Authorities charge five in car-bombing deaths

New York, November 3, 2008–Croatian police have charged five men in the October 23 murder of two employees of the Zagreb-based political weekly Nacional, according to international news reports.

The BBC reported that police detained and brought charges against three suspects–all Croatian citizens–and issued international arrest warrants for two other fugitive suspects on Friday. Authorities did not identify the suspects by name.

Ivo Pukanic, owner and editorial director, and Niko Franjic, marketing director, were both killed when a bomb planted beneath Pukanic’s Lexus sedan exploded in downtown Zagreb at around 6:30 p.m. on October 23. Nacional often exposed corruption, organized crime, and human rights abuses, local sources told CPJ.

“We commend the authorities for moving forward in the investigation into the murder of Ivo Pukanic and Niko Franjic,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We are also encouraged by the regional cooperation and encourage the Balkan governments to work together to apprehend and convict those responsible for this heinous crime.”

On October 24, The Associated Press quoted Prime Minister Ivo Sanader as saying that authorities “will fight organized crime or terrorism–whatever is behind this murder–to its very end.” On Thursday, Croatian police arrested 10 suspects in connection to the murder, according to international news reports.

On Saturday, Croatian police spokesman Krunoslav Borovec told journalists that police had identified one of the fugitives–who allegedly planted the bomb under Pukanic’s car–and is pursuing him together with Bosnian authorities. The local press named the fugitive suspect as Zeljko Milovanovic–a Bosnian Serb who was a former member of a Serbian paramilitary group called the Red Berets. He holds a dual Croatian-Bosnian passport, independent Serbian broadcaster B92 reported.

The same day a Bosnian official told Reuters that the Bosnian police are intensively searching for the suspects “in cooperation with the police of the Muslim-Croat federation, Serbia, and Croatia.” According to Reuters, Bosnian police raided Milovanovic’s house in the northern town of Doboj in Bosnia on Friday but he was not at home.