A prominent Bosnian Serb businessman who owns a private security firm was shot dead along with his bodyguard in what local media have described as a mafia-style execution that sparked a shootout.
Slaviša Krunić, who owned several businesses including Sector Security, was shot in his vehicle late Monday as he approached his home outside the northern Bosnian city of Banja Luka. Police said the married father of four was taken to a hospital but died.
Police also said one of the attackers was killed and Mr. Krunić's driver sustained serious injuries.
Mr. Krunić was known as a vocal critic of the ruling Bosnian Serb nationalist party and its hard-line leader, Milorad Dodik. Mr. Krunić had accused Mr. Dodik of stoking ethnic tensions in Bosnia to divert attention from his corrupt practices, and insisted that companies he owned would hire and serve people of all ethnicities.
"We are on the side of the forces that want to build this country and not to destroy it," Mr. Krunić said in a recent interview.
Bosnian media identified the slain attacker as Željko Kovačević, describing him as a well-known criminal who should have been serving a 5-year prison sentence for a string of robberies but was free due to a clerical error.
Mr. Krunić's slaying comes amid growing tensions in Bosnia that have been fueled, among other things, by a recent decision of the country's Serb-run region to establish an auxiliary police force of over 1,000 officers. The decision comes after Bosnian Serbs purchased a large amount of automatic weapons from Serbia last year.
Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektić, a member of a Bosnian Serb opposition party and a prominent critic of Mr. Dodik's, tweeted Tuesday that Mr. Krunić's targeted slaying had the "signature" of the ruling elite all over it.
According to stolen diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks, Mr. Krunić told the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo in 2008 that people close to Mr. Dodik were pressuring him to sell Sector Security, which employees Bosnians of all ethnic backgrounds, to a private security firm under their control. According to the cable, Mr. Krunić speculated that Mr. Dodik "wants control over Sector Security's 900 men in uniform."
An ardent pro-Russian nationalist, Mr. Dodik has pressed for Serbs to separate from multi-ethnic Bosnia. Earlier this month, Mr. Dodik sparked outrage by claiming erroneously that the well-documented 1995 genocide in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica – where over 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb troops – was "a fabricated myth" by the country's Muslims.
Mr. Dodik is currently subject to U.S. sanctions for "actively obstructing" the Dayton peace accords, which ended Bosnia's 1992-95 war by splitting the country into two highly independent parts, one run by Serbs and the other shared by Muslims and Croats. Each part has its own government and police, but the two are linked by a shared, multi-ethnic government.
This story was reported by The Associated Press.