Capital Sarajevo
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 387
Mobile Codes 61,62,63
ccTLD .ba
Currency Bosnian Convertible Mark (1EUR = 1,96 BAM)
Land Area 51,129 sq km
Population 4 million
Language Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
Major Religion Islam, Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity

Attack on US Bosnia Embassy Not Seen as a Major Security Concern, Despite Precedents and International Links Special Report

By Chris Deliso

The striking spectacle of a heavily-armed gunman stalking the US Embassy gates in Sarajevo for almost a half-hour on October 28, 2011 is unlikely to result in major security or policy changes, can report.

A generally low threat estimate, larger diplomatic goals and concern for managing political legacies will minimize greater vigilance- despite concerns that the botched attack strongly resembles similar ones attempted or planned by Balkan-related extremists in the recent past, and despite concerns that it might by a dry run for future, more large-scale attacks.

Nevertheless, even as demonstrable links between radical groups in the Balkans and diaspora ones in places like Austria continue to emerge, the October 28 incident is not likely to result in any kind of decisive action. The spiraling complexity of larger political, security and economic events now gripping the world – from the uncertain future of the Euro, to North Africa in transition and a potential showdown with Iran – also indicates that the Balkans will remain largely ignored, with security continuing to be provided on an ad hoc and reactive basis rather than a robust and preventive one.

The present special report is the result of a comprehensive survey of present and former intelligence, diplomatic and law enforcement officials from the US, UK, and several EU and Balkan states, with further input from informed analysts, scholars and media sources. The report thus provides a clearer picture of the significance of an admittedly hazy event, within the larger context of different policy issues affecting decision making in both the US and Europe.

The Event

At around 3:30pm on October 28, 2011, a heavily armed 23 year-old man originally from Novi Pazar, Mevlid Jašarević, marched on the US Embassy in Sarajevo, proclaiming an Islamic ideology. He reportedly did not kill anyone specifically because he sought to kill or be killed by Americans/non-Muslims; not finding any, he did not wish to shoot the Bosniak policemen guarding the place, on account of their shared religion, and these police apparently did not want to shoot him either.

And so it was that a security threat that would have lasted all of 5 seconds had it occurred in front of the White House went on for almost 30 minutes. It was only after a special unit arrived that the assailant was shot and taken to hospital, injured. Information later indicated that he had intended to die as a martyr. (Later, in court, the young Muslim said “I do not recognize your court. It is worthless before Allah”).  In total, Jašarević fired 105 shots at the embassy and wounded one policeman.

The whole bizarre incident – one that comes as a serious embarrassment for both the Bosnian police and US security planners – was captured on video and is widely visible on the internet, where it has generated energetic commentary.

After the Event

Soon after the incident, the embassy released an Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina on its website which announced that “movements by U.S. Government personnel in Bosnia and Herzegovina are currently restricted.  U.S. citizens are, therefore, urged to heighten their awareness and maintain a low profile.”

After the detention of Jašarević, the Bosnian police soon arrested three other suspects in connection with the attack. Emrah Fojnica, aged 20, was found in the Wahhabi stronghold village of Gornja Maoca after 24 year-old Dino Pecenkovic and Munib Ahmetspahic, 21 were also arrested as alleged accomplices. The court put them in one-month custody. The attacker had spent time in the isolated fundamentalist village earlier on the day of the attack, and in the past. In the initial court hearing on October 31, Jašarević’s lawyer stated that he had acted alone.

The Serbian authorities – which were ironically at the time of the attack hosting an international conference with foreign colleagues on security issues – swung into action immediately, briefly detaining 17 individuals in the Muslim-majority Sandzak region (shared with Montenegro), from where Jašarević originally hails.

In an official response to a information re quest, a Serbian Ministry of Interior representative noted that “recent arrests of the radical Islamists in the area of Raška and Polimlje, that followed the attack in Sarajevo, resulted in operational information on contacts and activities of security interest exercised by the above group in that area.” However, the initial arrests did not result in the collection of “any data on possible new details that earlier hadn’t been known by the MOI of the Republic of Serbia.”

