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Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad (2)

March 29, 2008


Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad

By John R. Schindler

Zenith Press (2007), 368 pp.

Reviewed by Christopher Deliso

Note: Owing to length, the following review is being published in two parts.

Part one appeared on March 22, 2008. Part two (March 29, 2008) appears below.

Deception and Deceit: The Media and the War

The second and third chapters of Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad are slightly tangential but still essential for understanding the greater context of the Bosnian conflict. Indeed, they are required reading for not only those interested in the Islamic dimension of the war, but of the entire manner in which the conflict was manipulated and distorted by the Western press, which by and large soon fell in love with the Muslim cause of the SDA, eight of whose core members were former Young Muslims, and whose vision for Bosnia was anything but multicultural.

The author’s main contention here may be controversial to some but, as he goes on to prove, is irrefutable: “the Bosnian tragedy was eminently avoidable, and was nearly dodged on several occasions. It was the irresponsible actions of politicians in 1991 and 1992, and none more than Alija Izetbegovic, that brought on a catastrophe” (p. 56).

The Western media’s championing of the Muslim cause owed to savvy PR work from the Muslim government, both on the ground and abroad. Muhamed Sacirbey, the charismatic, English-speaking ambassador at the UN, pushed the SDA line in America (few mentioned that he was the son of Nedzib Sacirbegovic, a close ally of Izetbegovic’s who had shared the latter’s Pan-Islamist values since their time together in the Young Muslims). Formidable beltway lobbyists were called in to disseminate pro-Muslim propaganda. In Sarajevo itself, the SDA government was pumping a steady stream of disinformation to journalists more interested in tantalizing scoops than accuracy, leaving out unpleasant details such as mujahedin atrocities against Croat and Serb civilians in Bosnia.

The result, as Schindler summarizes, was that “the Bosnian war as witnessed in the West was but a small corner of a much wider conflict, where Muslims were easily portrayed as helpless victims. What happened in the rest of Bosnia — or even behind the scenes in Sarajevo — was simply not news” (p. 81). And, in the summer of 1992, when various sensationalistic and dubiously sourced stories alleging the existence of Serbian “concentration camps” began appearing, the Bosnian Muslim government “jumped on the bandwagon” of a reckless runaway media. “Although Sarajevo had made no claims of mass killings before these accounts appeared in the international press, the SDA made them constantly once the story had been advanced” (p. 84).

Emulating Foreign Friends

Where Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad starts to become really very good, however, is with the fourth chapter (“With Koran and Kalashikov”), which illuminates the depth of the Bosnian government’s pro-jihad feelings, and its success in winning the sympathies — and finances — of Muslims elsewhere. It also discusses in detail the arrival of foreign mujahedin and the Islamist NGOs that would become their logistical and financial support base. “Throughout the war, the Iranians and Saudis waged a covert struggle for greater influence in Sarajevo,” recalls Schindler, “a rivalry that the SDA understood and exploited to maximum effect” (p. 132). Throughout the book, he painstakingly fills in all the details about the fruitful relations between these powers and the SDA of Alija Izetbegovic.

Most intriguingly, the author uncovers the murky role of Iranian state security (the VEVAK intelligence service and the Pasdaran Revolutionary Guard) in training the Bosnian Army- while simultaneously working for Iranian interests against the West. Alija Izetbegovic’s great respect for Iran extended beyond ideology, argues Schindler. It affected the specific structure and operating procedure of his party’s intelligence services, and Iranian intelligence officials and military personnel flocked to the Islamist cause of the Bosnian president. Most significantly, the Iranians taught the Bosnians in the secrets of their “black arts,” which included targeted assassinations — long a hallmark of Iranian operations abroad — and terrorist attacks. This dramatically transformed the effectiveness of the Izetbegovic government’s ability to intimidate dissident Muslims and to terrorize Christians.

The following chapter, “MOS and Mujahedin,” takes a closer look at the arrival of the mujahedin and the specific individuals, all closely linked with Izetbegovic, who helped import and fund them. It discusses the specific mujahedin units created, how they were used, and the sorts of atrocities they committed in Bosnia. It also discusses the development and inner workings of one of the most important, but least investigated organizations in wartime Bosnia: the Muslim Intelligence Service (Muslimanska obavestajna sluzba, MOS), “the SDA group operating behind the scenes that wielded much of the real power in Sarajevo” (p. 158).

Along with its services in facilitating the arrival of foreign jihadis, the MOS also provided a mechanism by which a handful of hardcore Islamists could take over the “broad tent” of the larger SDA membership. The author finally brings up the rarely mentioned phenomenon of the party’s private assassination unit, the Larks, many of whose members were not even Muslims, but exceedingly talented Serb and Croat hired guns. Along with political enemies, they were used as snipers to kill innocent civilians as part of the SDA’s terror war against Sarajevo’s Serb minority- another part of the conflict seldom reported by the pro-Muslim media.

