Skip to comments.Bosnia: A Safe Haven for Terrorists?
Posted on 09/26/2001 5:36:49 AM PDT by Voronin
Osama Bin Laden may or may not be directly connected to Islamist groups in Bosnia, but there is little doubt that his message is in the hearts of fundamentalists who found shelter here during and after the war.
by Esad Hecimovic
ZENICA, Bosnia--Like much of the world, Bosnia watched with horror and disbelief the pictures of terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. As soon as the finger of suspicion was pointed at Islamic fundamentalists, Bosnias own encounters with Islamists during and after the 1992-5 war were recalled. Naturally, the alleged ties of the Islamic volunteers who fought in Bosnia with Osama bin Laden, the Saudi dissident who the U.S. authorities suspect was behind the attacks, came into focus once again. The public was also quick to recall the reports in the Bosnian press after the war according to which bin Laden had been granted Bosnian citizenship. Muhamed Besic, the Bosniak-Croat Federation Interior Minister, formally denied that was true.
The November 1995 Dayton Accords which ended the 1992-5 war stipulated the dismantling of the units of foreign volunteers and the departure of foreign instructors from Bosnia. Translated to the language of the Bosnian reality at the time, this provision meant in the first place that foreign Islamic Mujahedeen volunteers leave the country. The obligation was a precondition for NATO troops to come to Bosnia, and later on it was used occasionally as a condition for U.S. economic and intelligence assistance. The issue has soured the relations between the Bosniak Muslim part of the Bosnian leadership with the United States. Janet Bogue, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for european and eurasian affairs, said during her visit to Sarajevo on 15 September that the Bosnian authorities hadnt yet fulfilled their Dayton obligation.
Most Islamic volunteers who remain in Bosnia have in the meantime been granted Bosnian citizenship either through marrying local women or under the provision of the former Citizenship Law that made it possible for foreign members of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ABiH) to obtain citizenship. Interior Minister Besic promised that all such cases, believed to amount to several hundreds, would be examined by a special government commission.
The extent of the U.S. pressure on Bosnian authorities is perhaps best illustrated by Besics 20 September statement in which he pledged that a number of suspected terrorist who hold Bosnian citizenship will soon be handed over to the states demanding their extradition. Three Egyptians who hold Bosnian citizenship are in prison [and] will soon be extradited, most probably to Egypt, and their Bosnian citizenship has been canceled, Besic said, adding that two persons holding Bosnian passports have already been extradited to France as suspected terrorists. He denied rumors that there were terrorist training camps in Bosnia.
The governments tough line on suspected Islamic terrorists is anything but uncontroversial. A number of lawyers have questioned the interior ministers right to invalidate citizenship certificates of those Islamic fighters who were members of the ABiH, except in cases when they fraudulently claimed ABiH membership. Perhaps more worrying are the threats of Islamic groups in Bosnia to retaliate if the government goes ahead with its extradition plans.
Problems arising from stolen or forged identities have been the main obstacle to the investigations so far. When Said Hodzic, a resident of Han Bila near Travnik, was arrested on 27 April, the public was not informed. Hodzic was arrested on the basis of a red warrant issued by Interpol in August 2000. He was tried in absentia in Paris, and sentenced to five years in prison on 6 April this year for dealing in false passports and other documents for Islamic militants in Canada, Europe, and Turkey. Bosnian authorities extradited him to France this summer, despite protests and threats from Islamic groups. Only then did the federal Interior Ministry acknowledged the arrests of a number of former members of the El Mujahid unit upon the arrest orders of France, Egypt, and Croatia where they were wanted on various terrorism-related charges. Established by Islamist groups from abroad and based in central Bosnia, the El Mujahid unit fought on the side of Bosniak Muslims as a part of the ABiH.
At the time of his arrest, Said Hodzic held Bosnian citizenship, granted under the former Citizenship Law. After marrying a Bosnian, he accepted her family name--his real name being Karim Said Atmani. According to U.S. military sources in Bosnia, he is an expert for document counterfeiting for the Algerian Armed Islamic Group usually known under the French abbreviation GIA. In addition to France, Said Atmani has been sought since December 1999 by U.S. and Canadian prosecutors. Bosnian police had claimed he did not reside in Bosnia, but according to the Stars and Stripes, a daily paper for U.S. troops in Bosnia, "U.S. peacekeepers issued a bulletin around New Years 2000 asking troops to keep an eye out for Atmani."
Together with Atmani, Ahmed Ressam was convicted on charges related to terrorism, violence, and property destruction on 6 April in Paris. On the same day, the federal court in Los Angeles found Ressam guilty of attempted terrorist attacks on the millennium celebrations in the United States. French investigative judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere appeared as an expert witness at Ressams trial in Los Angeles. Judge Bruguiere identified Ressam as a member of the upper echelons of the GIA, and a person connected to Osama bin Laden.
Judge Bruguiere confirmed the connection between Ressam and Atmani as former roommates in Montreal, Canada. His statement served as key evidence linking together the so-called Roubaix faction of the Franco-Algerian Mujahedin movement that fought in Bosnia, with bin Laden. Bin Laden himself is not known to have ever been in the Balkans. Cases such as Atmanis give credence to the claims that convicted terrorists frequently found shelter in Bosnia.
