Balkan Strategic Studies

October 20, 2003

Bosnia’s Izetbegovic Dead, But US Diplomat, Ashdown in B-H Push Islamist Line to Support Holbrooke

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS, with input from GIS Station Sarajevo. The Islamist political leader who usurped control of Bosnia-Herzegovina during the civil war in that country from 1992 to 1995, Alija Izetbegovic, 78, reportedly died in hospital on October 20, 2003, after becoming ill following a fall at his home in September 2003. Sources in his own political party, the SDA, had leaked news that Izetbegovic had died in hospital on about September 19, 2003, in order to minimize controversy about him during the unveiling of the so-called Srebrenica monument on September 20, 2003. The official version of events on October 19, 2003, was that his condition became critical on October 17, 2003, when doctors could not stop bleeding in his left lung. 

See Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily:

September 22, 2003: Izetbegovic Now Believed Dead.
September 24, 2003: In Bosnia-Herzegovina: Who Leads the Radical Islamists After Izetbegovic?

With his death, Izetbegovic — like former Croatian Pres. Franjo Tudjman — escaped prosecution for war crimes, including genocide, during the war. The former Islamist leader, who had worked closely with al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, among others, was close to former US Pres. William Clinton, who visited Izetbegovic in hospital on September 19, 2003. Izetbegovic’s SDA paid Clinton $250,000 at the time, ostensibly for speaking at the unveiling of the Srebrenica monument.

Izetbegovic was also protected by the High Representative for B-H, former British Liberal Party politician Paddy Ashdown, and the Deputy High Representative, US Amb. Donald Hays, who were appointed to their posts as European Union (EU) and US nominees respectively. Amb. Hays, a close confidante and former colleague in the UN to then-US Permanent Representative to the UN Richard Holbrooke — a close Clinton colleague — has consistently supported the Clinton-Holbrooke line in B-H, protecting the SDA, despite its increasingly clear links to terrorist figures associated with the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

Amb. Hays recently personally escorted Holbrooke during the latter’s visit to the Balkans and introduced him to officials and others in Bosnia as “the next US Secretary of State when the Democrats re-take the White House in the 2004 elections”. 

GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily sources within the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Sarajevo said that Hays was instrumental in organizing Holbrooke’s return visit to B-H, and had, immediately following the Clinton and Holbrooke visits to the country in September 2003, put pressure on High Representative Ashdown to continue the pressure on the Bosnian Serb entity, Republica Srpska, and, in essence, to break it up.

Significantly, it is the Republica Srpska state, under Pres. Dragan Cavic, which has been the only entity in the area which has absolutely and transparently implemented the Dayton Accords, and which has cooperated fully with NATO and the US in defense and counter-terrorism issues. One source in the OHR said that it appeared that the cause of the substantially increased pressure — initiated by Hays — was to ensure that the Clinton and Holbrooke relationship with Izetbegovic did not impact the 2004 US elections. The Republica Srpska Government was believed to be the only entity which had sufficient intelligence on the Islamist terrorist activities in the area, and their links with Izetbegovic, the SDA and therefore to their principal supporters during the 1990s: the Clinton Administration.

Holbrooke, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the Clinton White House all played key rôles in supporting the Islamists who, as it transpired, were consistently working with al-Qaida and the Iranian Government, among others, in planning major terrorist attacks on the US. Amb. Hays worked closely with Mr Holbrooke in the UN during this period. As a result, it was now seen as important that this pattern of support for people who were later seen to be involved in terrorist actions against the US should not be allowed to emerge, particularly in the build-up to the elections, which were regarded as being critical to Sen. Hillary Clinton and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander-Europe (SACEUR) Gen. Clark.

The process to suppress this line of discussion has included the launching of the Srebrenica monument, designed to again raise the issue of the Bosnian Muslims as the sole victims of the civil war, and to destroy the Bosnian Serb Government in Republica Srpska. The High Representative has the power, under the Dayton Accords, to dismiss any elected official in B-H, and Amb. Hays recently used this threat — to remove the Prime Minister of Republica Srpska — to force a statement from the Republica Srpska Government “admitting” sole Serbian responsibility for killing Muslims at Srebrenica between July 10-19, 1995. The statement included contentions proffered by the SDA and unsupported by evidence or investigations.

GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily reported, based on very authoritative reporting from Sarajevo, on Amb. Hays’ coercion, and it is now known that Amb. Hays has subsequently attempted to find the source of the leaks to GIS and to escalate his pressure on the Republica Srpska Government. He has also pushed High Representative Ashdown into threatening Republica Srpska (RS) Pres. Cavic, despite recent letters from NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson (September 29, 2003) and other European officials praising the efforts of the Republica Srpska in resolving outstanding issues, with regard to Srebrenica and Dayton Accord compliance.

In this regard, Amb. Hays and Lord Ashdown see the confrontation as critical to their own career survival. Amb. Hays, in particular, sees his future tied directly to the return of a Democratic Party-controlled White House after the November 2004 elections. Sources in OHR indicated that he appeared concerned at the mounting scrutiny which his office — which until now has been able to operate without virtually any White House or Congressional oversight — was attracting from Washington.

On October 15, 2003, High Representative Ashdown gave a six-month deadline to Republica Srpska authorities to reveal the fate of the victims — and alleged victims, given the fact that evidence of most of the deaths is still not forthcoming — of the 1995 Srebrenica incident. Despite the fact that all inquiries conducted thus far by the Dutch and French governments, and NATO, have not supported Ashdown’s and the SDA’s allegations, and despite the praise for RS Pres. Cavic for his cooperation, Ashdown noted that the process of revealing the fate of the missing “is taking far too long. ... It is simply unacceptable that getting the truth from the (Bosnian Serb) government is like extracting rotten teeth”.

In fact, it is Ashdown who has consistently misrepresented the truth of Srebrenica, and has ensured that any moves by the Government of Republica Srpska to address the issue factually have been rejected by the OHR. 

One source in Sarajevo told GIS on October 19, 2003: 

“The Office of High Representative (OHR) is keeping pressure on the Government of Republica Srpska and President of RS Dragan Cavic about Srebrenica. The Government of RS made a very big mistake in succumbing to the pressure by Amb. Donald Hays [to issue the statement accepting responsibility in the Srebrenica affair]. The Government promised that RS will examine war crimes in Srebrenica in July 1995, despite the fact that the Tribunal (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia: ICTY)  in The Hague [previously] took all relevant evidence about this. Ashdown and Hays are attempting to make all institutions of RS (such as Government, President of RS, RS Army and Police) guilty for crimes in Srebrenica. Ashdown ordered President Cavic to establish a commission to investigate crimes in Srebrenica in July 1995, but Cavic refused to do that. Cavic said that establishing the commission was not his duty, but OHR made a statement that RS had only six months to published what happened in Srebrenica. Ashdown said that ‘the RS Army, which is under the control of Cavic, had evidence about crimes in Srebrenica’. I have information from my sources in OHR that Hays personally pushed Ashdown to do this. Hays, who organized Holbrooke’s ‘comeback’ to B-H, has a very strong influence on Ashdown, said my sources. Significantly, Hays made this action after Clinton’s and Holbrooke’s visit.”

Of significance is the circulation of videotaped evidence, undertaken by the Dutch Government, which shows testimony of two Muslim leaders from Srebrenica saying that Izetbegovic had told them that then-US Pres. Clinton had, in 1992, recommended an attack on Serb civilians in Srebrenica in order to provoke a Serb retaliation, thereby justifying US military intervention in support of the Bosnian Islamists. While there is no evidence that Clinton ever, in fact, told Izetbegovic to take this course of action, it seemed clear that Izetbegovic told the Srebrenica Muslim leaders that this was the case and, in fact, thousands of Serb civilians at Srebrenica were killed by Islamist forces at that time, and clearly influence Serb actions in 1995.

Meanwhile, the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR), monitoring compliance with the Dayton Accords in B-H, during mid-October 2003 undertook a series of raids in Sarajevo and elsewhere in B-H. Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily noted on October 16, 2003, in a report entitled  Terrorist Infiltration Into Bosnia Continues:

“On October 14, 2003, SFOR (Stabilization Force peacekeeping) troops in Sarajevo raided the main building of the police and the intelligence service of the Muslim-Croat Federation, a component part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. An SFOR spokesman said that the force was  searching for ‘anti-Dayton [accord] activities’. One source, at the scene of the incident, reported that SFOR took ‘a main computer’ from the Federal Secret Service. Meanwhile, other open sources said that SFOR carried out raids on both October 14 and 15, 2003, ‘throughout Bosnia’, looking ‘for evidence to help the Hague-based war crimes tribunal’. The sweep began in the Croat-Muslim federation and continued into Republika Srpska. The SFOR spokesman said that SFOR would determine if the activities of the police and intelligence services were in keeping with the 1995 Dayton peace accords.”

