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Former Michigan resident extradited, faces murder trial in Bosnia

By AUDRA GAMBLE AND AUDRA GAMBLE | Holland Sentinel, Mich. | Published: September 1, 2018

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — A former Holland resident has been sent back to Bosnia-Herzegovina to face murder charges from 1994.

Alexander Kneginich was turned over to Bosnian authorities in Chicago after being sentenced to federal prison for lying about the murder charges on his immigration papers in 2001.

Kneginich, a former Serbian militia member in the Bosnian War, is believed to have shot and killed Rejhan and Razija Sikiric, a Muslim couple, in their home April 11, 1994. Bosnian authorities believe Kneginich was the leader of a group of four men who allegedly entered the Sikirics' home and killed them in cold blood.

Kneginich, 58, claims he was unarmed and only stole a television from the couple's home. He was tried and acquitted for the murders, but the verdict was overturned and he will stand trial again.

He was granted citizenship in 2007, but it was revoked last year after Kneginich was found guilty in federal court in Grand Rapids of not disclosing he had been charged with murder on his immigration forms. He lived in Holland for seven years and has since lived in Las Vegas and Crown Point, Ind., with his wife, Jasna. Kneginich's two children live in Nevada.

During the early 1990s, three different groups within Bosnia formed armies. There was a majority Muslim group called Bosniaks, a Roman Catholic group called Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian Serbs, a majority Orthodox Christian group. Kneginich was a Bosnian Serb in Prijedor, which is in northwestern Bosnia. He also served in the Yugoslav People's Army from 1978 to 1980. Kneginich and his wife are ethnic Serbs.

After moving to Holland in 2001, Kneginich moved to Las Vegas in 2008. He is still a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 275 union in Coopersville.

The Bosnian government requested Kneginich be extradited to stand trial again for the 1994 murders after two of his co-conspirators were convicted in 2009. Kneginich fought the extradition request, claiming a "political-offense exception," which allows those who committed crimes in the midst of political conflict to stay in the U.S. based on a 1902 extradition treaty between the U.S. and the kingdom of Serbia.

However, Magistrate Judge Phillip Green determined in June that Kneginich could be extradited because the alleged crimes were against civilians, not other militant groups.

According to the co-conspirators, the murders of the Sikirics were in retaliation for the deaths of eight Serbian police officers at the hands of the predominantly Muslim Bosniaks.

"The Sikirics were unarmed civilians minding their own business in their own home," Green wrote. "There is no evidence of the Sikirics's political affiliation, just an apparent assumption by the group, including Mr. Kneginich, that due to their religion the Sikirics were somehow associated with the predominantly Muslim competing faction. This is much too thin a reed to attach a political cause."

Kneginich was surrended to Bosnian law enforcement officials in Chicago by U.S. Marshals, Friday, Aug. 24.

"Mr. Kneginich never rightly secured the blessings and freedom of citizenship and lawful status in this great country of ours," said U.S. Attorney Andrew Andrew Birge. "He snuck into this country by fleeing charges that he is a murderer. This deceit cost Kneginich the U.S. citizenship he obtained by fraud, and the United States has honored its extradition treaty with his native country by sending Kneginich back to Bosnia-Hersegovina to face trial for the charges he was fleeing when he came here."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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