The July 18 terrorist attack on a bus full of Israeli tourists in Burgas,
Bulgaria is only the latest in a series of deadly incidents in the Balkans
involving Islamist extremists.
In April, five people on the outskirts of the
Macedonian capital of Skopje were murdered by suspected Muslim radicals.
October, a Wahhabi convert attacked the US Embassy in Sarajevo.
In 2010, Serbian
police broke up a terrorist cell in the mountainous Sandzak region straddling
the border between Serbian and Montenegro planning to attack western embassies
Long ignored or downplayed by western countries, al- Qaida
and Hezbollah surrogates in the Balkans are increasingly important, thanks
primarily to Saudi and Iranian financial support and the influence and power it
buys. From Skopje to Sarajevo to Novi Pazar, Islamists and Wahhabis are
attempting to take over mosques and building their own network of almost
extra-territorial, sharia-run villages in remote Balkan areas. According to
Malcolm Hoenlein, for radical Islamists Sarajevo, home to the largest Iranian
embassy in Europe, is becoming “a jumping-off place, a radicalization place, a
crossroads, something like Berlin during the Cold War.”
The origins of
the Islamist/Wahhabi threat to southeastern Europe go back to the Balkan
conflicts of the 1990s, when the late Islamist president of Bosnia, Alija
Izetbegovic, invited militants from the Middle East and Central Asia to join his
war effort. In August 1993, Izetbegovic ordered the formation of the Kateebat
el-Mujahidin, his own personal al-Qaida “Battalion of Holy Warriors.”
roster of veterans of Izetbegovic’s Bosnian jihad reads like a who’s who of
terrorist all-stars. On September 11, 2001, three of Izetbegovic’s holy warriors
– Khalid Sheik Muhammed, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mindhar – planned and
participated in the greatest mass murder in American history. Another
Izetbegovic jihadi, Juma al-Dosari, was involved in the June 1996 Khobar Towers
bombing in Riyadh which killed sixteen US citizens.
In August 1998,
Izetbegovic jihadi Abdul Rashim al- Nashiri participated in the bombing of the
US embassies in Dar es Saalam and Nairobi in which over 400 people were killed;
the mastermind of the plot, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, visited Bosnia shortly before
the embassy bombings for a three-day “business trip” on a visa issued by the
Bosnian consulate in Turkey.
IN DECEMBER 1999, Bosnian jihadi Ahmed
Ressam was apprehended attempting to bomb LAX airport as part of the failed
Millenium Bomb Plot; the document forger for the plot, Karim Said Atmani, was a
resident of the Bosnian mujahedeen village of Bocinja Donja.
2000, Izetbegovic army veterans Juma al- Dosari, Ahmed Zuhair, Jamal al-Badawi,
Abu Asim al- Makki, and Abd al-Rahim Hussein Mohammed al-Nashiri attacked the
USS Cole in Aden Harbor, killing 17 US servicemen.
In February 2002,
Izetbegovic jihadi Omar Saeed Sheik was involved in the murder/ritual beheading
of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Amer Azizi, the key go-between for
al-Qaida’s top leadership and the March 2004 Madrid Train bombers, trained in
terrorist camps near the central Bosnian town of Zenica. The list goes on, but
the severity of the problem is clear.
Moreover, while it is true that
Bosnia is not unique in having al-Qaida cells, what does make Bosnia unique is
that it is the only country in Europe in which sympathizers, surrogates and
collaborators of radical Islamism are in the highest levels of
In February 1996, plans to attack NATO installations in
Bosnia were discovered at a terrorist training camp near Sarajevo staffed by
Iranian instructors. The commandant of the camp was Alija Izetbegovic’s personal
intelligence chief. In October 2001, a plot to use aerial suicide bombers to
attack US Camp Eagle Base in Bosnia was disrupted.
The airport planned
for the operation was controlled by Izetbegovic’s closest political
During the 1990s, the leading Islamic cleric in Bosnia,
Mustafa Ceric, controlled a bank account with, among others, Fatih el Hassanein,
a Sudanese national with close ties to Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, the convicted
mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.
Even today, the
head of the security affairs committee in Izetbegovic’s Islamist party is
considered one of the main Iranian agents in Bosnia, despite the fact that he is
on the US black list of individuals with ties to terrorist groups.
with the threat Islamist and Wahhabi radicals in the Balkans pose
internationally, they are also having a severely negative effect on efforts to
stabilize inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in the region. Catholic
nuns in Sarajevo report that they now only go out in pairs for fear of being
attacked by Wahhabis, and that Wahhabi-run bakeries refuse to sell them bread –
even when it is in plain sight.
Misogyny and anti-Semitism are of course
the Islamists’ and Wahhabis’ other favorite pastimes. A few years ago, after
Grand Mufti Ceric announced on television that Israeli actions in Gaza were
“genocide,” graffiti appeared around Bosnia equating the Star of David with a
As a correspondent from Der Spiegel reported when visiting the
Saudi-funded King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo run by one of Izetbegovic’s wartime
commanders, the obliteration of Israel is heralded in a torrent of
“Zionist terrorists,” the imam thunders from the glass-enclosed
pulpit at the end of the mosque. “Animals in human form” have transformed the
Gaza Strip into a “concentration camp,” and this marks “the beginning of the
end” for the Jewish pseudo-state... .
Currently, the Bosnian security
minister estimates there are 3,000 potential terrorists in Bosnia alone.
Hundreds of others can be found in Kosovo, Macedonia and the Sandzak. The
dangerous impact these individuals and groups are having should not be
underestimated. In societies still struggling with the legacies of hatred left
over from the wars of the 1990s and devastating economic problems, well-funded
extremists are finding willing converts.
Western policymakers have
ignored this problem for far too long, to the detriment of the Balkans, and
Europe and the US as well. As was tragically seen last month, the Balkans have
become another front in Israel’s war against terrorists as well.The
writer is a Balkan politics and security specialist based in New York.
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