Bloody Ends and Endings

The intriguing sixth chapter of Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad, “Not so Secret Secrets,” dissects the role of the Clinton administration in allowing the Bosnian Muslims to be armed and manned by the Islamic internationale. Coming from a former NSA officer, this chapter is especially interesting and important, exposing as it does the wide divide between the intelligence community and the administration. While the former was urging caution, warning about the very real danger of Islamic terrorism spreading to the West via Islamist support for Bosnia, the administration and its diplomats had other plans. According to Schindler, CIA warnings about the danger of Iranian infiltration “proved as accurate as they were unheeded” (p. 185). The chapter also discusses the “astonishingly corrupt” Croatian leaders who made a killing off of being an arms transit zone into Bosnia- even though the regime they were supplying was murdering Bosnian Croats.

The seventh and eighth chapters carry on through the end of the war in 1995, revealing the degree to which “blowback” — in the form of terrorist attacks and plots around Europe — immediately began occurring following the SDA’s invitation of the mujahedin into Bosnia. Connections between Bosnia and events abroad stretched from Poland and Chechnya to Egypt, Jordan and Algeria. In Europe, the Algerian GIA’s hijacking of an Air France plane on Christmas Eve of 1994, and several bloody bombings in France the following summer, were aided directly by the Bosnian jihad: “GIA was using veterans of the Bosnian jihad to carry out the attacks.” Further, by 1995, “machine guns, grenades and other heavy weapons were appearing on the streets of Paris and Brussels, straight from Bosnian Army stocks, thanks to the mujahedin” (p. 209). Another Bosnia-linked plot to attack the G-7 summit was thwarted by a spectacularly explosive police action in December of that year.

In these chapters, the extent of the corruption of SDA insiders, such as the arms profiteering of Hasan Cengic (whose father Halid had been a longtime ally of Izetbegovic’s) and the mysterious disappearance of millions in aid dollars for Muslims, is laid bare. The party’s chokehold on society is also discussed, leading to the conclusion that as under previous Communist rule, “party membership and connections were necessary to obtain good jobs and apartments” (p. 196). Most disturbing, however, is the author’s allegations against the party, and specifically Alija Izetbegovic, in the Srebrenica Massacre of July 1995. Coolly ignoring the usual hysteria that plagues most treatments of this event, Schindler actually finds that:

“any detailed examination of Srebrenica rapidly uncovers facts that are incompatible with the standard version of events, resulting in a portrayal that is disturbing and deeply critical of all parties involved- the real story of Srebrenica is a tale of cynicism astonishing even by Bosnian standards” (p. 227).

As the official history claims, the Bosnian Serb forces of Ratko Mladic overran the UN-guarded “safe zone” of Srebrenica, resulting in the deaths of over 7,000 Muslims. Beyond that, things become dicey. Schindler points out that the Izetbegovic government had been impudently using this safe zone to stage attacks on Serbs in the neighboring villages for three years, despite Serbian protests; in all, over 3,000 Serbs, including 1,300 civilians were massacred by Muslims in Srebrenica municipality, “in many cases butchered, tortured, mutilated, burned alive, or decapitated” (p. 228). The main figure often ultimately responsible was the Bosnian Army’s local commander, the exceptionally brutal Naser Oric, who used Muslims as human shields against the Serbs, and who eliminated enemies real or perceived, even within his own units. Oric delighted in showing Western journalists his home-made videos depicting the beheadings of Serb prisoners (p. 229).

However, even as talk of a Serb offensive was growing in early 2005, Sarajevo’s local strongman was inexplicably recalled, leaving Srebrenica-area Muslims without effective leadership: “in April, Oric and his senior staff left the town under cover of darkness, headed for Tuzla, ostensibly to take a command training course. He never returned” (p. 230). After Mladic’s attack began, on July 6, local Muslim leaders begged Sarajevo for assistance. None came, and the town fell to the Serbs within five days. Schindler amply proves that Bosnian Army signals intelligence had advance warning of a Serb offensive, and did nothing, and that even when armed Bosnian soldiers taking with them civilians (and not the simple unarmed masses that the Western media tacitly alleges) tried to contact their kin, no help came. Shockingly, on the morning the town fell to the Serbs, “there was a meeting of the [SDA] party leadership and the top officers of the General Staff in Sarajevo; the enclave wasn’t on the agenda.”

Suspicions that the ever-cynical Izetbegovic was hoping to expedite a massacre of his own people by removing his top general from the field seem confirmed by a statement the Bosnian president made. Schindler cites a news report which quotes him as having said that “in April 1993, President Clinton told me that if the Chetniks [Serbs] enter Srebrenica and massacre five thousand Muslims, there will be military intervention” (p. 234). Indeed there was. Srebrenica motivated the West to end the military war, on Muslim terms, and to ensure that the propaganda war for the remembrance of that conflict would be theirs and theirs alone, ad infinitum. Phony and deceitfully comparisons of the plight of Jews in the Second World War with that of Bosnian Muslims today have been institutionalized to the extent that anyone who does not agree, or who calls for a more objective and fact-oriented investigation, is denounced immediately as a “Holocaust denier.” As Schindler mentions, the simple utterance of the word “Srebrenica’ is a “conversation stopper” amongst polite society today.

