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Sarajevo Announces Revocation of Citizenships, but Bosnia’s ex-Mujahedin Have Vanished

March 24, 2007

By Christopher Deliso

A lengthy and controversial administrative review carried out by Bosnian Muslim authorities has concluded, with the announcement that the citizenships of almost 400 foreigners, most of them former mujahedin, will be revoked and that those involved will be deported. However, the announcement appears to be a merely symbolic measure, as the ex-jihadis have largely disappeared without a trace.

The review was carried out under strong pressure from the US government, which wanted to rid Bosnia of the mujahedin which it, under the Clinton administration, had been ultimately responsible for allowing into the country as a lever of influence against the Bosnian Serbs.

According to a report from AKI on March 21, a total of 367 foreigners have lost their Bosnian citizenships. The foreigners whose passports were cancelled included natives of Sudan, Syria, Jordan, Mali, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Some of the largest groups by nationality included Egyptians (31), Algerians (30) and Tunisians (37). The largest nationality represented in terms of numbers, however, were Turks, at 72 almost a quarter of the total. There were also some individuals from countries not usually associated with Islamic terrorism, such as North Korea, Ukraine and Moldova.

AKI cited Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje as reporting that “many of the individuals due to be repatriated have in the meantime disappeared without any traces.” The investigative process took some nine months and processed 1,500 naturalized citizenships.

Interestingly enough, according to Oslobodjenje, the special commission that was formed in March 2006 to investigate the matter was stymied by an uncooperative Bosnian government, which said that “the identity of persons granted citizenships and officials who signed illegal documents were protected under “state secrecy.'” In a development indicating potential collusion between the police and the former fighters, the commission complained that Sarajevo police failed to inform it regarding the whereabouts of illegal foreigners, “though a request for such information was made in March 2006.”

The issue of the foreign mujahedin is an embarrassing one, not only for the Muslim authorities but for the US, Germany, Austria and other Western countries that aided and abetted their arrival as proxy troops against the Bosnian Serbs in 1992- a jihad ordered by Osama bin Laden himself, with the long-term strategic goal being the infiltration of Western Europe.

Most scandalously, the commission found that in certain cases individuals not even in Bosnia were given passports, such as was discovered, in 1999, in the case of Osama bin Laden himself. “Bosnian embassies and consulates in many European and other countries were issuing Bosnian passports to foreigners often without any documents or real connection to Bosnia,” stated the AKI report. A total of 16,000 citizenships were granted to foreigners between April 1992 and January 2006, it added.

At the same time, other recent developments indicate that the extremist threat in Bosnia has been exacerbated. A previously unknown radical group threatened to kill Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Republika Srpska, the Serb-populated constituent republic of Bosnia. According to German website Jurnalo.com, citing the Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine, a letter sent to Dodik and “signed by the previously-unknown organization Nova Bosna (New Bosnia), threatened to blow up Dodik’s vehicle as well as vehicles of his escort… [his] family would also be targeted, it said.”

The terrorists’ ultimate goal, according to the letter, was “to blow up an entire convoy of vehicles” including that of the prime minister. The description of weaponry allegedly already in place for such an attack — “the most sophisticated equipment for the destruction of tanks, planes and helicopters from a distant position” — is chillingly reminiscent of scenes from the video biography, widely available in the Balkans, of the late Jordanian mujahedin in Chechnya, Khattab, in which the jihadis shriek “Allah Akbar!” as they fire RPGs from a mountain at Russian troop carriers passing along the road far below.

The stated reason for the threats against Dodik was Serbia’s Feb. 26 acquittal at the International Court of Justice on charges of genocide against Bosnian Muslims in the 1992-1995 war. Further fallout of this ruling was attested in another AKI report, from March 12. It reported that the Muslim minority of Srebrenica, site of the alleged “genocide’ against Muslims in 1995, was demanding “a special district for their municipality.

They also called for the abolition of the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska.” At a meeting convened by Muslim mayor Abdurahman Malkic, “local leaders demanded that the town be exempt from the jurisdiction of the RS, which they said was a “genocidal creation.’ They said Srebrenica should be organised as a special autonomous district under the control of Muslim authorities in Sarajevo.” The angry Muslims threatened to leave Srebrenica if their demands were not met.

Giving their protest slightly more weight was the remarkable reported presence of the ambassadors of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian territories and Libya during the announcement, indicating that the provocation was a well-calculated and well-thought-out policy on the part of these Muslim states, which apparently share the extremist view that Republika Srpska is an illegitimate entity. Ironically, the West, keen to continue downsizing its presence in Bosnia, has continuously pushed for the further centralization of authority in Bosnia- increasing the resentment of Bosnian Serbs, who after all did not fight in the 1990’s to live under Muslim domination in the next century.

