orchestrating what was known as the Srebenica massacres and sentenced to 46 years in prison.
While the affidavit doesn't name the witness, testimony at Milosevic's trial suggests that the witness is Drazen Erdemovic, who has confessed to his role in the Pilica massacre and has named Boskic as one of seven other executioners that day. It is unclear whether war crimes prosecutors are considering charges against Boskic.
Neither Sullivan nor other officials could explain why US immigration authorities didn't realize who Boskic was before they allowed him into the United States.
Boskic entered the United States in April 2000 and got a Massachusetts driver's license the next month. But he had been implicated in the massacre as far back as 1996, when he was the subject of a Page 1 story in The Boston Globe, which detailed the accusations against Boskic by Bosnian Muslim and Serb sources and his threatening of a Globe reporter, the late Elizabeth Neuffer, who asked him about the allegations.
Yesterday, Boskic appeared unfazed when he was brought into the court in handcuffs for a brief hearing before US Magistrate Lawrence P. Cohen. Dressed in a long black T-shirt that hung over his baggy blue jeans, Boskic smiled as he was introduced to a Serbo-Croation interpreter and shook his hand. He sat between his court-appointed lawyer, Max D. Stern, and the interpreter during the hearing.
Boskic told Cohen he could not afford a lawyer. The interpreter told Stern that Boskic said he owns his condo on Foster Street in Peabody, but that his monthly bills are "huge." Boskic said he made $35 an hour when he worked, intermittently, for a Medford construction company. In an affidavit Boskic filed with the court requesting court-appointed counsel, he disclosed that he is married, but has been separated from his wife for two years. Stern said she doesn't live in the area.
Cohen accepted the request of assistant US attorney Kimberly West that Boskic be held without bail, and Stern agreed not to challenge detention. Boskic, who yelled "thank you" to Stern as he was led from the courtroom, is due back in court Sept. 23.
Sullivan said Immigration and Customs agents and the FBI began investigating Boskic in late spring or early summer of 2002 after the Boston immigration office received a tip. An international probe that involved gathering evidence in Bosnia was launched as federal investigators worked to prove that the Boskic living in Peabody was the same Boskic accused of war crimes in Bosnia.
Sullivan said Neuffer, the Globe reporter, "actually deserves a lot of credit for our investigation." She was killed in a car crash last year while reporting in Iraq.
In a riveting account she wrote for the Globe in 1996 and in her 2001 book about war crimes, "The Key to My Neighbor's House," Neuffer recounts a chilling encounter she had with Boskic in a Bosnian cafe in 1996. Neuffer had tracked Boskic down after learning of accusations that he was one of the members of the 10th Diversionary Unit who summarily executed some 1,200 Bosnian Muslim men in Pilica.
"They ordered the men to turn their backs and kneel on the ground," Neuffer wrote. "Then, as their captives wept and pleaded for their lives, they shot them."
According to Neuffer's account, when she asked if he had been ordered to kill his captives, Boskic hissed, "Would you like to get whacked?"
At Krstic's sentencing, the judges at The Hague who heard his case suggested that the massacre was ordered by a Bosnian Serb general, Ratko Mladic, and the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.
Mladic and Karadzic have been charged with genocide but remain at large, the most-wanted fugitives sought by the war crimes tribunal. Milosevic is on trial on charges that he orchestrated all of the killings as part of his futile attempt to create a greater Serbia through ethnic cleansing and genocidal murder.
In testimony last year at Milosevic's trial, Erdemovic said he and Boskic were among eight men who carried out the massacre at Pilica, lining men up 10 at a time and mowing them down.