Referencing an earlier counter-terrorism operation, the Serbian MOI also noted that Jašarević “didn’t have any direct relations with the Wahhabis arrested in the mountain Ninaja near Novi Pazar several years ago.” That operation, occurring in March 2007, resulted in the recovery of large amounts of weaponry from a mountain cave and camp near Zabar, 30km from the regional capital.

On 2 November, it was reported that FBI agents would be dispatched to Belgrade. According to Vesti, they consulted with Interior Minister Ivica Dacic and Police Director Milorad Veljović, and then visited Novi Pazar for further investigation. the Serbian authorities briefed them on Bosnia- and Sandzak-linked radicals known to them, some of the most important based in Vienna.

However, as days passed and the matter died down, further dispatches were not issued subsequently from the embassy in Sarajevo. Staff there did not respond to a request for further information from

Expert Views on the Event and the Context

Due to the lack of fatalities or damages, the Jašarević episode allowed both the US and Bosnian governments to breathe a collective sigh of relief and play down its significance. The attack is important, however, and more for what didn’t happen than for what did. It indicated something that few would have found possible just a few weeks ago: simply, that a lone gunman besieging this well-fortified embassy could create such a menace, and for such a long time, without decisive action from facility security.

If that were not already bad enough, one must only imagine what could have resulted from a serious and organized plot involving several persons with weaponry and well-timed explosions. Such an attack could conceivably have overpowered installation security and caused significant damage and deaths, especially to innocent bystanders. (This is not to mention that most other embassies and structures in Sarajevo are far less secure than the US Embassy). Whether or not such an event is likely is another story; yet the fact alone that the October 28 attack happened indicates, at very least, the full extent of what is physically possible in Bosnia today.

Local expert Anes Alic, Executive Director of ISA Intel, a company that publishes analyses and provides consulting on security-related issues, stated for that “based on video footage taken by local citizens, it is clear that Jašarević had enough time and opportunity to take out nearly 100 innocent passersby- but this was not his agenda.”

After the event, the initial reactions from present and former US and European intelligence and security officials characterizing the quality of the attack for ran the gamut from “incompetent” to “inept” to “pathetic,” echoing general public sentiment from people who had seen or heard of the attack. What kind of a person or group would carry out such a poorly-executed attack?

A Europe-based US Army Intelligence officer specializing in Islamic terrorist groups, and with knowledge of Bosnia, spoke with soon after the event. The officer drew comparisons with other relatively recent small-scale attacks like a failed suicide bombing in Sweden last year, and the murder of US Air Force personnel by a Kosovo Albanian émigré jihadist, Arif Uka in Frankfurt Airport.

“These [attacks] all seem to be self-conceived, unsupported operations carried out by self-radicalized jihadi wannabes- dangerous characters, of course, but crucially unconnected to any operational support systems that could have increased their lethality by large factors,” noted the officer.

“When [al Qaeda] plans and resources an op the way they like, they get Bali. When all they have are gung-ho lone wolves, they get these kinds of things.”

However, despite the small-scale nature of the attack, the Army Intelligence officer also noted that even in failure supporters of jihad could find a modicum of success: “these are the kinds of sapping attacks that al Qaeda ideologue [Abu Musab] al-Suri advocated in his Call to Global Jihad, though he envisioned a much higher OPTEMPO, maybe one or two attacks each week.” Al-Suri’s 1,600 page “manifesto” has been analyzed in a book by Jim Lacey, an analyst at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, Virginia.

The issue of why the Bosnian police – who can be seen hiding around corners in videos of the event – did not react more quickly has been explained in various ways. The one that the Bosnian authorities have preferred is that the police feared the gunman would detonate a suicide vest if confronted (he did not have one, it was found).

Whatever the truth of the matter, the visible failure of the embassy police rankles some experts who have prior experience with Bosnian security services. A retired American policeman who helped train the post-independence Bosnian police chalks it up in part to long-standing apathy: “the Bosnian cops don’t do their jobs because their bosses – the US – have a long history of letting them do what they want rather than acting like police officers should,” said the retired policeman for Asked whether he expected heads to roll within the force over the failure, this source laughed and said, “somebody will get transferred, that’s all.”

