Balkanalysis on Twitter

Slovenian Intelligence Confirms Kosovo Link to Sandzak Arrests

April 19, 2007


( Research Service)- A Slovenian intelligence source has confirmed for a claim made recently in the Serbian media- that the Wahhabis arrested at a training camp broken up near Novi Pazar on St. Patrick’s Day had connections with Kosovo militants, the final status process there and potential violence again Serbs in the North Mitrovica enclaves.

The March 17, 2007 Serbian police operation against a suspected Islamic extremist mountain training camp near Novi Pazar, which yielded weapons, ammunition and assorted paraphernalia, has inspired unprecedented interest in the phenomenon of Wahhabi extremism in this forgotten area of western Serbia in the international media.

What is perhaps most interesting about the recent foreign media coverage, however, is that no one has cast doubt upon the Serbian government’s version of events. For the first time in a long time, a Serbian counter-terrorism operation has gotten the “benefit of the doubt.” Whether this means that the international media feels the Serbs are trustworthy, or that the former would just like a compelling story, is not clear. However, it is significant.

The facts of the case, according to Serbian authorities, is that a small group of militant Wahhabis from Novi Pazar had organized a training camp west of Novi Pazar, at which assorted weapons, plastic explosives and ammunition were discovered, as well as masks, uniforms, provisions and tents. Serbian medai reports immediately after the operation placed the location more specifically at ˆšÃ–¬Ωabren, on Mt. Ninaji, in the municipality of Sjenica. The reugged and remote area is also close to the Bosnian border and sensitive of Goradze Corridor. According to Serbian counterrorism expert Darko Trifunovic, who has complied a lengthy report identifying numerous members of the Sandzak Wahhabi substratum, “All but one of the arrested men were bearded in the fashion of jihadis, but all were white Europeans.”

The four Wahhabis arrested, all from Novi Pazar, have been identified as Mirsad Prentic, Faud Hodzic, Vahid Vejselovic and his brother Senad Vejselovic. All of these men were between 23-33 years of age- evidence of the foreign Wahhabi strategy of appealing to young and alienated Muslims in the Balkans.

Serbian police reported that one member of the group had evaded arrest. An UNMIK police press release of April 2, bore the photo of a white-capped, dark-bearded young Bosniak “who is to be considered armed and dangerous”- the fifth Wahhabi, Ismail Prentic.

Although Albanian Muslims in Kosovo base their identities much more on secular nationalism than do the Bosnian Muslims just north of the border, Wahhabism has nevertheless caught on in pockets of Kosovo, including even the capital. The arrests in Sandzak had the immediate result of increasing distrust and fear, particularly for the minority Christian Serbs. But the arrests also prompted Pristina’s Wahhabis to lay low. According to one source near the capital, “on that day, the muj [mujahedin, ie, Wahhabis] vanished. You couldn’t see one of them on the streets.”

New information received by from a Slovenian intelligence source confirms Serbian media allegations that at least some of the weaponry found in the Wahhabi training camp had arrived from Kosovo- and for a reason: :according to our information, extremist Albanians in Kosovo opposed to negotiation with Serbs are collaborating with the Wahhabis [in Sandzak]… in the case of new violence, the goal would be a show of force against Serbs from both sides.”

Adding that both groups have different ideologies and purposes, both the ex-KLA militants and Islamic extremists have similar needs. “Both use weapons, and both reply to varying extents on organized crime to fund their movements,” said the Slovenian source, adding that his country had recently taken a more active role in Kosovo/Serbia intelligence-gathering..

The enhanced Slovenian role should come as no surprise. The only former Yugoslav republic thus far to have joined the EU, the small country on the northeastern tip of the Adriatic is also getting ready to assume the mantle of honorary EU president on January 1, 2008. Ljubljana is eager to assert its leadership role in the Balkans and is supporting heavily, for example, Macedonia’s EU and NATO bids.

Slovenian intelligence-gathering operations have been enhanced of late, according to an OSCE officer in Kosovo, who points to the replacement of Italian security officers by some 600 Slovenes a month or two ago, in the area of Pec. One of the most dangerous areas of Kosovo, nationalistic Pec also has a thriving Wahhabi community and was visited by Pakistani al Qaeda member Arfan Qaeder Bhatti at the behest of the powerful former narcotics trafficker, Princ Dobroshi, who exerts considerable influence locally despite being jailed in the Czech Republic. Bhatti had been arrested after plotting to bomb the Israeli and American embassies in Oslo.

“Pec and all of western Kosovo is indeed some of the toughest areas in Kosovo to cover,” stated this OSCE source. “The Slovenes replaced an Italian contingent, with almost no announcement at all.” Although the Christian Slovenes are not bound to be particularly popular with local Albanians, this source confirmed that the new Slovene role in the area probably played a role in the intelligence service’s ability to make the connection between Kosovo arms trafficking and the Sandzak arrests.

2004-2009 Back Archives