“ … He told me to step out two steps, and he shot a bullet into my temple … He hit me in the left side of the head and the bullet exited through my right cheek. ”
Abdulah Ahmić, a Bosnian Muslim man, testified about the massacre in the central Bosnian village of Ahmići, one of the conflict’s most brutal acts of ethnic cleansing. His brother and father were murdered in front of him by Croat soldiers and he survived attempted murder. He testified on 10 and 11 June 1999 in the case against Dario Kordić i Mario Čerkez.
“ "I heard my mother’s voice, as she was crying and saying, ‘They killed my husband and my sons.’ But it was foggy and I couldn’t see anything. I just heard it.” He never heard his mother’s voice again. ”
Mr. Ahmić remembered that before the war relations between Croats and Muslims in Ahmići were “relatively good.” After the 1990 elections, however, the situation became tense. “The overall relations changed, but we might say mostly on the side of the Croats, because they became aloof. They had their own goals, and we concluded this. They would turn away from us more and more.”
In 1992, Mr. Ahmić began to notice increasing numbers of HVO (Croatian Defence Council) soldiers passing through Ahmići along the regional road between Busovača and Vitez, near which Mr. Ahmić lived. Some HVO soldiers also moved into the village of Ahmići, although there were no official barracks.
Around this time, some Bosnian Muslims formed the Territorial Defence (TD), a group of locals who organized themselves to counter possible attacks from the Serbs. Around 200 men joined the defence—approximately 100 of whom had come from other villages. Some of the men had weapons and some had camouflage uniforms, while others had neither. Mr. Ahmić and his brother Muris joined the TD, and Muris became the Ahmići commander.
In the evening of 19 October 1992, the Ahmići TD erected a barricade on the Busovača/Vitez road to prevent HVO units from passing through the village on their way to Novi Travnik. They had heard that the HVO would be massing in Kakanj and Busovača, preparing to move on Novi Travnik, where open conflict between the Croats and the Muslims had broken out.
Later that evening, Mr. Ahmić learned that four HVO military policemen had been stopped at the barricade, disarmed, and turned back towards Vitez. A few hours later, Mr. Ahmić heard reports that Dario Kordić—a Bosnian Croat leader later convicted by the ICTY—had allegedly issued a threat to Muris Ahmić, saying: “Remove the barricade or you will be burnt, your houses will be burnt, and you will be killed.”
As the Muslims did not remove the barricade, the Croats attacked Ahmići around six o’clock the following morning; bombs destroyed some houses and stables, and the village mosque was shelled, causing damage to the minaret. Some 60 armed TD men struggled to offer some defence, and Mr. Ahmić was busy evacuating the civilian population amid the chaos.
The attack lasted until two in the afternoon. By that time, the members of the TD who were guarding the barricade had ran out of ammunition and withdrew, so the barricade was forcibly removed by the Croat forces. The HVO confiscated a large number of TD weapons and restricted their presence to the upper part of Ahmići, while the Croat forces moved into the lower part. Soon after, Muris left his position as commander of the TD, feeling disappointed at being unable to protect Ahmići.
From this time until April 1993, Mr. Ahmić noticed that the HVO forces in Ahmići were arming themselves and gradually increasing in number, establishing a barracks at a restaurant just outside of the town. Mr. Ahmić also believed that other HVO troops were hiding out in the woods near his house. Tensions between the Muslim and the Croatian populations steadily increased and Mr. Ahmić witnessed incidents of violence in both Ahmići and the nearby town of Vitez. Mr. Ahmić testified: “In Vitez, the situation was incredible. I remember once I spent the night in Vitez, and there was a lot of noise, breaking of glass, gunfire, and I saw that the situation was terrible at that time, especially in Vitez. They would smash up shops owned by Bosniaks. As regards the village of Ahmići, they would often fire at houses, they would blow up cars, we would hear explosions which we could not explain but which disturbed us, and so on.” The HVO established many checkpoints, where Mr. Ahmić remembered “they plundered, looted property, and prevented the passage of people, mostly Bosniaks.”
“ Everything around him was on fire and he himself was nearly smoldering. The soldiers saw that Mr. Ahmić was not dead and he heard them agreeing to go and get dynamite to blow him up. ”
On or about 12 April 1993, however, Mr. Ahmić noticed that an eerie calm had descended over the entire village of Ahmići. Mr. Ahmić was apprehensive and believed that this tranquility was part of an HVO plan to conceal an impending attack. His fears proved correct.
On 16 April 1993, Mr. Ahmić was awoken at 5:30 in the morning by the sound of artillery fire. Looking outside, he could see Croat soldiers surrounding his neighbour’s house and trying to burn it with gasoline. Mr. Ahmić then heard one of the attackers, a Croat from Ahmići, calling to the soldiers and leading them directly to Mr. Ahmić’s own house. Mr. Ahmić was on the ground floor of the house with his father, mother, and three sisters; his brother Muris was in the basement.
Then, Mr. Ahmić heard an explosion followed by two gun shots. HVO soldiers pounded and shot at the front door “They first shot at the door with bursts of fire, and then they called us out, and my father and I then opened the door.”
When Mr. Ahmić opened the door, he saw that the soldiers had painted faces and were wearing camouflage uniforms, bulletproof vests, and light blue ribbons on their sleeves. They demanded that Mr. Ahmić hand over any weapons that he had in the house; he gave them a hand grenade, which was his only weapon. Referring to a recent massacre of Croatian people, the soldiers asked whether Mr. Ahmić knew what “his people” had done in the villages of Dusina and Nezerovići. He asked them what they were referring to, but none of the soldiers answered him, just continued repeating the question.