In the investigation, Judge Bruguiere spent some time in Zenica, central Bosnia, in 1997. At his request, the cantonal court and police carried out a number of inquiries and hearings. In addition to this investigation, there was also a local investigation. Two members of the Roubaix faction were tried and sentenced to 20 years in prison for banditry. One of the convicts, Mouloud Boughelane, was extradited to France on 1 June, 1999. The other person convicted, Lionel Dumont, escaped from a Sarajevo prison five days before the scheduled extradition. Dumont had found shelter in Bosnia after escaping the shootout following a armed raid by French police on a faction safe house in Roubaix. The Roubaix faction of Franco-Algerian Mujahedeens is the only group that fought in Bosnia for which the international officials have claimed direct links to bin Laden.
There are two other witness accounts of bin Ladens support for the Mujahedin combatants in Bosnia. Both have originated from the witnesses who agreed to testify under the U.S. governments witness protection program at a New York trial following the attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998.
The year 1994 was probably crucial for the extension of bin Ladens network to the Balkans. The crimes of genocide and ethnic cleansing against Bosnian Muslims provoked the anger of the Muslim world in 1994," according to David Ruhnke, the lawyer who represented Khalfana Mohamed at the trial for the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Muslim world responded by sending humanitarian, financial, and military aid--and volunteers. It is believed that parts of this movement later attempted to instigate and organize the Jihad, roughly translated as "struggle" or "Holy War", in the areas inhabited by ethnic Albanians, in Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania.
The largely passive Western attitude toward the genocide against Bosniak Muslims became one of the leitmotifs of bin Ladens Declaration of War against Americans, Jews and Crusaders. Already in the first lines of this writing, which was published in August 1996, bin Laden recalls the Bosnian tragedy: The world is witnessing all this, and not only have they not responded to these evil and cruel events, but they have also denied the right to the helpless people to obtain the necessary weapons to defend themselves. All this is a public conspiracy between the US and their allies, protected and excused by the faithless United Nations. Bin Laden reminds in this statement the youth of Islam, who have fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina that the struggle is not over yet.
This is not peace, this is humiliation. This is not peace, this is a conspiracy to bring down Islam and destroy Muslims. The statement is from the first post-war booklet by Imad el-Misri, one of the key religious leaders of the El Mujahid unit. Where were they for the past three years, when Muslims were slaughtered and cities fell one after another? The real goal of this peace is to stop Muslim conquests and victories, and to extinguish the light of the Islamic sahva (awakening) that started spreading all over the world. Muslims, be wary of this peace and the aims of the West and America. This new peace is, in fact, a new occupation, wrote el-Misri in 1996 in the introduction to his booklet The Plot to Crush Islam and Destroy Muslims in the Most Recent Times.
Imad el-Misri was arrested in Bosnia on 18 July this year upon an Egyptian warrant. The Egyptian embassy in Sarajevo has rejected all requests to reveal the nature of charges against him. El-Misri possesses Bosnian documents in the name of Eslam Durmo, called Imad, son of Ahmed and mother Hayam Hassan, born 18 October 1964 in Cairo. After his marriage to a Bosnian woman, he adopted her family name instead of his previous name, Eslam Ahmed Ahmed Farragala. El-Misri became a father of three. Regardless of his Bosnian documents, the district attorneys office and the Second District Court in Sarajevo concluded on the basis of information provided by the Egyptian embassy in Sarajevo that it had been proved beyond reasonable doubt that the real name of the suspect is Al Husseiny Helmy Arman Ahmed, that he was born on 14 January 1960 in the town of Kene, and that he is a citizen of Egypt. Therefore, el-Misri was suspected of the offense of giving false data.
After eight years of constant activity in central Bosnia and the region of Sarajevo, the number of el-Misris followers is estimated to be in the hundreds, perhaps even thousands. Between 1992 and 1995, more than two thousand Bosniaks went through a forty-day religious training led by el-Misri, which was a precondition for admittance into the El-Mujahid brigade. According to his supporters, el-Misri supervised 19 training sessions during the war, and six after the war. He also held numerous lectures on behalf of the Active Islamic Youth, an organization recruiting young Bosniak Muslims. So far, nobody has claimed that el-Misri belongs to any international Islamic group. Supporters of the Active Islamic Youth are leading a campaign for his release from prison.
The case of Said Atmani is different. He was known as Hisham in Bosnian Islamic circles. There are persistent claims that he is connected to the GIA and the Roubaix faction, linked to bin Laden. A group of Bosnian supporters of the London sheikh Abu Hamza el-Misri threatened to retaliate following his arrest. After the Bosnian government had handed over a Mujahedin to France to be tried by the French under secular laws, a Bosnian group called Supporters of Shariah (SOS) declared on their websites http://www.geocities.com/valabara and www.geocities.com/sos-bosna that we are begging Allah the Almighty to punish all those who participated in imprisonment of the Mujahedeen, either at our hands or through some other punishment. Amin! We are saying publicly that all of you who are participating in imprisonment of the Mujahedeen will feel our punishment on your skin and necks. Blood and martyrdom, as well as imprisonment of any Mujahedeen will be avenged--Inshallah! Each and every action to free the mujahedeen is allowed. The Bosnian faction of the SOS was the only one to publish the translation of bin Ladens Declaration of War into Bosnian.