A former MI6 man who spent considerable time in Bosnia after the war tells that the Bosnian police reaction – and the fact that security lapses allowed the attack to happen in the first place – comes as further confirmation that “the Bosnians are just not reliable partners. We’ve seen them befriending the Saudis, but also others if it suits [their interests]. Bottom line being, they are never going to be trusted completely.”

Such cynicism is neither surprising nor without evidence. Since the 1992-95 war, the Bosnian authorities have in turns angered, frustrated and frightened their Western patrons. The reasons include: clear links of government officials to al Qaeda and other international terrorist entities; the near-fatal betrayal of a CIA officer’s identity to Iranian assassins by a high-ranking Bosnian official; the abrupt firing of security-sector reformers determined to expose internal corruption and terrorism supporters; a high number of unsolved violent crimes and terrorist attacks within Bosnia; a number of mysterious ‘disappearances’ of foreign terrorism suspects while under police custody; a repeated failure to extradite suspects wanted for terrorist attacks in other countries; the deliberate leaking of hundreds of top-secret intelligence documents about pending investigations to senior al Qaeda members, by Bosnian officials sympathetic to the jihad; and a multitude of disasters narrowly averted in the form of foiled assassinations, kidnappings and terrorist attacks (including against the US and UK Embassies).

Many of the facts regarding the role foreign Islamic radical groups played in Bosnia’s military, intelligence and political development during and after the 1992-95 war are recounted in former NSA officer and current Naval War College Professor John Schindler’s monograph, Unholy Terror– a book that remains the gold standard for all research on the subject. Reviewed by in 2008 in two parts (part one here and part two here), the book is required reading for anyone wishing to understand the real role that foreign mujahedin and governments like Iran and Saudi Arabia have played in Bosnia, and the underlying desires of the country’s wartime rulers to create an Islamic state – and not a multicultural, Jeffersonian democracy – out of Bosnia.

While it will always remain appealing to a small minority of the population, Islamic radicalization in Bosnia is thus one of the most troubling parts of the legacy left by the country’s wartime architects- and one that was eminently avoidable. As Schindler writes, “in 1990, no Islamic society on earth was better positioned to reject jihad and realize a modern, reformed version of Islam than Bosnia.” Yet nevertheless, “a tiny coterie of extremists” proved capable of manipulating the war and its rhetoric, along with democratic elections, to advance their agenda while telling different sides what they wanted or needed to hear. It is thus no surprise that each successive attack or attempted attack in Bosnia has been met with consternation from security professionals.

Political Calculations

However, along with security professionals, there are also politicians. They tend to approach things from a different point of view.

There are few places on earth more rhetorically combustible than Bosnia and, at the same time, more frozen in the collective memory. The 1990s war there was one of the world’s last ‘pre-internet’ conflicts; the reports and narratives of a very few powerful governments, media authors and public relations firms wielded a control and shaping influence, one that would now be considered disproportionate, over the print and visual medias’ narrative of the event.

This led to the ossification of controversial viewpoints and narratives, which remain (despite the existence of a much wider range of information today, thanks to the internet) the fundamental basis for the popular understanding of the country and the conflict on both historical and conceptual levels; while correctives to the record have been made, as is so often the case, the first impressions are what stuck.

Such a scenario breeds both challenges to the prevailing narrative, and even fiercer reactions to those who challenge it. And this is taken as customary; indeed, the man commissioned by the Dutch government to write a comprehensive and impartial account of the war (a phenomenal work later published as Intelligence and the War in Bosnia), intelligence historian Cees Wiebes wryly noted a few years ago that “if you do not have a black-and-white picture of the Bosnian war, then something is apparently wrong with you.”

To appreciate what this has to do with how the US might or might not handle the current situation, one must appreciate that within the Obama/Biden/Clinton administration are found not only individuals who owe their careers and legacies to a certain understanding of US intervention in the Balkans during the 1990s, but also individuals who do not have a relation to the Balkan interventions, but who have been put in power because of others who do. This understanding has been deeply institutionalized, to the point where it is now driving US policy in other global hot spots like Libya and Syria.

This was actually specifically noted recently by Philip H. Gordon, Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs in a November 15, 2011 speech before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia. “Many officials in this Administration have a deep connection with the Balkans, as our understanding of international diplomacy was shaped by the tragic conflicts of the 1990s,” he stated.

