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Ohrid Wahhabis Kill Man in Botched Village Exorcism

February 13, 2007

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- The Muslim-majority Macedonian village of Labunista, long known for its small but prominent Wahhabi fundamentalist community, has become the scene of controversy once again. According to a February 10th investigation from Skopje newspaper Vreme, well-intentioned but apparently unqualified Muslim clerics murdered a local man while trying to wrest him from the demonic grips of his illness.

While all the details of the story are not yet known, it appears that 27-year-old Abedin Alijoski died in his home after three members of the Wahhabi sect were called in to treat him.

According to the newspaper investigation, the young man died at around 11 PM on January 25th after the Wahhabis, brought in specially from Ohrid for the job, treated him “with the help of readings from the Koran and by beating him with sticks.” While the Alijoski family did not allow an autopsy, nor for anyone to see the body, the newspaper learned that there may be an exhumation, as Struga municipal prosecutors are considering this a possible criminal case.

The young Muslim had been sick for some five years with an unspecified neurosis, for which he had been taking an increasing number of medications in recent times, locals told Vreme. He had been living with his mother, cousin and two sisters, one of whom was deaf and mute. His father died a year ago.

In the Balkans and elsewhere, the Saudi-backed Wahhabi order has sought to prey upon weak and stigmatized members of local communities, such as the poor, drug addicts and ill. With its specific troubles and general religious orientation, the Labunista family would seem to have been a perfect target for the radical Islamists.

According again to the newspaper account, drawing on local sources, the continuing malaise of the young man led his sister to take drastic action: fearing that Abedin’s body had been infested with evil spirits, she called in three prominent Wahhabis from Ohrid: “one Bashkim, his brother, and one other member of the community.” While the Wahhabi witch doctors conducted their ritual, Alijoski’s brother-in-law, nephew and cousin were also reportedly present in the room.

The beating spectacle went on for an hour and a half before a real doctor was called in. But the young man was already dead. Safet Karalieski, the Alijoski family’s usual doctor, entered the house at half past twelve and was apparently the only person to see the dead body. “I was his doctor for five years, and usually I gave him Diazapam [a commonly used sedative, essentially, Valium]. He had depression. We saw each other five days before he died, the boy was okay and he had a will to live and to undergo treatment,” said the doctor.

“That night, when I came into the house they didn’t let me see him [for long],” added Karalieski. “His sister just pulled back the blanket covering him, and the only things that I saw were black-and-blue markings around his eyes. I wasn’t able to [officially] pronounce his death, because I didn’t even touch his body. This means that his [subsequent] funeral happened without any death certificate, which is against the law.”

The doctor promptly called the police, who soon came with the public prosecutor and investigative judge from Struga. However, locals had formed a human wall around the Alijoski home and tried to prevent them from entering. In the meantime, the Wahhabis escaped.

The fact that such a thing could occur is testament to the stubborn insularity of this village of 8,000, most of them Macedonian Muslims, also known as Torbeshi. Caught in the margins of larger Macedonian society, between Macedonian Orthodox Christians and Muslim Albanians, the Torbeshi have developed very strong local kinship ties and a deep distrust of outsiders.

The sense of being marginalized and excluded from two larger and more powerful outside societies has meant that the Macedonian Muslims, like their Bulgarian cousins, the Pomaks, have become more susceptible to the overtures of foreign Islamic groups promising aid and assistance.

Locals surveyed by the newspaper after prosecutors announced a possible exhumation and criminal proceedings stated that Alijoski, a builder, had been a nice man who had psychological challenges, though they did not manifest significantly and allowed him to live an essentially normal life.

Most interestingly, while the Wahhabi spiritualists had clearly failed in their mission to revitalize the unfortunate young man, this does not seem to have diminished local belief in the plausibility of such “cures.” Said one local, “they [the Wahhabis from Ohrid] don’t know how to expel demons, only the hoxhas from Skopje do. You call them, they come, and they know how to do their job.”

However, a longtime leader in the Macedonian Islamic Community (IVZ) has now denounced the practice. “In Islam, there are no rituals for expelling demons,” said Jakup Selimovski, Director of Religious Education in the IVZ. In seeking to play down the significance of the deadly event, Selimovski repeated the standard line that Wahhabi influence is weakening rather than strengthening, and that the group has no organizational structure. Struga Mufti Ferat Polisi and IVZ Reis Sulejman Rexhipi both stated recently that they have no knowledge about went transpired in Labunista.

Despite the imam’s claim that Islam does not involve itself with exorcisms, another would-be healer surveyed by Vreme stated that the Wahhabis erred by beating the ill man. “You can take [demons] out with the help of the Koran, the Book. I’m doing it also with water, honey and olive oil.” File it away for future reference!

The apparent involvement of Wahhabis from Ohrid is of interest, considering that it matches with information received by Balkanalysis.com over the past two years from local sources, who suggest that, surprisingly enough, the most extreme members of the Islamic sect may in fact be not in Struga or its nearby villages but in Macedonia’s most well-known tourist destination. Although it is overwhelmingly Macedonian and Christian in character, Ohrid does have a small Muslim population and several outlying mosques.

Previous articles on Islam in Macedonia published by Balkanalysis.com include:

Wahhabis in Labunista Antagonize Locals, as Details Emerge about Italian Arrests (January 5, 2007)

Hajj Mayhem Claims Two Macedonian Lives, Injures Three Others (January 17, 2006)

Malaysian, EU-Rejected Islamists Penetrate Macedonia (September 28, 2005)

In Kondovo, Mujahedin Claims Echo Old Fears (December 5, 2004)

Skopje Investigators Wary of Salafi Influence (July 5, 2004)

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