A woman living in Kentucky who was being sought by Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities for alleged war crimes against civilians made her first appearance in federal court in Lexington on Thursday.
The woman, whom authorities refer to as Azra Bašic, appeared Thursday morning in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier, who set an April 1 status hearing for Bašic. At that hearing, the court will decide when to hold an extradition hearing for her.
Bašic, 51, was arrested Tuesday in Stanton by the U.S. Marshals Service. According to court records, she was found by authorities to have been living in Kentucky as early as 2004. She had been living in Powell County for some time.
Bašic is accused of torturing and murdering ethnic Serbs at prison camps from April to June 1992, during the Bosnian civil war. In documents filed in U.S. District Court in Lexington, witnesses to those alleged crimes said she wore the uniform of the Croatian army at the time. Bosnia and Herzegovina officials want Bašic returned to that country to stand trial.
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But Vice Skracic, deputy chief of mission of the Embassy of Croatia in Washington, D.C., said that Bašic is not listed in the register of Croatian war veterans and was not part of any Croatian military unit. He said she was a Croatian citizen, "but as of 1996 had no abode in Croatia."
In federal court in Lexington on Thursday, Bašic provided a few more details about her time in Kentucky, saying she had been working at a Nestle plant in Mount Sterling for about two years.
Also at Thursday's hearing, Patrick Nash of Lexington was appointed as the attorney for Bašic.
Nash told Wier that he wanted to explore the possibility of bail for Bašic, who is being held without bond in the Fayette County Detention Center.
"I'm very concerned and sensitive to the idea that this conflict involved factions that were very passionate about their positions," Nash said of the Bosnian war. He said heightened sensitivity is required whenever a "highly charged" faction is trying to extradite someone they claim is from an opposing faction.
Documents filed in federal court in Lexington detail gruesome acts of torture and murder alleged to have been committed by Bašic.
But friends of Bašic who live in Stanton described the person they know as Issabella Bašic as a friendly and compassionate woman who minded her own business.
Eli Vires, who lives next door to the Boone Creek Road home Bašic moved to last fall, said he was shocked to see Bašic escorted from her home by members of the U.S. Marshals Service.
"I was shocked because I didn't think she was capable of doing anything wrong," he said.
Vires said he talked to Bašic on several occasions. He said he asked her what nationality she was because she had an accent and that she told him she was Bosnian. Vires said Bašic also told him she was an American citizen.
"I'm sure that she had a clear visa to come here and everything," he said. "She didn't seem like she was hiding anything."
Vires said Bašic worked the night shift at the Nestle plant in Mount Sterling.
Laurie MacDonald, a spokeswoman for Nestle USA, confirmed Thursday that Bašic is an employee at the Nestle Prepared Foods facility in Mount Sterling, which produces Hot Pockets sandwiches.
"She stayed pretty close to home. She went to work, came home and tended to her own business. Just an average person," Vires said.
Bašic lived with a friend she had known for about 10 years and others at the Boone Creek Road home, Vires said. The friend told Vires that Bašic had been in the army in Bosnia.
Vires also said he'd heard that Bašic had a son who was killed in Bosnia.
Vires' mother-in-law, Henrietta Kirchner, who lives with him and his wife, Karen, first met Bašic more than 2½ years ago at Stanton Nursing Center, where Kirchner stayed for about a week. Bašic was an aide at the nursing home, she said.
When Bašic moved next door to Vires' home, "She was very happy to see me and I was very happy to see her," Kirchner said.
"When she heard I was here ... she came to the house here and she gave me a big hug," she said.
Karen Vires said Bašic was "very compassionate about my mom" when she worked at the nursing home.
Federal court records paint a different picture.
Witnesses Radojica Garic and Dragan Kovacevic said Bašic murdered Blagoje Djuras, who had been beaten unconscious by Croatian police and soldiers, by slitting his throat with a knife, according to court documents.
"After that, Azra took us by the hair and dragged us to the wound on the neck from which the blood ran and made us drink that blood," Garic said.
Sreten Jovanovic testified that he was forced to drink gasoline and was beaten unconscious, and Bašic set his hands and face on fire, according to the court records.
On Jan. 12, 1993, the Republika Srpska's Ministry of Internal Affairs, Public Security Center in the Bosnia and Herzegovina city of Doboj, charged an unidentified woman with war crimes against civilians. The district attorney's office in Doboj later identified Bašic as the perpetrator through victims' statements, medical examinations and forensic reports taken between 1992 and 2001, according to federal court records.
The Washington office of the International Criminal Police Organization, commonly known as Interpol, located Bašic in Eastern Kentucky in 2004. The District Court of Doboj issued an international arrest warrant for her in October 2006. The U.S. received a formal request to extradite Bašic to Bosnia and Herzegovina in February 2007.
The U.S. government requested more evidence pertaining to the alleged offenses, and Bosnian prosecutors provided them in February and April 2010, according to federal court records.
Bašic was born Azra Alesevic on June 22, 1959, in Rijeka, Croatia. She married Nedzad Bašic on March 1, 1994, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to documents filed in federal court in Lexington. Azra Bašic went by her maiden and married names, and by the names Azra Kovacevic and Issabell Bašic, according to the court records. She lived in Rochester, N.Y., with her husband at one time.