Gordon added that “it is no accident that Vice-President Biden visited the western Balkans just four months into the job, while Secretary of State Clinton travelled there in October of last year.”

This special day in Congress devoted to the Balkans was one of the only cases so far in which the attack has been discussed by high-level officials publicly, though even then it was largely overshadowed by discussion of other goings-on in the region. The proceedings provide insight into the tacit reasons for why State Department decision-makers have chosen to react to the attack in a milquetoast, almost conciliatory way.

Indeed, describing the Bosnian government as “a steadfast partner in the fight against international terrorism,” Gordon noted that “we saw this first hand on October 28, when the US Embassy in Sarajevo was attacked by a gunman. Local police forces – one of whom was regrettably injured – responded swiftly to stop the attack on the Embassy compound.” (How the adverb ‘swiftly’ was chosen here to describe an episode in which the Bosnian police were held down for almost a half hour by a single rambling gunman will have to remain a mystery for the ages).

Speaking for, a State Department insider who has worked with most of its current Balkan team at one point or another agreed that the undersecretary’s rather charitable characterization of the Bosnian police response was not accidental. “[Gordon] wanted to send a message,” the insider relates. “It was to reassure [the Bosnian government] hey, don’t worry, good relations will be preserved in public- whether the Bosnians were criticized in private, I don’t know.”

At the November 15 event, the undersecretary went on to praise Bosnia’s cooperation in shutting down radical [Islamic] NGOs and deporting “extremists who
illegally entered the country” in recent years. Unsurprisingly no discussion was broached regarding the circumstances under which such groups were allowed to operate in Bosnia in the first place, or why and how such foreign radicals had ever arrived there.

Entering into that topic would get into the obvious legacy concerns (that is, the impulse to play down anything that could be a potential embarrassment or threat to the legacy of US intervention in Bosnia). Yet there also seems to have been genuine present-day political calculations at work in the presentation, too.

Indeed, as Undersecretary Gordon noted, “Bosnia and Herzegovina is nearing the end of its two-year rotation on the UN Security Council, where it has provided consistent support for US priorities- including resolutions on Libya and Syria. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a valued contributor to the ISAF mission, including the deployment of a multi-ethnic infantry unit to Helmand province.”

Weighing the value provided by these helpful services against the significance of a botched and ultimately harmless attack, US policy-makers would obviously choose against taking a tough stance with Sarajevo over the October 28 incident. For the diplomatic mind, it’s a no-brainer.

Indeed, what became very clear from the November 15 presentation is that the State Department collectively perceives Bosnia as a key link in an ideological chain of ‘good’ interventionism. Undersecretary Gordon quoted President Obama’s speech of May this year, when the US was beginning to harden its stance against the Libyan regime: “we have always believed that the future of our children and grandchildren will be better if other people’s children and grandchildren are more prosperous and free,” the president had apparently said- “from the beaches of Normandy to the Balkans to Benghazi.”

Give credit to the speechwriter and unknown assistants. The president is, by all accounts, a very intelligent man. That he could articulate such a breathtakingly absurd leap of logic once – let alone have it repeated – indicates the extent to which the doctrine of righteous interventionism is endemic in his administration.

In this light, the existence of Bosnia as a concept – far more than as a mere country – has become so central to America’s current foreign policy makers that it would take much more than one crazed gunman to bring about any sort of policy shift that might reveal the more unsavory results of the Bosnian intervention. There is simply too much at stake for too many people.

Security Policy Implications?

Politics aside, one question that many would like to see answered is whether the October 28 attack will have any effect on US security policy, in Bosnia or more widely. Here responses became more varied. The last major US infrastructure security policy occurred after 9/11. Since then, embassies have increasingly become more fortified and relocated further from congested city centers. Any changes made in thus might thus be categorized as pre-necessitated by that policy.

“Obviously, this is an unusual incident,” stated John Pike, director of the prominent security website for “And unusual incidents are usually the focus of a review of standing procedures to see what, if anything might be changed going forward, given the possibility that this might be the first indication of a pattern of future incidents.”

For his part, Bosnian analyst Alic states that “there have been no announcements of a change in security procedures on the part of the US Embassy in Sarajevo as a result of the Jašarević incident. The newly built embassy enjoys top-notch security.”

