EVERETT — After years in prison overseas, a man convicted of war crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina faces foreclosure on his former home in south Everett.
In 2001, Edin Dzeko, then in his late 20s, immigrated to the United States from his native Bosnia-Herzegovina. Claiming to be a victim of persecution, he got refugee status. Five years later, he became a naturalized citizen.
He bought a home in Everett’s Pinehurst neighborhood in 2005 with his wife, property records show.
But years earlier, in 1993, he was part of a unit that killed over a dozen Croatians in war in the Balkans, in an attack known as the Trusina massacre, Bosnian prosecutors alleged. Between 1992 and 1995, over 100,000 died in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was considered the first European genocide since World War II.
The conflict pitted Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims against each other after the republic passed a referendum for independence in February 1992, part of the broader breakup of Yugoslavia.
Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks, bore the brunt of the war, making up over 60% of the dead or disappeared in the conflict. More than 80% of the civilians killed were Bosnian. Many died in the massacre in Srebrenica in July 1995, in which Serb forces killed over 8,300 Bosniaks.
Dzeko was part of the elite “Zulfikar” unit of the Bosnian army in 1993. In the morning hours of April 16, his unit attacked the village of Trusina in southern Bosnia-Herzegovina, killing over a dozen Croatian civilians, according to court records. Another four were seriously injured, including two infants. Other members of the unit were also charged.
One commander told another: “We should not leave a single hen alive,” a soldier told prosecutors.
Dzeko arranged soldiers before the attack and marched at the front as it began, authorities alleged. At one point, Dzeko forced an injured man out of a house at gunpoint before another member of his unit shot him dead, witnesses told Bosnian prosecutors.
He also threw another man into a house’s yard before killing him, according to court papers. The man’s wife tried to grieve over his dead body, so Dzeko reportedly shot her in the head, killing her.
Prosecutors also alleged Dzeko was a member of an execution squad that killed unarmed soldiers and civilians lined up against a stable.
Sixteen years after the massacre, in 2009, Bosnian prosecutors issued a warrant for Dzeko’s arrest, according to a memorandum written by Jenny Durkan, who was then an assistant U.S. attorney and later became Seattle’s mayor. The warrant came after prosecutors interviewed witnesses, including members of Dzeko’s unit and Trusina civilians. They also reviewed copies of combat documents and autopsy reports.
U.S. Marshals arrested him at his Everett home in April 2011. The Daily Herald published multiple reports about the case that year. It drew international attention to the man who had been leading a quiet life in Everett.
“It was a really tough time,” his wife told The Herald last week.
Dzeko had been working as a groundskeeper at a U.S. Navy facility, his defense attorney, David Gehrke, said at the time.
The lawyer said in an interview this week he remembered getting involved after a friend of Dzeko’s approached him. Dzeko “swore up and down he didn’t do it,” Gehrke said. During extradition proceedings, Gehrke argued at one point that prosecutors had the wrong guy. While he conceded Dzeko was in the Bosnian army, he said his client was at a hospital at the time of the killings in Trusina, according to a Herald report.
Dzeko is a common last name in Bosnia, the lawyer argued. For example, there is a European soccer player with the same first and last names who currently plays for Inter Milan in Italy.
In a later court hearing, Gehrke conceded his client was the same Edin Dzeko that Bosnian authorities were seeking.
In a statement read in court by his lawyer, Dzeko wrote, “I am looking forward to going to Bosnia and clearing my name. … I will return. I know that.”
But in June 2014, Dzeko was convicted in Bosnia of war crimes against prisoners of war and civilians, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. He was reportedly held responsible for eight killings and sentenced to 13 years. At his trial, the defendant called the allegations “pure misinformation,” according to a local news report.
The wife still believes Dzeko didn’t kill civilians and prisoners of war.
“He’s (an) innocent man,” she said. “That’s 100%.”
Now 49, Dzeko would be in his 50s when released.
Gehrke said he followed the case after it left the United States and was out of his hands. The lawyer also “felt really strongly that he didn’t do it.”
Gehrke got a letter from Dzeko while he was in Bosnian custody, thanking the defense attorney for representing him. Now semi-retired, the lawyer noted this case has stuck with him more than most.
In August 2018, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., revoked Dzeko’s naturalized U.S. citizenship, arguing the Bosnian got citizenship illegally by hiding his military service.
“He will probably never be allowed back into the United States,” Gehrke said.
Since he can’t come back, his wife said, it has been hard to keep their relationship going. They met in 1994, the year after the massacre in Trusina, when she was 19. They later lived in Germany together for a few years to escape war in the Balkans. They eventually moved back to Bosnia-Herzegovina before coming to Everett in 2001.
She has worked two jobs, trying to help her family here and to help Dzeko while he’s incarcerated in his home country.
Now the Pinehurst home they bought together is in foreclosure, according to a complaint filed last week in Snohomish County Superior Court. They were sent a notice of default in February 2021, according to court documents. They reportedly owe nearly $75,000, including interest.
After about six minutes of talking, someone described as a “family friend” interrupted a Herald reporter’s phone interview with Dzeko’s wife, saying the family didn’t want to dredge up the case.
“We’re good. The past is the past and it’s just the way it goes,” the friend said. “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
The wife didn’t respond to a request for a followup interview Monday.
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.
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