The fierce ethnic battle in the former Yugoslavia appears to have spilled over into local politics with the arrest of a San Pedro man accused of threatening Los Angeles City Councilman-elect Rudy Svorinich Jr. and his father because of differing views on the turmoil 7,000 miles away.
Nikola Udenija, 39, who identified himself as a member of a militant right-wing Croatian group, was charged Wednesday with making a terrorist threat against the Svoriniches on June 3--five days before Svorinich, a 33-year-old paint store owner, defeated 15th District Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores.
Udenija, a native of Croatia, allegedly confronted the elder Svorinich as he was pumping gas at a San Pedro gas station and threatened the lives of both the father and son, who was not present. Udenija began shouting obscenities and threats in Croatian, authorities said.
Two witnesses who speak Croatian told police that Udenija called Svorinich a "communist" and identified himself as a member of "Ustashi," a Croatian nationalist group dating back to World War II that was allied with Nazi Germany.
The elder Svorinich told officers that Udenija opened his shirt and displayed a tattoo on his chest of a "Ustashi" slogan, "Moja Harvatska," which means, "My Croatia."
The Svoriniches are prominent in the local Yugoslav-American community and belong to a club that was once at odds with the Croatian Club that Udenija frequented.
Neither Udenija nor the Svoriniches could be reached for comment.
Although authorities said it appeared that Udenija knew the Svoriniches, the precise genesis of the dispute was unclear.
"It's such a complicated history," said Deputy City Atty. Juana Webman, who is handling the case. "The source of this is political conflict--whether it's from World War II or recent conflicts I can't tell you. It's previous conflict that is still bubbling."
Shortly after the gas station encounter, the elder Svorinich reported the incident to police and accompanied officers on a search for the suspect. Udenija was arrested nearby several hours later and was taken to the LAPD Harbor Division, where he was booked and freed pending further investigation.
Besides the terrorist threat charge, Udenija faces two probation violations from prior convictions for drunk driving in April and assault with a deadly weapon last January.
"I'm concerned about his safety," Webman said of the councilman-elect. "Any time anybody makes a threat as serious as this I'm concerned about his safety. Because he's an elected official just raised it up a notch."
Udenija faces arraignment in San Pedro Municipal Court on July 1, the day Svorinich is scheduled to be sworn in at City Hall.
Times staff writer Lisa Richardson contributed to this story.