Speaking of the unusually slow police reaction, the Bosnian analyst adds that “the poor reaction time, largely a result of jurisdiction ambiguity, was not made a public issue by US embassy officials and FBI officials who visited Sarajevo following the incident. In fact, they commended police efforts to halt Jašarević… from all appearances, they are treating this as a one-off incident – a lone-wolf undertaking,” concludes Alic.

It is probably too early to know what US security planners will come up with (if anything). But to get a sense of how they might be thinking, or what might motivate their actions, valuable insight can be provided from another perspective.

An Outside View: Assessing the Phenomenon of ‘Near-Miss’ Attacks

Valuable outside perspective on the Jašarević case comes from groundbreaking research being done on the phenomenon of “near-miss” terrorist attacks by two professors in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. Robin Dillon-Merrill and Catherine Tinsley have worked on several research projects involving the Department of Homeland Security, NASA and the private sector on the complex factors that go into individual perception of the significance of unexpected events, how this is internalized and how it might affect group perception – this, by extension, can be enlightening for understanding the factors behind security policy planning.

In January 2011, Professors Dillon-Merrill and Tinsley embarked on a long-term project for the DHS, through the University of Southern California-based CREATE (National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorist Events). The research project, titled The Perception of Near-Miss Events, looks at how people perceive failed terrorist attacks (in which disaster is narrowly averted because of luck, chance, last-minute interference or other unexpected factors) differently from successful attacks.

The five-year study will attempt to show how comprehension of these and similar near-miss events tend to influence decision-making, risk calculation and in turn the response to such events. Speaking with regarding the case of Bosnia, Professors Dillon-Merrill and Tinsley discussed their views on how the failed attack can be evaluated compared to other near-miss events they have studied, and what this might mean for US security policy in this case. Their outside testimony is revealing, and indicates a remarkable convergence with the informed views of sources cited above- persons who, unlike the academics, have personal knowledge of the situation on the ground.

An intriguing and surprising result the academics have discovered in their research is that in processing near-miss events, people tend to trust the system; even if they acknowledge that a disaster was averted due to luck or chance, they still tend to give authorities or preventive mechanisms the benefit of the doubt in general. It is only in the case of serious catastrophe that people tend to judge the system more harshly or push for policy changes.

Scholars distinguish between two types of bias people tend to use when processing events, the motivational and the cognitive. “A motivational bias is when you really want a certain outcome and don’t see things that contradict what you focus on,” says Professor Dillon-Merrill. “A cognitive bias is where people just think that if the outcome is a success, the process was successful, and vice versa.”

Having examined the October 28 attack in Bosnia, and the as-of-yet muted reactions to it, Professor Tinsley attests that “we think that this is a good example of a very cognitive process… but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t motivational biases happening as well on top of this.”

According to this model, therefore, the failure of Jašarević to cause serious damage or fatalities means that the near-miss attack can largely be classified as a “success” (motivational bias), while the general absence of public concern from US policymakers and the media after it highlights a strong determination to emphasize Bosnia’s – and their own – larger achievements over the visible shortcomings indicated by the attack (a motivational bias). This conforms precisely to the tenor of reactions we have seen thus far.

What could this reaction indicate for the future? Drawing on research already undertaken on terrorist attacks, technical failures, natural disasters and business-related problems, Professor Tinsley notes that “people have shown the tendency to accept anomalies as normal… and we’ve seen from previous cases that multiple near-miss events preceded real disasters.”

Although the theory surrounding near-miss events has emerged from cumulative data from a variety of respondent backgrounds (i.e., not only personnel involved in the security sector), some vital security branches studied have shown a tendency for underestimating the significance of near-miss events. If underestimating real threats is also endemic to the US security establishment, additional factors too may be at work.

“What we are seeing in the culture of DHS is that people want to prove that they are doing well,” states Professor Tinsley. “So everything becomes about proving how good they are. Everybody there wants to prove there aren’t problems, so they don’t have a culture that wants to identify every single potential threat as something we should worry about or address.”