Another relic of war likely to touch a nerve occurred with the recent arrest of two former Bosnian Muslim commanders on war crimes charges against Croat prisoners of war. The arrests will inflame the sentiment of Islamists, and could be used by them to paint the Muslim government in an unfavorable light, as having sought to appease the international community at the expense of Muslims. According to Reuters on March 22, police arrested Nisvet Gasal and Musajb Kukavica, accused of committing atrocities against Croat prisoners at the “notorious” Stadion detention camp for Croats in Bugojno. Gasal was the alleged manager of the camp, and Kukavica was his deputy, reported the British news agency.

The spotlight that the recent ICJ decision in the genocide case has thrown on Bosnia seems to have also attracted some “old friends.’ In an interview for the Bosnian edition of Vecernji List newspaper earlier this month, a senior Islamic Jihad official, Ali Abu-Shahin, stated that the group will send fighters to Bosnia if and when required, attesting that in the 1992-1995 war, “we sent them fighters who with their lives gave the greatest contribution to that struggle.” Tellingly, Abu-Shahin, now in hiding, also commented on the ICJ ruling, averring that it was part of the international community’s plan to “eradicate” Bosnia’s Muslims- something that would allegedly somehow be expedited by the ascension of German Pope Benedict XVI to power.

Other recent disturbances in Bosnia’s Muslim-Croat republic include the closure of the country’s oldest mosque, the Careva (Imperial) Mosque in Sarajevo and popular unrest in the village of Kalesija. Both were linked to the fundamentalist fervor of one Jusuf Barcic, a local Wahhabi leader who caused tension when he and his followers ordered villagers to cloak women, forbade music, and urged for religious observation according to the Saudi style (as they interpreted it to be). When Barcic wanted to give a lecture on “original Islam’ at the famous Sarajevo mosque, he was expelled. Bosnian Islamic Community leader Reis Ceric has complained that Wahhabi chauvinism should not be tolerated. However, he has done little to prevent the sect’s expansion.

Recounting the showdown that took place several months ago in Kalesija, Barcic’s hometown in northeastern Bosnia, analyst Anes Alic wrote in a March 20 Jamestown Foundation report that the Wahhabi leader and his followers were confronted by angry residents in the mosque at which the former apparently both prayed and lived.”A fight broke out after the locals threw out the Wahhabis’ belongings from the mosque and set fire to them. The fight was broken up by special police forces.”

Barcic, who began preaching radical Islam “after he returned from schooling in Saudi Arabia in 1996,” had been previously sentenced in 2001 to seven months in jail. Most amusingly, the defender of “original Islam” has also collected a number of outstanding traffic tickets, but “since he does not accept the civilian government and its laws as legitimate, he refuses to obey the laws, including stopping at red lights, according to a public police report.”

Behind the rabble-rousing Barcic, however, is a foreign Islamist whose name has appeared frequently in the Bosnian and Croatian newspapers of late. Bosnian analyst Alic discusses this alleged “ringleader” of the country’s Wahhabi movement, a Tunisian named Karray Kamel bin Ali, reportedly a close confidante of Barcic’s. According to Alic, the Tunisian was “the mastermind behind the recent incidents.”

Kamel bin Ali, who received Bosnian citizenship after marrying a Bosnian woman in the early 1990’s, and is also referred to as Abu Hamza, had formerly been imprisoned with Barcic and was released only a few months ago. A commander of the foreign-sponsored mujahedin unit in the Bosnian Muslim Army during the 1992-1995 war, Abu Hamza was accused of murdering an Arab, the Egyptian Hisham Diab, alias Abu Velid, in 1997 in the central Bosnian city of Zenica.

“After managing to evade arrest for three years, Abu Hamza was finally brought down in Germany in 2000 and deported to Bosnia, where he was sentenced to seven years in prison,” recounts Alic. However, an investigation into the case “showed that the real Hisham Diab was still alive and an active member of an organization called “New Jihad’ and a former close associate of the radical Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The identity of the person Abu Hamza killed in Zenica remains unknown.”

Citing a Bosnian police source close to the investigation of Abu Hamza, Alic discloses that Abu Hamza “was part of a 15-20 member group of Egypt’s militant Gama’a al Islamiyya that arrived in Zenica and Travnik in 1992. During his stay in Bosnia, Abu Hamza used several names and falsified documents. He used the names: El Akil Abdellah Ahmed, born in Yemen; Bega Kamel, born in Libya; and five other names with Yemeni and Libyan documents each with different places of birth and dates. While in prison, Abu Hamza saw several different criminal investigations launched against him, including one for the murder of a Bosnian Croat policeman and another for the torturing of non-Muslim refugee returnees.”