After the War, the War

Schindler’s final two chapters go on to discuss in detail the extent to which the Bosnian War metastasized into a global jihad- the enduring legacy of that conflict for world security today. For those interested more in current events than in the intricacies of the Bosnian War, they will come as the most useful sections of the book. The first extraordinary event, which took place back in Bosnia, occurred in mid-1995 when the CIA station chief had to be hurriedly evacuated from Sarajevo almost as soon as he had arrived, because the Iranians intended to kidnap, torture and kill him. He soon learned that his identity had been compromised by “one of the Bosnian Muslims who worked for the U.S. Embassy [who] was a spy for the Muslim secret police,” which was controlled by Iran.

The officer attributed his betrayal by Bosnian Muslim secret service “colleague” Nedzad Ugljen ultimately to “the totality of our misguided policies” in Bosnia (p. 241). While the new NATO mission quickly moved to dismantle Iranian training camps, starting with the February 15, 1996 raid on the camp at Pogorelica near Sarajevo. While the SDA government pledged to rid itself of any Iranian elements, they were apparently still well enough entrenched to plot sophisticated attacks against Americans in Bosnia four years later (p. 243). In 1998, Schindler records, at least 200 Iranian agents were still active, and “had penetrated everything worthwhile in Sarajevo, including Train and Equip,” the American post-war military reform program for the Bosnian Army.

At the same time, post-Dayton Bosnia saw the SDA consolidate its grip, a further removal of the Christian minorities from Muslim-controlled Bosnia, and a purge of many moderates in the Islamic community administration. At the same time, the Saudi and other Islamic charities that had arrived because of the war continued their work in radicalizing and indoctrinating the first generation of young Muslims- something that had been the goal of the SDA inner circle all along, and which materialized most forcefully in the creation of the Active Islamic Youth radical NGO (p. 257). Further, despite Western demands that the hundreds of former foreign mujahedin leave, Izetbegovic stalled, resettling many in Taliban-style villages run by Sharia law.

After the war, a handful of Bosnian fighters began turning up in places of perceived jihad like Chechnya and Kosovo, among other places. In the book’s final chapter, “Europe’s Afghanistan,” Schindler’s careful reconstruction of the links between Bosnia and 9/11, and the police’s rich haul of terrorist-related information from Bosnian charities following the attacks, is especially compelling. Pointedly, the author goes on to show that in executing the (supposedly) complete purges of radical Islamists from Bosnian law enforcement after 9/11, the West hardly received the support of wartime SDA elements in rooting out criminal and terrorist-connected individuals: indeed, colonial caretaker Paddy Ashdown succumbed to the pressure of the opposition in October 2002, when he fired Munir Alibabic, the reforming head of the security services and an old nemesis of the SDA.

Appointed by the then-ruling Social Democrats, Alibabic “horrified” the SDA with his plan to “root out the party-based crime and corruption that allowed radicalism and terrorism to flourish in Bosnia.” His report on the SDA’s extensive links to organized crime was a step too far (p. 290). And Ashdown himself confounded many local reformers by openly championing the SDA, voicing platitudes about it, and even its party newspaper; the sponsors of al Qaeda in the Balkans were back in power by the end of 2002. Meanwhile, the drive to dismantle the terrorists’ network, motivated originally by “serious but short-lived” American efforts after 9/11, had “run out of steam” (p. 291).

Schindler goes on to document other post-9/11 attacks and planned attacks in Bosnia itself, such as the failed one on the US Embassy in Sarajevo in March 2002 and on other Western targets there in November 2005, and thwarted plots planned within Bosnia, such as the failed attack on Pope John Paul II’s funeral in April 2005. Further abroad, events like the kidnap and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, the 2003 Casablanca bombings, the 2004 Madrid bombings, among others, attested that “as al-Qaedaattacks multiplied across the world, a disturbing number of terrorists involved had [been found to have] close ties to Bosnia and the holy war aged there” (p. 296). Most intriguingly, Schindler gives intimate details of little-known investigations in countries everywhere from Malaysia and Thailand to Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen to reaffirm the enduring legacy of the Bosnian jihad, which globalized the Islamic holy war.

Nevertheless, he concludes, the West continues to look the other way, denying or underestimating the seriousness of the problem projected by radical members of the minority Wahhabi population of Bosnia, and Bosnia-linked extremists abroad. In the end, while late Yugoslav Bosnia was “probably the most Western-oriented component of the umma,” Schindler argues, “a tiny coterie of individuals who masked their actual agenda” were able to expedite “an unpleasant and destabilizing war which destroyed decades of socioeconomic progress and opened the door to increased radicalization and the entry of al-Qa’ida and related mujahedin groups into Europe- the lesson of Bosnia is that it happened” (p. 324).


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