An older soldier then instructed a younger soldier to guard Mr. Ahmić’s mother and three sisters. Mr. Ahmić saw that his brother Muris was lying on the floor; he realized that the soldiers had shot Muris and that he was dead. Mr. Ahmić’s father broke down upon seeing his dead son. “The soldier ordered him [the father]. He was the one who was next to my brother Muris. He told him to step out two steps, and he barely did it, and then he shot him in the temple and killed him.”
The soldier then instructed Mr. Ahmić to step out two steps and then he shot a bullet into his temple. At the last instant, Mr. Ahmić moved his head slightly; this movement caused the bullet to enter his left temple and exit his right cheek. Although severely wounded, Mr. Ahmić was not dead. Terrified that he would be shot again, however, he fell to the ground and pretended that he was dead.
Mr. Ahmić lay still for a minute or two. He briefly glimpsed into the hallway at his mother’s and his sisters’ pale faces, but he knew that there was nothing that he could do to help them. This was the last time he saw them. The soldiers left, thinking Mr. Ahmić had been killed.
Once he knew that he was alone, Mr. Ahmić got up and ran to the main road, hoping to intercept a United Nations convoy he had seen there before, and get their help. Upon arriving at the road, however, Mr. Ahmić saw Croat soldiers running towards him. He knew that he had to hide, so he crawled into a drain at the side of the road. He remained there for most of the day, submerging himself almost completely in the water at some points to avoid being seen by the soldiers passing on the road above him. He saw soldiers wearing the insignia of the HVO, HV (Croatian Army), as well as HOS (Croatian Defence Staff) soldiers clad in black, and allegedly brought from Varaždin in Croatia. He also saw people from the special-purpose unit “Vitezovi” (“Knights”). He also saw soldiers wearing white belts, whom he believed to be military policemen. He recognized some of the soldiers as men he had known before the war, some of whom he had already known were affiliated with an armed group. He did not see any UN officials.
As evening fell, Mr. Ahmić was very cold and wet, and his wound was swelling. He crawled out from his hiding place and saw that many of the houses in the village were burning. Mr. Ahmić noticed that none of the houses that had been destroyed appeared to belong to Croats. Seeking shelter and warmth, Mr. Ahmić went to one house that was mostly burnt down, but still smoldering in places.
He soon discovered that his new hiding place was not safe. Soldiers were moving around outside. During the course of the night, Mr. Ahmić testified: “I heard my mother’s voice, as she was crying and saying, ‘They killed my husband and my sons.’ But it was foggy and I couldn’t see anything. I just heard it.” He never heard his mother’s voice again. He later learned that his mother and his three sisters were killed in a house in upper Ahmići. He learned this from a CNN interview with Bob Stewart, a British Battalion commander, who said that a woman and her daughters had been killed in that house. Mr. Ahmić told the Tribunal that “Since I knew that in Ahmići there was no other women with more than one daughter who might have been killed, I knew that it was them.”
The next morning, Mr. Ahmić saw two HVO military policemen drive up to the mosque in the village. Shortly afterwards, there was a huge explosion and the mosque’s minaret was blown off. Then, the two military policemen got back in their car and drove towards the house where Mr. Ahmić was hiding. He heard one of the soldiers near the house talk to the policemen. “"Commander, we've got a Mujahedin here captured. What are we to do with him?" Then the commander says, "Well, throw a bomb, kill him."” Mr. Ahmić knew that they were referring to him.
The soldiers did as they were told, but Mr. Ahmić survived by throwing himself onto the floor before the grenade struck. The explosion caused Mr. Ahmić to almost completely lose hearing in his left ear.
He tried again to pretend that he was dead, as the HVO soldiers were peering into the windows of the house. Everything around him was on fire and he himself was nearly smoldering. The soldiers saw that Mr. Ahmić was not dead and he heard them agreeing to go and get dynamite to blow him up. As they walked away, Mr. Ahmić managed to pull himself over to the window and wave to two of his Croat neighbors nearby. They recognized him, helped him out and took him to a collection centre in the nearby village of Žume.
Along with about one hundred other people, mainly women, children, and old men, Mr. Ahmić was then marched to a collection center in an elementary school in Dubravica. At this centre, the men were held in a gymnasium, along with some of the women for whom there was no room in the segregated women’s quarters. Mr. Ahmić heard one of the women telling her husband how she had been raped in the collection centre. He later heard that many other women had been raped there too. He remembers that detainees were also forced to dig trenches in areas near the collection centre.
After five days in the camp, Mr. Ahmić was registered by a delegate from the Red Cross and received a medical examination. Also while there a CBS film crew came and visited him. Eventually, he was moved from Dubravica.
Even after the war, Mr. Ahmić never returned to his village.
Dario Kordić was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment for the violations of the laws and customs of war, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and crimes against humanity. Among others, it was established that Kordić was one of the leaders who authorised the atack on Ahmići on 16 April 1993 where at least 100 Bosnian Muslim civilains were killed, including 11 children and 32 women.
Mario Čerkez received the sentence of six years in prison for crimes against humanity. Among other crimes, he was found guilty of persecuting and unlawfully imprisoning Bosnian Muslim civilians in the Vitez municipality. He was acquitted of charges relating to the Ahmici massacre because the Trial Chamber concluded that his troops did not participate in the initial assault and ensuing massacre in Ahmići (affirmed by the Appeals Chamber).