Therefore, Professor Dillon-Merrill explains that, in regard to the Bosnia attack, “this general mindset – on top of the fact that they had a good outcome, and nobody got hurt – those two things combined leave us not optimistic that anyone will learn from this particular near-miss event.”

What, therefore, could move sluggish policy planners to act? The professors have some recommendations. Here they also refer to conclusions they have laid out in an article called “How to Avoid Catastrophe,” co-published in the Harvard Business Review in April of this year. The article recommends seven strategies for finding the causes of near-miss events and thus for minimizing the chances that they could happen again.

These are: to be extra vigilant in high-pressure environments focused on meeting goals or responsibilities; to learn from deviations/anomalous events; to uncover root causes; to demand accountability; to consider worst-case scenarios; to evaluate projects at every stage, and finally to reward those who own up for mistakes made.

Although this list of suggested strategies is eminently sound, those familiar with the Balkans and US diplomacy will find it hard to imagine that several if any of these will be implemented on a routine basis, for various reasons. Yet when it comes to counter-terrorism efforts, avoidance of the issue can make things even worse, as the researchers are now discovering.

“The biggest message we have been finding recently is that this is a very implicit process that happens,” notes Professor Tinsley. “With an event like terrorism – an event in this certain category – when you have a near-miss, the whole category of events starts to seem a little less dangerous, which points to outcome bias…. The challenge is to ask the question of ‘what could of happened if certain factors were not present on that day?’”

Indeed, as the authors’ CREATE working paper notes, “unless expressly advised to do so, people tend not to think through the potential negative consequences of near misses.” They note that what needs to happen is to “fix the culture” of the security sector, and to acknowledge that the media and public in general can play an important role in this regard.

For example, they point out the case of the ‘underwear bomber’ plot of Christmas 2009, when an Islamic radical tried to blow up a plane but was thwarted when he could not make the explosive ignite and a fellow passenger tackled him. “Because the event was a near-miss, because it did not succeed, we saw [DHS Secretary] Janet Napolitano saying ‘the system worked’” notes Professor Tinsley. “However, then a journalist raised their voice, and noted that actually it didn’t, and asked how explosives could have gotten onto the plane in the first place- that is the value of the media.”

Explosive Possibilities: A Test Run, Power Projection, or Something Other?

One intriguing new media piece to bring attention to the Bosnia case takes a new look at the possible motive of the October 28 attack. Having interviewed officials involved with the investigation, Italian journalist Riccardo Ghia recently reported that the October 28 attack could actually have been a dry run for one or more larger attacks to come.

“Investigators fear that the shootout in front of the embassy was a test to probe the response of police forces and embassy staff,” reported Ghia. “Jašarević’s action might be the beginning of a string of attacks led by Islamic extremists.”

Others are more doubtful. “Jašarević was ‘off script’ [with his attack] since Bosnia and the whole region are viewed by [al Qaeda and other terrorist groups] as a safe space to do business and prepare a sanctuary if it ever gets hot in West/Central Europe for them,” said one American counterterrorism expert with intimate knowledge of the issue for “Messing that up with random attacks is not part of the plan.”

Nevertheless, another expert, former NSA officer John Schindler listed in his book an impressive catalogue of attacks or attempted attacks in Bosnia over the years – many of which were not at all ‘lone wolf’ events, but centrally-organized plots. It is thus not impossible that an appetite for larger attacks may still exist among radicals in Bosnia, whether or not the Jašarević case was itself one.

Some of the “spectaculars” Schindler narrated include several attempts to attack the US and British embassies between 1997 and 2005, and an attempt to murder Pope John Paul II when he visited Sarajevo in April 1997, which very nearly succeeded. Had the most popular Pope in living memory been blown up by mujahedin, it would have changed the perception of Bosnia forever; but, as a ‘near-miss’ event, few now even remember that it almost occurred.

There are also fears that the arrest of Jašarević and three of his alleged accomplices is insignificant, if other, more important collaborators remain at large. In his recent article, Italian journalist Ghia reports that investigators believe the “mastermind” of the attack remains at large: he may be the Egyptian-born Imad al Misr, who was “detained in Egypt between 2001 and 2009 after being extradited from Bosnia under US pressure on the BiH government. Once he was released, he reappeared in the Balkans.”

