Convicted war criminal who fraudulently obtained US citizenship denaturalized

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.”

“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].”

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.”

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.

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