Alija Izetbegovic, the former Bosnian president who steered Bosnia through independence and the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II, died on 19 October, 2003 aged 78.
Born on August 8, 1925 in Bosanski Samac, Izetbegovic and his family moved to Sarajevo in 1928. He graduated high school in 1943, and studied agriculture for three years. His bookish manner making him an unlikely warrior, Izetbegovic nonetheless demonstrated steely will, long before the start of the Bosnian conflict.
He was sentenced twice for his anti-Communist political views and spent nearly nine years in jails in Communist Yugoslavia - the state created by Josip Broz Tito. Under the motto 'Brotherhood and Unity,'Tito and his immediate successors stamped on any expression of freedom. After serving three years in prison, he was released in 1949 and earned a law degree from Sarajevo university in 1956, later working as a legal adviser to city transport firms. He was imprisoned again from 1983 to 1988 for daring to defy the Communist dictatorship.
Abandoned by Western governments who merely offered platitudes, he courted Muslim nations during the Balkan wars, resulting in financial support for the fledgling Bosnian army in its fight against the Serbs and Croats. When the Serbs policy of 'ethnic cleansing' came to light, hundreds of Islamic fighters came to Bosnia from Arab and other Muslim countries to defend their fellow brothers and sisters.