Other security officers analyzing the unusual case also have concerns. An intelligence agent from another Balkan country, surveyed by before Ghia’s article was published, noted independently that “there are some other questions: was this a real attack? Did the young Wahhab really want to make any casualties or not? What was the signal, and to whom was this signal [being] sent?”

The officer, who has spent years studying the Balkan Wahhabi movement from the field, believes it likely that “this was not a real attack. But there was a message, which says- we are still here. We can make you crazy if, where and when we want.”

Indeed, for the vocal, if still small Bosnian Wahhabi groups and their foreign supporters, an assessment of the general situation would see the botched attack as a win-win situation. Judging from past experience, the suspect – who, after all, did not kill anyone – will likely get off lightly, and investigators will show little interest in following up so long as there is no pressure from Western authorities.

The latter have, since 1995, been far more concentrated on overseeing general political and cohabitation issues – basically, trying to force different groups to live together who really don’t want to – by dealing with antagonistic local politicians, and anyway do not have sufficient interest to really crack down. After all, extremists associated with fundamentalist enclaves like Gornja Maoca have for years been involved in violent attacks on fellow Bosnians, but remain relatively unscathed.

So, what if Jašarević had actually been martyred by police, a goal he apparently sought to achive? His lawyer has already said he will probably plead insanity. As the American counterintelligence expert told, “Jašarević appears to have serious mental issues, but whether he was chosen for that reason cannot yet be determined- though mujahedin groups have certainly done that sort of thing many times.” In Bosnia as elsewhere, front charities have preyed upon vulnerable populations like the mentally disturbed, drug addicts and war orphans to recruit foot soldiers.

“Have a look at the profile of the actor,” adds the Balkan intelligence officer. “He was young, not well military-trained… he had very few, and low-level contacts in the larger Wahhabi movement.” According to this thinking, Jašarević was “expendable” if shot by police and, if captured, he would not possess any deeper knowledge that might endanger terrorist higher-ups or networks.

This prospect brings us to the stark reality of Europe and Bosnia today. In his article, Italian journalist Riccardo Ghia cites the fictional (but based on reality) work of noted Italian counter-terrorism expert Antonio Evangelista. This novel, entitled Madrasse, depicts “a jihadist offensive at the heart of Europe,” the actors in which are from “a generation of 20-something people like Jašarević, who have been brought up and educated by ex-mujahideen who had arrived in Bosnia to fight against the Serbs and the Croats, alongside their Muslim brothers.”

Austria: Connections and Complications

Mevlid Jašarević was born in Serbia’s Muslim-majority Sandzak region, was radicalized in Austria, and came under the influence of Wahhabi groups in Bosnia. This pattern is not unique to him. The Army Intelligence officer surveyed by noted that “the Saudi-funded Sandzak-Bosnia-Austria-Germany Wahhabi network is a relatively small net, and the members cross paths, have similar goals and resources.”

Vienna’s identity as a vital hub for al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups has been known for many years. In February 1987, Sudanese doctor Al-Fatih Ali Hassanein opened a charity there known as the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA), that US investigators later found to be closely linked with al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Long close with Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Sudan, he had known Bosnia’s first leader (and primary architect of an Islamist state) Alija Izetbegovic since 1970, and would later place top SDA party officials and Mustafa Ceric in high positions in key branch offices, according to John Schindler’s Unholy Terror.

Further, after the war, it was determined that some “$2.5 billion in Islamic aid” had been laundered by the TWRA and sent to Bosnia’s leaders for war and proselytizing purposes. The organization, with numerous Austrian bank accounts, was the ultimate controller of massive funds raised in the Muslim world, and graft and corruption among Bosnian officials was legendary.

Why Austria? The former NSA officer described it succinctly. “Long a spy’s paradise, Vienna offered welcoming banks, strong financial secrecy laws and a police force that rarely asked too many questions,” Schindler wrote. “Austria’s state police (Staatspolizei or STAPO), had a well-deserved reputation as a security service that looked the other way, particularly if the questionable activities were aimed outside Austria.” The TWRA was only shut down in 1995, when its leader relocated it in Istanbul (fleeing Turkey only after 9/11). Yet the background infrastructure the organization created there, and the presence of radical imams and mujahedin among Bosnian émigré populations, would remain.

