Hammer attack not 1st violence against St. Louis Bosnians

By Bob Unruh

Zemir Begic (left) with fiancee Arijana Mujikanovic (right)
Zemir Begic (left) with fiancee Arijana Mujikanovic (right)

A spokesman for the Bosnian community in St. Louis, rattled over the weekend by a hammer attack that left one of their own dead, says it was not the first violent act against the community.

And although police say they are not viewing the death of Zemir Begic, 32, as a hate crime, the head of the city’s Bosnian Chamber of Commerce, Sadik Kukic, told WND the community members have more than a little suspicion.

“In the last few weeks, there were several crimes against Bosnians,” Kukic told WND. “All the crimes were by the black community.”

Although he didn’t have names and dates of specific incidents, he said there was a series of crimes against the 70,000-strong Bosnian community in the St. Louis area last spring. An increase in foot patrols by police officers then apparently quelled the threat.

Then, he said, a few weeks ago, again, there were several crimes against Bosnians.

“An hour before that man was killed, there was another Bosnian that was attacked,” he said, adding that the victim ended up in the hospital.

Fox News also reported there had been a string of previous crimes involving poor minorities and Bosnians in the area.

And an AP story reposted on the chamber Web page said there have been other violent incidents lately that have rattled the Bosnian community. A 19-year-old Bosnian immigrant was shot and killed in a May 2013 convenience store robbery, and earlier this month, there was an armed robbery and separate carjacking.

Rusmin Topalovic, 38, told the Associated Press: “Too many young boys are getting killed for no reason. We just need more attention from police.”

Kukic told WND that community leaders and police officials hope a higher police presence and profile will be effective.

Schron Jackson, a spokeswoman for St. Louis police, said, “Investigators do not believe the attack on Mr. Begic had any connection to him being of Bosnian descent.”

Jackson said it’s not being investigated as a hate crime.

But Kukic told Fox News that Bosnians right now “have an impression that this was a hate crime.”

The area is not far from the Ferguson streets where violence took place in response to the grand jury decision not to charge white police officer Darren Wilson for the August shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown, the 290-pound 18-year-old who reportedly was charging at the officer when he was shot.

Kukic said he had met with the mayor and police chief, and collectively officials are working “to find a solution for the long-term … stabilization of the neighborhood.”

“Police are trying to put more [officers] on the streets. They are trying foot patrols,” Kukic said. “We did the same thing [several months ago], and it lasted for about three months.

“We are trying to see what is causing the problem … and what we can do.”

The community was rattled by the death on Sunday of Begic, who emigrated from Bosnia nearly 20 years ago.

The suspects are hammer-wielding teenagers, authorities said.

According to police, Begic was driving with Arijana Mujkanovic, his fiancee, and another man early Sunday when the mob of teens began pounding on his vehicle with a hammer.

Begic confronted them and was hit in the mouth, face and head. He died shortly later.

The Associated Press reported police have accused Robert Joseph Mitchell, 17, of murder and armed criminal action. He’s being charged as an adult.

Police said two other suspects, ages 15 and 16, are in custody, and another suspect remains at large.

Begic was white, while Mitchell and a juvenile are black. The other juvenile in custody is Hispanic.

Kukic said another meeting with Mayor Francis Slay and Police Chief Sam Dotson is expected in a couple weeks to re-evaluate what’s being done to address the issue.

Kukic told Fox News that because of the attack, hundreds of protesters have rallied in the Bosnian neighborhoods, chanting, “Bosnian lives matter,” reminiscent of the “black lives matter” chants that have been heard in nearby Ferguson over Brown’s death.

The AP reported many of the Bosnians in the St. Louis area are Muslim, arriving after war erupted in the 1990s when Bosnia joined several republics of former Yugoslavia and declared independence.

The first Bosnians arrived in the area because of State Department facilitating; then the community grew through word of mouth, AP said.

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