In this regard, the influential newspaper Slobodna Bosna, which is controlled by Zlatko Lagumdzija (leader of the Social Democratic Party: SDP) and former chief of Federal Secret Service Munir Alibabic-Munja (who had been removed from this position by Ashdown in October 2002), published a report that SFOR had taken many interesting documents from main building of the Federal Secret Service during the raid of October 14, 2003. According to sources from this newspaper, SFOR took the documents about links beetwen Federal and Iranian Secret Service. 

Federal Secret Service (FOSS) had these documents because the former chief of FOSS, Ivan Vuksic (Croat who was a double agent, working also for the Croatian intelligence service in Zagreb), ordered the investigation about those links. Slobodna Bosna also reported that SFOR took the evidence about FOSS special operations against SFOR and other international organizations in B-H. Significantly, FOSS is again controlled by the late Alija Izetbegovic’s radical Islamist SDA Party. One of FOSS directors is Nezir Fiso, who has been accused of war crimes in “Silos”, a concentration camp near Sarajevo. There is the strong evidence that Fiso was the man who organized this concentration camp as a result of an order from Alija Izetbegovic. Some 50 Serbs were murdered in that camp. According to Serb testimonies, Izetbegovic visited that camp three times during the war in B-H.

Also relevant were reports published by the Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodjenje on October 9, 2003. That newspaper, citing sources close to the family of Muhamed Sacirbegovic (aka Sacirby), currently serving a sentence in a US prison for stealing funds from the B-H mission to the UN, reported that Sacirbegovic now wished to return to B-H voluntarily to answer accusations that he was involved in smuggling 2.4-billion convertible marks (KM), the Bosnian currency. Sacirbegovic, who had been a key official in the Izetbegovic Administration, had been refusing to return to B-H, despite requests from the B-H Government for extradition. After he had been arrested by the New York police, he made a statement that he wished to be prosecuted by a US court. He has now changed his mind, probably because of new evidence that he was strongly linked with several Islamist terrorist organizations in the US and in Vienna (TWRA: the Third World Relief Agency, an al-Qaida-linked organization).

Significantly, Oslobodjenje reported that former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was helping Sacirbegovic to win such decision from the US courts According to Oslobodjenje, Albright noted that “it is not right that Sacirbegovic is in prison, and that the court should give him the opportunity to defend himself from [a position of] freedom”. Sarajevo sources said that this was interpreted there that Mrs Albright wished to hide evidence that the Clinton Administration had supported Islamist terrorists in B-H, and that if Sacirbegovic made admissions of this nature in a US court, it would be a catastrophe for Albright and Clinton.

Meanwhile, it was believed that one Islamist leader with enough power to replace Izetbegovic would be Gen. Atif Dudakovic, former governor of the Una-Sana Canton in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and former commander of the 5th (Bihac) Army Corps (he is now Joint Commanding General of the Federation Armed Forces). However, it now appeared that Izetbegovic’s son, Bakir, while widely disliked within even the Islamist groups in B-H, had amassed sufficient control over intelligence assets, finances and international support to emerge as the new main power in SDA. 

Izetbegovic, who was born in 1925 at Bosanki Samac, was survived by his wife, Halida, and three children: Sabina, Lejla and Bakir. Izetbegovic had a long history of heart disease, and had received treatment in Slovenia and Saudi Arabia. He had been fitted with a pacemaker in 2002 and had suffered two heart attacks in the past. He had graduated in law from Sarajevo University, but was imprisoned twice under Pres. Tito’s communist Government for Islamic activism. He became B-H leader in the collective Presidency in 1990 and immediately began to put into effect his long-stated objective of forcing B-H out of the Yugoslav Federation and moving the entity toward becoming an Islamist state. He signed the 1995 Dayton accord ending the Bosnian war, and stepped down from presidency in 2000.