Balkan Strategic Studies
October 15, 2003
Strong Warning Indicators for New Surge in European Islamist Terrorism
Exclusive. Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. Intelligence sources in the Balkans and Middle East indicate that the Iranian and Osama bin Laden terrorist networks, assets and alliances built up in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Southern Serbia and elsewhere in the Balkans are preparing for significant new slate of operations. Initial operations in this “new slate” have already begun in Kosovo, and are expected to expand in southern Serbia in late October and into November 2003.
The intelligence, from a variety of primary sources within the Islamist movements, points to:
1. Escalation of Islamist terrorist attacks on Serb civilians within the predominantly Muslim region of Kosovo and Metohija in the Serbian province of Kosovo;
2. Commencement during October-November 2003 of seemingly-random bombings of public places, including schools, in Muslim-dominated cities in the southern Serbian/northern Montenegrin Raška Oblast (this oblast, or region — not a formal sub-state as in the Russian use of the word “oblast” — is referred to by Islamists by its Turkish name, Sandzak) as a prelude to wider violence in this area, and eastern Montenegro, adjacent to the Albanian border and reaching down to the Adriatic;
3. Coordination of incidents by the so-called “Albanian National Army” — a current iteration of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA, or UCK: Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves, in Albanian; OVK in Serbo-Croat) — in Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia with activities in Raška, led by the Bosnian radical Islamist party, SDA (Party of Democratic Action) of Alija Izetbegovic, and all supported by Albanian Government-approved/backed training facilities inside Albania, close to the border with Serbian Kosovo;
4. Escalation of incidents — including threats, political action, terrorist action — within Bosnia-Herzegovina, designed to further polarize the Serbian and Croat population away from the Muslim population;
5. Eventual escalation of “incidents” to create a “no-go” area for Serbian, Montenegrin, Republica Srpska security forces and international peacekeepers in a swathe of contiguous territory from the Adriatic through Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Southern Serbia and Macedonia into Bosnia-Herzegovina, effectively dissecting the Republica Srpska state (which is within Bosnia-Herzegovina) at the Gorazde Corridor and isolating Montenegro;
6. Using the extensive save-haven areas and “no-go” zones created by the actions, undertake a range of terrorist actions against targets in Greece — which is contiguous with Albania and (FYR) Macedonia — during (and possibly before) the August 2004 Olympic Games. Specific intelligence points to the fact that the Islamist groups have already predetermined target opportunities during the Games.
The new intelligence contradicts the public positions of both the Government of Serbia and the High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina that terrorist threats in their two states were now not evident. The Serbian Ministry of Interior did, however, acknowledge increased activities by Wahabbists (such as the bin Ladenists) and intelligence on planned Islamist bombings in southern Serbia in the coming months. Significantly, however, Bosnia-Herzegovina High Representative Paddy Ashdown published, in The Washington Times of October 6, 2003, a letter to the editor in which he said:
“After September 11 , the Sarajevo authorities took important steps to ensure that Bosnia-Herzegovina could not in any way be used as a platform for terrorist attacks of any sort, in Europe or elsewhere. This country is not a terrorist base, nor will it become one.”
Mr Ashdown’s statement, in which he actually attempted to predict the future, is not borne out by the evidence of radical Islamist activities inside Bosnia.
There were several significant motivations behind the new wave of coordinated actions, according to a variety of sources, as well as those identified by GIS analysts.
