ICE investigation leads to denaturalization of convicted war criminal who fraudulently obtained US citizenship


Defendant concealed that she had murdered 6 unarmed civilians and prisoners of war during the 1990s Balkans Conflict

WASHINGTON — On March 1, Judge Marco A. Hernandez of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon entered an order revoking the naturalized U.S. citizenship of a convicted war criminal. The court held that defendant Sammy Rasema Yetisen aka Rasema Handanovic aka Zolja, a native of the former Yugoslavia, illegally procured her U.S. citizenship. The court’s order was based on its finding that Yetisen lacked the good moral character required to naturalize because during the 1990s Balkans Conflicts she had executed six unarmed civilians and prisoners of war because of their religion and ethnicity. She later concealed her crimes to procure U.S. citizenship in the United States.

Yetisen, 46, was part of an elite unit of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina that attacked the village of Trusina in April 1993, in what is known as the Trusina massacre. The unit targeted Bosnian Croats who resided in the village because of their Christian religion and Croat ethnicity, killing 22 unarmed individuals including women and the elderly. Yetisen played a key role in the massacre, serving as part of a firing squad that lined up and executed six unarmed prisoners of war and civilians. Yetisen naturalized as a United States citizen in 2002. In her naturalization application, Yetisen indicated that she had never had any military service “in the United States or in any other place.”

“This case exemplifies the work of the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center. We will use all available resources, collaborate with all possible partners and explore all mechanisms of the law to bring these cases of horrendous human rights violations to justice,” said Mark Shaffer, Chief of the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center. “Our inter-disciplinary, inter-agency team continues to delve into the human rights abuses that occurred in the former Yugoslavia and around the world, and we will not rest until we are certain that the United States does not serve as a safe haven for those who would commit such abuses.”

“War criminals will find no safe haven in the United States,” said Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio. “The Justice Department will continue to prosecute those who fraudulently obtain U.S. citizenship and willfully abuse our [immigration system].”

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In April 2012, Yetisen was convicted in a Bosnian court pursuant to a guilty plea of war crimes against prisoners of war and war crimes against civilians based on the firing squad execution-style killings. In exchange for her plea and cooperation, Yetisen was sentenced to five years and six months in prison. Upon her release from prison, Yetisen returned to the United States and resides in Oregon. ICE previously investigated Edin Dzeko, one of Yetisen’s fellow soldiers and another perpetrator of the Trusina massacre and the Justice Department secured his denaturalization. Dzeko and Yetisen concealed and affirmatively misrepresented their criminal history, military service, and persecutory acts throughout their immigration proceedings.

“Sammy Rasema Yetisen’s denaturalization is yet another example of the Justice Department’s enduring commitment to ensuring war criminals find no sanctuary in our country,” said Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. “The long passage of time will neither shelter nor immunize those who have defrauded the United States by concealing such heinous crimes.”

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This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations Human Rights Violator and War Crimes Center and the Civil Division’s Office of Immigration Litigation, District Court Section (OIL-DCS) National Security and Affirmative Litigation Unit (NS/A Unit), with consultation and support from ICE’s Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) Seattle Office of the Chief Counsel, and the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section.

The case was jointly prosecuted by Chief Timothy Belsan and Senior Counsel for National Security Aram Gavoor of OIL-DCS’s NS/A Unit and Trial Attorney Steven Platt of OIL-DCS, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dianne Schweiner of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon.

The HRVWCC comprises ICE HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit, ICE’s Human Rights Law Section, FBI’s International Human Rights Unit and HRSP. Established in 2009, the HRVWCC furthers the government’s efforts to identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers in the United States, including those who are known or suspected to have participated in persecution, war crimes, genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings, female genital mutilation and the use or recruitment of child soldiers. The HRVWCC leverages the expertise of a select group of agents, lawyers, intelligence and research specialists, historians and analysts who direct the government’s broader enforcement efforts against these offenders.

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Since 2003, ICE has arrested more than 415 individuals for human rights-related violations of the law under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders against and physically removed 908 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States. Additionally, ICE has facilitated the departure of an additional 122 such individuals from the United States.

Currently, HSI has more than 155 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,750 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries. Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 75,000 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped over 300 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.

Members of the public who have information about foreign nationals or naturalized U.S. citizens suspected of engaging in human rights abuses or war crimes are encouraged to call the ICE tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete its online tip form; or the Justice Department’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section at 1-202-616-2492. Callers may remain anonymous.

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