‘Lucky’ Sniper Victim; Bullet Shatters 22-Year-Old’s Arm

The Washington Post
March 12, 1993

SARAJEVO, March 11 – It might be hard to consider a man shot by a sniper as lucky, but that is precisely what Haris Bahtanovic is. Lucky.

Bahtanovic, 22, was walking behind Sarajevo’s Holiday Inn Wednesday, on his way to visit a friend, when he heard the crack of a rifle and felt a jolt of pain.

“I thought I was finished,” Bahtanovic said today, still groggy in his hospital bed.

Bahtanovic was the sole actor in a theater of horror when a Serb sniper lined him up in the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger. Alone in a denuded park behind the hotel, he let out a terrified cry and stumbled toward safety, losing blood with every step.

But he wasn’t alone in his agony, for similar scenes are played out here almost hourly. The victim may be an old man, a housewife, a child, but the sequence is almost always the same — a shot, a bullet hole, a gush of blood, a few stumbling steps before death.

After 11 months of warfare, the Serb snipers here who shoot at civilians with impunity have become very accurate. If their target is close, they aim for the head; if farther away, they aim for the torso, which is easier to hit.

Bahtanovic — who was a student until the Serb siege effectively closed the university — is a sniper victim who survived, although his left arm was shattered.

Bahtanovic recalled the pain as unbearable, like sharp pins were being shoved into his arm. As he lurched away, Bahtanovic noticed that his coat had been shredded on the left side, so he figured the bullet passed through his gut too.

“I started yelling and screaming,” Bahtanovic said with a groan. “I was scared. I was thinking, ‘It’s over.’ ” He remembers falling to the ground and a stranger coming to him, then several more, then being lifted into the back of a car.

“I couldn’t move any longer,” Bahtanovic said, forming his words slowly, his eyelids drooping from exhaustion.

Bahtanovic was taken to the State Hospital, where doctors found that the bullet had grazed his rib cage on the way into his upper arm. The bone was shattered, and doctors took three hours to push the bits of it back together. They said it will never be the same.

Today, Bahtanovic lies in a blood-stained bed at the overcrowded hospital, where even the bathrooms are used as wards. Bahtanovic and six other men are housed in a basement changing room. One of the six had lost both legs, another a foot, another has metal rods holding together what remains of his lower leg.

There is no shirt covering Bahtanovic’s hairless chest. He has a young face, with the look of a frightened boy who would like to cry on his mother’s shoulder. But he can’t do that; his mother was killed by Serb shellfire four months ago.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.