Other authorities, such as the US counter-terrorism expert cited above, believe that the basic role of Vienna, though less dramatic in peacetime, is similar today. “Austria gives [the Wahhabis] a nice safe place to recruit and raise money,” thus minimizing the chances that either will Austrian police crack down, and that extremists “are unlikely to hit Austrian interests, as well.” Thus, while some of the most prominent charities, such as TWRA, have long been shut down, it appears that radical Islamist groups and the Austrian authorities have maintained a wary symbiosis.

Some of the new figures on the Bosnia-related scene in Vienna have come to the attention of both the police and analysts. In a Jamestown Foundation report of January 2011, Sarajevo-based analyst Alic highlighted the role of another Sandzak-born Muslim, Nedzad Balkan, who had previously studied in Saudi Arabia. “Intelligence sources believe that Balkan is the leader of the Bosnian and Serbian Takfiri followers,” revealed Alic. “Takfiri ideology is classified as a violent offshoot of the Salafi movement, sanctioning acts of violence, particularly against fellow Muslims, as legitimate methods of achieving religious or political goals.”

Alic also discussed how in 2007 Vienna’s Sahaba Mosque, associated with Balkan, “came under scrutiny during the terror investigation of Bosnian Muslims who tried to attack the American Embassy in Vienna” that same year, while in 2008 the mosque again “was placed under surveillance when it became known that the suspected producer of a video threatening violence against the Austrian Government frequented the prayer room.”

Speaking for recently, Alic reminded that “Jašarević’s family members say that his ‘radicalization’ occurred during his time in Vienna, where he frequented Takfiri sermons.” Adds Alic, “Jašarević runs in the same circles as Nedzad Balkan, and they are connected insofar as they are members of the same community, followers of the same ideology, but there is no evidence that this incident [of October 28] was in any way organized by or linked to Balkan.”

Indeed, the controversial Islamist leader has denied any involvement and Austrian media relates that the police have thus far found no evidence linking him to the October 28 attack. Thus, while Austrian police have been investigating extremists such as Balkan for several years, Alic concludes, “they do not have enough concrete evidence to warrant their deportation at this point, and would not engage in this without the proper protocol.”

There may be other reasons to expect that Austria will not take decisive measures against extremists in its midst. Along with its record of relative disinterest in the past, this may also be related to recently enhanced relations with the main force behind Wahhabism in the Balkans, Saudi Arabia- something that has caused alarm among Austria’s moderate Muslim communities.

Two weeks before the US Embassy attack, on October 13, Saudi Arabia, Austria and Spain – with support from the Vatican – signed a document to found the “King Abdullah Center for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue.” According to an Austrian media article, the center should be opened by mid-2012 at the latest, “in one of the palaces on the Vienna Ring Road. This provoked the horror of the Austrian Muslim liberal leadership which organized protest actions at Vienna’s Albertina Square.”

The protest was meant to draw public attention to the dangers of the intolerant brand of Islam pushed by the Saudis. The newspaper report wryly hints that Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, who has given support to the initiative, may also be considering “the business deals that Austria might make with Saudis in the aftermath.”

Protest leaders who were surveyed by the Austrian journalists questioned the Saudis’ real motives, referring to the repressive attitude of the Wahhabi creed. “And precisely these people want to lead a religious dialogue?” asked one indignant protester. “These Wahhabis represent 1% of Muslims worldwide and don’t recognize the other 99%, who belong to other Muslim religious communities, not to mention non-Muslims. When Saudis open a ‘dialogue center, they don’t mean dialogue, but direct intervention as they see it.”

However, Austrian Foreign Ministry officials have downplayed any Wahhabi problem from this center – said to be a personal initiative of the Saudi king himself – “because all religions (both monotheistic and polytheistic) will participate,” including the Vatican, reported Wiener Zeitung. (Possibly however the Muslims themselves are better situated to understand the significance of a large Saudi center in the middle of Vienna than is Mr Spindelegger).

The new center will probably not become a place for overt radicalization – that would be too obvious – but through it, as with the massive King Fahd Mosque in Bosnia, the Saudis will seek to increase their political and religious influence in the area.

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