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Current Tactics of al Qaeda-linked Groups in Macedonia, Kosovo

December 20, 2004

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- A recent interview by Macedonian journalist with European terror expert Claude Moniquet – which stated that parts of Macedonia are currently being used by Al Qaeda-linked terrorist “sleeper” cells – is remarkable, in that it is one of the only such admissions to have ever been made by a spokesman for the “international community” in Macedonia’s modern history. It is certainly the most sensational.

Moniquet’s organization, the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center in Brussels, was set up at about the same time NATO Spokesman Mark Laity was mocking the Macedonians, saying “…I am slightly concerned because a Mujahedin has just entered the room. He is even wearing combats. I hope that’s just a camera. Just don’t point it at me too obviously.”

Moniquet’s charge confirms information received by Balkanalysis.com over the past year. It pointed to two fundamental goals for Balkan-based terrorists: one, gain a springboard for entrance into Greece during the Olympics; and two, develop logistical supply routes throughout Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia to the West. However, the lack of high-priority targets and the usefulness of securing quiet staging posts has kept the Islamists from unleashing attacks in the region.

Due in part to new cooperation between occasionally hostile authorities from Greece, Albania and Macedonia, the Olympics went off without a hitch. Of course, it was not in the interests of the Greek government to spread fear by pointing out the threat. Since nothing happened in the end, the government ignored the story. However, in the months preceding the Olympics strong and coordinated attention was brought to bear on activities in the tri-border area. In certain cases this did lead to specific actions.

While unrest and disdain for UNMIK continue to fester in Kosovo, the new Haradinaj government is expected to push hard for independence. Until now, the entreaties of foreign mujahedin have been ignored by secular Albanian freedom fighters, out of a desire to avoid bad public relations with the West. However, if the West starts to be seen as an impediment to independence, cooperation between the two restive factions will increase. The period from March-May has been widely cited as the one to watch for new outbreaks of violence in the internationally-administered province.

For now, however, the internationals feel that they have a handle on the situation. Most individuals suspected of al Qaeda ties are under constant surveillance from American and scores of other intelligence services. Arab countries are eager to show their devotion to the Americans and in some cases are even harder on their own people than the Americans are in Kosovo.

The stronghold of the main al Qaeda-affiliated organization is in Prizren, the major town in southwestern Kosovo. Terrorist backers have benefited from the fact that KFOR attention has been focused on flashpoint areas like Mitrovica- far away to the north. A recent report from Serbia’s NIN, citing German intelligence officials, stated that Albanian tactics during the March 17-19 riots were to divert attention to places like Mitrovica – thus allowing the southwest of Kosovo to be ravaged with impunity.

While UNMIK believes it has most suspected terrorists under watch, they cannot exclude finding newcomers. In the past, this has led to innocent people being arrested, simply for being Muslim. The authorities seem to have taken a better safe than sorry policy.

Nevertheless, in the end the goals of the al Qaeda “sleeper” cells and Kosovo’s secular freedom-fighters intertwine. This is because both require organized crime and a lawless environment to flourish. The former need cash to perpetuate and expand their operations. The latter strive to make “business” with anyone who will cooperate, ideology be damned.

In addition to the old standbys of drugs and weapons smuggling, more sophisticated forms of money laundering are currently being attempted by terrorist backers eager to keep their activities under the radar in an increasingly tense Kosovo.

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