(i) Iran and al-Qaida Break-Out: The Iranian Government, as well as the Osama bin Laden organization (now being referred to as al-Qaida), have been working since at least the break-up of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991-92 to build a strong base of Islamism and terrorist capability in the heart of Europe, and relying on the entrée to the area given by Alija Izetbegovic’s SDA party in Bosnia. Neither Iran nor bin Laden undertook this extensive work for nothing and, despite the very large Iranian Embassy presence in Sarajevo, Iran’s Shi’a clerics have been happy to provide training, logistics and intelligence while allowing the Wahhabist/Salafist bin Laden organizers to work more openly with the Sunni Bosnian Muslims. The Bosnian structures were used to support and actively participate in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States. Now that both Iran and al-Qaida are under pressure from the US, their networks in Bosnia — now far stronger than in 2001, and with virtually international and Serbian capabilities to suppress them in the area suppressed for fear of political outcries in the event of again attacking the “Muslim victims” — are preparing to launch their new break-out attacks against the US and the West, both in order to polarize the Muslim world from the West at the Olympics [see below] and to build a stridently Islamist state (or network of states: Bosnia, “Sandzak” [Raška], Kosovo, Albania, parts of Macedonia, etc.) within Western Europe [see below].
(ii) Olympics: The August 2004 Athens Olympics, with large crowds present and an estimated four-billion television viewers worldwide, has been identified as the most obvious symbolic point to force, using terrorist “spectaculars”, the schism between the West and the Muslim ummah, with the objective of polarizing the Muslim world around a “new caliphate” of radicalism, forcing the West to further react against the Muslim world, thereby reinforcing the tendency to drive Muslims toward the radical leaders. This interpretation is not based on speculation, but on known plans for the Olympics within terrorist groups related to al-Qaida and Iran. The Athens Olympics provides the perfect selection of terrorist targets, especially given the thus-far poor performance of Greek security services in preparing for the Games, as well as because of the proximity of Athens to major terrorist operating areas and support lines (through the Eastern Mediterranean, Albania, etc.).
(iii) Islamist-Controlled Territory in Europe: The prospect of creating an Islamist territory, comprising Bosnia, Kosovo, and adjacent areas, reaching from the Adriatic into the heart of Europe, is the most significant strategic gain foreseen by the Islamists since Muslim fortunes in Europe waned when the siege of Vienna was raised by the King of Poland in 1683. Numerous Islamist sources have indicated that they believe that this “return to Europe” is now within their grasp, offering enormous political symbolism of the success and power of the radical Islamists to the Muslim world, particularly if such an achievement is made as a result of great loss by the West.
Iran, Iranian surrogate forces and al-Qaida are under increasing pressure to begin the escalation of operations in the Balkans, not just because of the imminence of the Olympic Games, but also to help relieve US-led pressure against, and preoccupation with, Iran and counter-terror operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Revived US pressures on Syria — a major strategic ally and conduit for Iran — is seen as escalating the urgency of the “break-out” operations in the Balkans. The Balkans, however, also remain a strategic goal in their own right, quite apart from their value in relieving pressure on Iran and the damaged prestige of the terrorists and Islamists as a result of the current “war on terror”.
During the first half of August 2003, 300 Albanian-trained guerillas — including appr. 10 mujahedin (non-Balkan Muslims) — were infiltrated across the Albanian border into Kosovo, where many have subsequently been seen in the company (and homes) of members of the so-called Kosovo Protection Corps which was created out of Kosovo Albanian elements originally part of the KLA. In fact, the Kosovo Protection Force seems almost synonymous with the Albanian National Army (ANA), the new designation for the KLA. The guerillas were trained in three camps inside the Albanian border at the towns of Bajram Curi, Tropoja and Kuks, where the camps have been in operation since 1997.
The US Government, during the Clinton Administration, supported these camps, and some sources have said that US and German nationals were still involved in training guerillas in the camps. Their existence is known to the Albanian Government, which reportedly also provides both protection and support for the facilities. They brought with them from Albania a variety of light weapons, including mortars and landmines. Some elements of the 300 in the August 2003 group — believed to be the mujahedin element — went into action almost immediately, in the Serbian-occupied Kosovo town of Gorazdevac, near the city of Pec (in the West, close to Montenegro), on four occasions and on one occasion killing some children. Significantly, the Albanian doctor who examined two of the children injured in one of the attacks, Dragana Srbljaka and Djordje Ugrinovic, was accused by Serbian Government authorities and by other local medical authorities of having “purposefully making a wrong diagnosis of fractures, instead of gunshot wounds”. He put plaster over the gunshot wounds and discharged the children, rather than hospitalizing them.