As the Bosnian war wound down, Abu Hamza reportedly sought to continue the jihad on other fronts. Italian police suspected that he was planning suicide attacks, “including one plot to kill the Pope during his visit to Bologna in September 1997.” Although Italian authorities sent a request for Abu Hamza’s extradition in 2001, his Bosnian citizenship was cited by the government in their decision to not comply- no doubt an example that influenced American and European pressure on Bosnia to revoke the mujahedins’ citizenships.

According to the report, other foreign mujahedin fingered by Italian investigators in the same operation included Tunisian Khalil Jarray and Yemeni Saleh Nidal, both members of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA). “The two were arrested by international forces in Bosnia on terrorism charges, but were quickly released after Italy failed to send enough details to sustain their warrants. Their whereabouts are now unknown.”

Ultimately, however, the financial source for the Abu Hamza-Jusuf Barcic Wahhabi group, according to police sources cited by Alic, is Austria. Islamic interests in Vienna controlled by a former Bosnian Muslim cleric, Muhamed Porca, are being used to funnel money to the troublemakers in Bosnia. Porca, who was Barcic’s colleague in Saudi Arabia, “calls for establishing a parallel Islamic community in Bosnia, which would lean toward radical Islam,” states Alic. “Last year, Porca donated a car to Barcic, which was confiscated by police after traffic incidents and irregular documents, according to a source in an anti-terrorism federal police unit.”

This contention corresponds with information Balkanalysis.com has received independently from Western security officials in Balkans as well as regional officials. According to one Macedonian counterterrorism official, fundamentalist leaders based near Struga in the southwest of the country are in close contact with Porca, even having met with him in Italy to develop a strategy for enhancing cooperation.

Further, for example, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage earlier this year Macedonian Television 2 broadcast Wahhabi-created video in the Bosnian language, documenting a trip to Mecca from the 2004 pilgrimage (Macedonia’s second public TV station, MTV2 is reserved for minority programming). While not particularly radical in itself, the fact that the material came from a known Austria-based Wahhabi group, Tewhid, is perhaps noteworthy. Islamist propaganda from Tewhid and other Austria-based outfits, such as Kewser Kultur-Verein of Linz, is disseminated throughout the Balkans in Islamic bookshops, mosques and even open markets.

Despite several attempts to contact the television station, Balkanalysis.com was unable to locate anyone who might have been responsible for broadcasting the Wahhabi propaganda on Macedonian public television (Bosnian-language programming gets much less airtime than the largest majority, the Albanians).

Austria became the major logistical and financial center for the Bosnian mujahedin during the 1990’s, all with the consent of US, Austrian and German intelligence, which allowed the Islamists to set up shop in order to arm the jihadis in Bosnia, via Slovenia and Croatia.

A major player in this was the bin Laden-funded Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) which “eventually became the principal humanitarian front for moving arms to Bosnia,” according to Alms for Jihad, an exhaustive account of terrorist funding by J. Milton Burr and Robert O. Collins. The TWRA had been established in 1987 by a Sudanese native, Al-Fatih Ali Hassanein, who had collaborated with the Bosnian Muslim president, Alija Izetbegovic since the late 1970’s, when the former was a medical student in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade.

From 1992, when the war began, Hassanein through the Vienna-based TWRA was able to move huge amounts of money for al Qaeda into Bosnia; “some $80 million were remitted on a Vienna account in the First Austrian Bank in 1992 and $231 million the following year,” state Burr and Collins. But the IWRA was just one of many Austria-based charities that armed the jihad in Bosnia, solidifying the extremist networks and organizational base in Europe at the same time.

The aftereffects of the jihad in Bosnia included the mujahedin who chose to settle down- something that would increasingly become a thorn in the side of the Sarajevo government as it sought to appease its major supporters in the West.

Now that the mujahedin have apparently fled, Western countries are naturally keen on tracking them down. The consensus among a range of intelligence and counterterrorism officials surveyed by Balkanalysis.com is that the majority of mujahedin have managed to escape to neighboring Balkan states with Islamic populations, such as Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania, and through these or other routes to close-knit Muslim communities in Western European cities.

Meanwhile, in Bosnia itself, the slow growth of fundamentalist Islam continues, as expressed in an increasing number of violent incidents between Wahhabis and mainstream Muslims, attempts to influence education and social life by the former, as well as threats against public figures deemed to be “enemies of Islam.”

Such a “blacklist,” including 200 well-known Bosnian personalities, was compiled in 2006 by Active Islamic Youth, a radical group with strong links to the ex-mujahedin. According to a new BIRN report, “physical conflicts have also become more common. The media have reported fights in mosques across Bosnia, in Banovici, Cazin, Kladanj, Kalesija, Sarajevo and other towns and cities… the increasing number of public incidents provoked by Wahhabists has drawn sharp criticism and questions about the movement’s goals. Fears exist that it seeks to abolish the secular state and introduce Islamic religious law — “sharia’ – in political and everyday life.”

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