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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Justice Department Secures Denaturalization of Convicted War Criminal Who Fraudulently Obtained Refugee Status and U.S. Citizenship

Defendant Concealed that She Had Murdered Six Unarmed Civilians and Prisoners of War During the 1990s Balkans Conflict

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 she had executed six unarmed civilians and prisoners of war during the 1990s Balkans Conflicts because of their religion and ethnicity. She later concealed her crimes to procure refugee status and U.S. citizenship in the United States.

“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 refugee program.”

“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.”

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 was admitted to the United States as a refugee before naturalizing 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.”

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. The Justice Department previously secured the denaturalization of Edin Dzeko, one of Yetisen’s fellow soldiers and another perpetrator of the Trusina massacre.

Before their war crimes had come to light, Dzeko and Yetisen each requested and received refugee status from the United States, claiming themselves to be victims of persecution. Dzeko and Yetisen concealed and affirmatively misrepresented their criminal history, military service, and persecutory acts throughout their immigration proceedings. Such benefits would have been denied had immigration authorities known about their roles in the Trusina massacre.

“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.”

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.

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.

Attachment(s): 
Topic(s): 
Immigration
Component(s): 
Press Release Number: 
19-189
Updated March 5, 2019