After these attacks, some of the mujahedin involved moved immediately Westward, going through Islamist safe-havens in Raška to Bosnia. Many of the remainder went to areas on the Kosovo border with central Serbia and/or across into central Serbia. They also engaged in mining areas used by Serbia-Montenegro Army vehicles using claymore-style roadside charges.
It was understood from the GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily sources that US and NATO intelligence officers operating with UNMIK peacekeeping forces in Kosovo were aware — or appeared to be aware — of the incursion of the 300 new Islamist fighters and were also aware, at least to some extent, of the mingling of the guerilla fighters with the Kosovo Protection Corps officials.
Significantly, the transit of weapons and fighters to and from Bosnia to the Kosovo and Albanian areas has been underway for more than a decade. In testimony to the State Security service of (then) Yugoslavia in September 1991, Bosnian Islamist Memic Senad (born 1953) acknowledged that Sarajevo Muslims, under Izetbegovic’s SDA, pushed arms and ammunition into Raška (Sandzak), and that this was done with the knowledge of Izetbegovic. The arms had earlier been smuggled in to Bosnia via Croatia, with the help of Croatian police, before going on to Raška. These shipments consisted of, among other things, Romanian-made assault rifles and M56 machineguns. The weapons themselves were acquired in Slovenia, and one shipment noted by Senad included 1,240 AK-47 assault rifles.
SDA official Hasan Cengic was in charge of buying the weapons, according to Senad. GIS has extensive information on Cengic, who is regarded as one of the principal Islamists with terrorist links. The shipment, according to Senad’s testimony, was escorted from Bosnia and into Raška by a Libyan consular vehicle, with diplomatic plates. An Islamist organization, Active Islamic Youth, actually handled the delivery. Amer Musurati, a Libyan diplomat based at the Libyan mission in Belgrade, Serbia, paid for the weapons, despite a long history of cooperation between Qadhafi’s Libya and the old Yugoslavia of Pres. Tito.
At the same time, the Libyan consulate in Sarajevo backed the People’s Democratic Movement of Rasim Kadic. Kadic was also involved in the distribution of weapons into areas of Bosnia, Raška and Kosovo. Zelic Cefedin and Kadic were known to have been in Czechoslovakia where they tried to buy weapons from Australian citizen Hans Herdla.
What assists in diffusing the whole pattern of Islamist activities is the seeming lack of coordination and formal organization. The links, however, become evident in the pattern of cooperation, common targets and accomodations between groups of apparently different ideologies — such as the Libyans, the Syrian and Iranian-back HizbAllah Shi’as, the Wahabbi and Salafi extremist Sunnis, and so on — which is also evident in terrorist operations around the world. Indeed, cooperation between Christian (Catholic) Irish Republican Army (IRA) officials with Libyan and Islamist backers and colleagues, is a case in point. As well, the issues of a common enemy and, often, a common financing goal (usually narcotics trafficking), brings disparate groups together.
Much of the new round of Islamist activity is centering on the southern Serbian (Raška) city of Novi Pazar (literally “New Bazaar”). This city of some 30,000 people is approximately 80 percent Muslim. It has one of the most radical Islamist bookstores in the world, and the store is doing brisk business. Here, the principal business of the city is crime: illegal smuggling of consumer goods, heroin and weapons. It is a Middle Eastern city within a countryside populated by Orthodox Christian Serbian farmers. [During Turkish occupation, it was necessary for inhabitants to adopt Islam in order gain work in the cities; thus the farmers remained Orthodox, the citydwellers became Muslim.]
Novi Pazar is the focus of the Islamist attempt to build a landbridge from Albania and Kosovo to Bosnia. Further to the East, in southern Serbia’s Raška Oblast, are three other concentrations of Muslims: Sjenica and Pester area (lightly populated but mostly Muslim), Prijepolje (some 50 percent Muslim) and — very close to the Bosnia border where Republica Srpska controls the slender Gorazde corridor — Priboj (also some 50 percent Muslim). The land between is Serbian farmland, but the Islamist goal is to link the cities as “evidence” that the entire region is, or should be, Muslim territory. The same strategy worked successfully in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Serbian farmers were driven off their lands during the civil war.
