Balkan Strategic Studies

August 29, 2003

Osama bin Laden Focuses on the Balkans for the New Wave of Anti-Western Terrorism 

By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS. Starting in mid-August 2003, radical Islamist leaders elevated the rôle of the terrorism infrastructure in the Balkans as a key facilitator of a proposed escalation of conflict into the heart of Europe, Israel and the United States. The terrorism campaign aims to define the US occupation of Baghdad as the turning point in the fateful jihad for the future of Islam. The importance of the concurrent expansion of Islamist operations in the Balkans should be examined in this overall context. 

The most telling development was the nomination of Shahid Emir Mussa Ayzi to coordinate and run special recruitment operations. Ayzi is a veteran of Afghanistan who is close not only to the al-Qaida élite but also the Taliban leadership. Recently, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s senior commanders decided to expand the recruitment and activation of Slav cadres, because they look European and non-Arabs, in order to enhance their ability to operate at the heart of the West. 

In August 2003, Ayzi took over this sensitive recruitment drive. The main recruitment pool consists of Bosnian Muslims with a smaller effort relying on Russian converts recruited in Chechnya and the Caucasus as a whole. Although the Islamists had run a recruitment and training drive of Bosnian Muslims expert terrorists and would-be martyr-bombers since the early 1990s, these cadres had not until now been used. 

Now, circumstances seem to be changing. In late August 2003, Ayzi sent a report to Mullah Qudratullah, a senior Taliban official, about his success in enlisting “persons of Slav ethnicity” to the Islamist jihad. He added that some of these “white devils” had already been indoctrinated and trained to the point of sending them to carry out “Allah’s Work” — that is, terrorist martyrdom-strikes — “in a number of European cities and on Israeli territory”. The preparation of additional Slav cadres for US operations is in progress, Ayzi reported. The training and preparation of Ayzi’s recruits is taking place in the Balkans and the Caucasus, mainly Georgia. 

The Balkans undertaking is part of an overall increase in the Islamist buildup under the overall supervision of Muhammad al-Zawahiri, the brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two leader in al-Qaida. The senior Islamist commanders now consider what they call “the Albanian land” — Albania, Kosovo and parts of Macedonia — to be safe for use a springboard for the insertion of a new wave of expert terrorists, including the Slavs, into Western Europe and onward throughout the West. 

Indeed, starting in mid-August 2003, there was a discernable increase in the number of foreigners in the Islamist mosques throughout Albania. “They [originally] come from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. They come from many countries,” noted an eyewitness in Tiranë. “They arrive [in Tiranë] from Afghanistan,” he added. These expert terrorists are being prepared in Albania for their specific missions in the West. 

This training program is conducted under the cover of the Albanian National Army (ANA or AKSh in Albanian) with most senior trainers and commanders being “mujahedin who retreated from Bosnia” and are affiliated with al-Qaida.  

In return for the Albanian support of this endeavor, the Islamists assist the local terrorists in preparing for launching spectacular terrorism into the major cities of Serbia and Montenegro, with Belgrade and Niš believed to be the top targets. As well, Islamist cadres, mainly veterans of Bosnia, are providing advance training to thousands of Albanian terrorists in camps in Kosovo-Metohija, near Prizren, on the slopes of Mt Sara, in the Kosovo Morava River valley, in the Albanian towns of Kukes and Tropoje, and around Tetovo in western Macedonia. 

These operations are also run under the banner of the ANA/AKSh. 

Significantly, the growing importance of the Balkans cause was also reflected in the Islamist communiqués claiming and explaining the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad. This was the most important and authoritative doctrinal statement of the Islamist leadership in August 2003. The statements stressed the situation in Bosnia as a major grievance of the Islamists against the UN and the West. The first statement was issued on August 19, 2003, by the Abu-Hafs al-Masri Brigades, itself a front group of al-Qaida. The Islamists claimed that UN officials “oversaw the massacre of Bosnian women and children in 1992 and 1995”, and that “the United Nations was responsible for the massacre of 7,000 Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 because it sponsored the idea of ‘not establishing an Islamic state in Europe’.” 

On August 24, 2003, the London-based Al-Muhajiroun, bin Laden’s primary mouthpiece in Europe, elaborated on this theme in order to explain why the UN building in Baghdad was a legitimate target: “Verily it was the UN soldiers in Bosnia who were recorded to have stood by when the barbaric Serbs massacred Muslims. The UN first decided to take away the weapons of the Muslims (fearing that they might actually defend themselves and establish Islamic rule) and thereby facilitated their massacre, and were then even photographed helping in the mass murder and gang rape of Muslim women and children. The wounds are still fresh.” 

The statements were clearly intended to compound the disinformation that, indeed, 7,000 Muslims were killed in Srebrenica, when all independent forensic evidence points to Muslim casualties in the hundreds, possibly the low hundreds. Continued emphasis on such allegedly high numbers of Muslim deaths at Srebrenica also obfuscates the Muslim murders in that city, earlier, of Serb civilians. 

Indeed, the August 2003 statements and intelligence, leading up to the proposed September 2003 opening of the new Islamist shrine — built at Srebrenica with US funds — all support analysis that a significant new wave of terrorism, this time with many European Islamists, is to begin soon.