Just south of the Serbian area of Raška Oblast is the Montenegrin part of Raška region, where, for example, Bijeljo Polje is some 60 to 80 percent Muslim, and Pijevlja, close to the Bosnian border, is about 40 percent Muslim. These Montenegrin towns, like those of the Western Serbian Raška region, are the key to the illicit arms and narcotrafficking across the Gorazde Corridor to Bosnia.
Further south-east in Montenegro, Albanian Muslims now make up some 95 percent of the Adriatic town of Ulcinj, only a few kilometers from Albania itself.
But it is Novi Pazar which is the focus of the Islamist activity and ideology. It is, in essence, the equivalent of Priština in Kosovo, or Sarajevo, in Bosnia, as far as the Islamist are concerned. A new Islamist university has opened in Novi Pazar, ostensibly a normal college, but led by an Islamist mufti of little formal education. And, as in Pakistan, the divide between “14th Century Islamists” and “21st Century Islamists” is apparent. This modern institution — whose officials proclaim it a normal educational institution — reveals its character in its symbol: the Wahabbi/Salafi Dawa symbol, an open Q’uran surmounted with a rising sun. The university, in a renovated former textile factory, is a known center of radical Islamist thinking. A book fair held there in early October 2003 distributed very radical Islamist literature, specifically advocating conflict with the West.
The Dawa sign indicates that the university is predominantly Saudi-funded, although some Western funding is known to have been pumped into the institution, reportedly largely to undermine Serb interests in the region.
It is also significant that the graffiti which dominates Novi Pazar supports Alija Izetbegovic’s SDA party, despite the fact that the SDA is a Bosnian party and Novi Pazar is still in Serbia. But many of the residents call themselves “Bosniaks”, as do the Islamists of Bosnia. The process by which the Izetbegovic followers are attempting to “legitimize” their claims to southern Serbia is apparent. [Other parties, such as Stranka za Sandzak, are evident in Novi Pazar, but they do not match the SDA’s control of the streets.]
And if the escalation of violence erupts on the scale anticipated, the Serbian Government would be forced to attempt to suppress it. This is the deliberate intention of the Islamists, to force intervention so that the Serbs could be, again, blamed for suppressing the “Muslim victims”. Effectively, the “no-go” status of Raška (Sandžak) would create not only a corridor for weapons, combatant, narcotics and other trafficking, but it would also cut off Serbia from Montenegro, and deny Serbia its access to the sea. And although some Montenegrin politicians, supported by some 2.5 percent of the population of Serbia and Montenegro, have advocated secession from the Union with Serbia, this de facto separation of the two states by Islamist militant action would — along with Islamist action in Montenegro’s eastern towns, such as Ulcinj — spell the end of Montenegro as a self-governing state.
The patterns of recent ANA activities in Kosovo and FYR Macedonia already shows an upsurge of violence, just as the Kosovo-Serbia talks begin in Vienna. The injection of Albanian-trained guerillas, linked with ANA and the Kosovo Protection Corps, is also significant. These indicators, plus other intelligence obtained by GIS, indicate the broader trend which relates directly to the need by al-Qaida and Iran’s clerics to regain their initiative and to keep the US at arm’s-length in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The Olympics and the forced deterioration of the security situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina — and the strong likelihood that the Dayton Accords in Bosnia will be rendered ineffective within, perhaps, a year — all point to a significant strategic threat emerging to the West in the Balkans.
GIS analysts believe that the collapse of the clerical leadership in Iran is the only thing which could remove the core backing for the al-Qaida groups operating in the Balkans, although narcotrafficking and other criminal activities would still sustain some of the radical activities, as would ongoing funding from some Saudi sources. But the removal of Iranian and Syrian support would significantly reduce the instability in the Balkans.