It is impossible to understand bin Ladens Balkan ties if one simply searches for the cells of his organization Al Qaida. This Arabic word, meaning base, was first used in Afghanistan in the eighties. It essentially referred to bin Ladens training camps for Islamic volunteers in Afghanistan. According to the New York indictment of bin Laden for the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, Al Qaida functions in two ways. It is an independent organization, but it also works in cooperation with other terrorist organizations. The Egyptian organizations, Islamic Jihad and El Gamaa Islamia (Islamic Group), as well as numerous other Jihad factions, are mentioned as groups functioning under the Al Qaida umbrella. But even Pakistani groups, which were widely believed to have been sent to Bosnia by bin Laden, used their own names in Bosnia.
Balkan countries havent been spared from Islamist terrorist attacks. Perhaps the best known one is the explosion of a car bomb in the Croatian port of Rijeka. When Talaat Fuad Qassem was arrested in Zagreb in mid September 1995, El Gamaa Islamia issued a threat to Croatia. A car bomb exploded in front of the police headquarters in Rijeka on 20 October 1995. The explosion destroyed most of the building, killing one and wounding 29 persons. El Gamaa Islamia claimed responsibility a day later, announcing that it would further punish Croatia if Qassem is extradited to Egypt where he had already been sentenced to death by the court-martial in Alexandria in 1992. He had resided as an asylum seeker in Denmark under a pseudonym. He reached Zagreb in transit to Bosnia, with the intention of writing a book about Bosnia. Six years later Abdullah Essindar, also a citizen of Bosnia, was arrested in Zenica. The district attorney in Zenica claimed that he was, in fact, Al Sharif Hassan Mahmud Saad, a citizen of Egypt. Essindar claimed that there had been a misunderstanding because his nickname was Sahar, while Croatia and Egypt were seeking extradition of a man whose nickname was Sahr in connection with the car bomb explosion in Rijeka, in September of 1995. On 20 September Interior Minister Besic said that a person suspected of involvement in the Rijeka bombing had been arrested and would soon be extradited to Croatia. The suspect holds Bosnian citizenship.
The war crimes tribunal in The Hague is not likely to face the problem of suspects elusive identities. The Hague prosecutor is not planning to bring to court any Mujahedin, according to an unnamed tribunal source quoted in the New York Times of 2 September 2001. Instead, three high ranking ABiH officers have been indicted and transferred to The Hague for crimes against Croatian and Serb POWs and civilians in Central Bosnia, which this investigation ascribes to members of the El Mujahid unit. The officers had command responsibility for the El Mujahid unit.
In the minds of Mujahedin supporters, the July arrest of Sheikh el-Misri, and the Hague indictments one week later are a result of a secret operation of America and the Bosnian police, now under communist control, according to Abu Hamza, a Mujahedin veteran of the Bosnian war. The have frequently Islamists vowed to retaliate. Bin Laden may or may not be directly connected to Islamist groups here. There is little doubt though that his message is in the hearts of Islamic fundamentalists in the Balkans.
Ooops. So Kosovo and Macedonia are jihad operation, not "humanitarian catastrophe" as parroted by X42 and ABC gang?
Radical Islamist terrorists could be understood. But how to understand those in the corridors of U.S. power who armed, trained and supported them diplomatically, militarily and with media coverage ?
Now, when U.S. troops in Bosnia and Kosovo are in peril, this requires immediate answer:
Who are supporters of radical islamism in military, dipomacy and intelligence community?
Who are supporters of radical islamism in media and academia?
May Bill Clinton rot in a particularly foul corner of Hell for linking our fate with these Muslim terrorists. They are part and parcel of world-wide Jihad.
You will see the proof of their treachery when we begin operations against the Taliban. The KLA will begin action against NATO, and those Taliban-linked cells in Bosnia will attempt to spread terror in Europe. And yes, again in the USA.
I'll let you know when I figure it out... (but somehow I don't think there is anything to figure out)
How many FReepers supported him? how were pro-Serbian opponents called then? didn't you wish good luck to "Patriots" that were thrown at the Belgrad from safe 500 miles away?
Get some courage and admit that Bill shouldn't be alone in that corner...
We can pray that recent events will change our policy so that Eastern Christians can soon count on American support in opposing the Jihad. Alas, recent pronouncements from the State Dept. on Chechenya and our continued shielding of Albanian and Bosnian Islamists do not bode well. I fear it will take direct attacks on NATO troops in the Balkans by bin Laden's operatives in the Balkans to open eyes in Washington.
Holbrooke and his clique made a exception in this case mainly due to the huge proven offshore oil reserves East Timor has. Guess who is arranging the financing for the billions of dollars of oil drilling ?
and guess who is getting fat consulting fees for advising the "government" of East Timor for the diplomatic negotiations on defining the exact boundries of East Timor's seabed rights vis a vie Austrialia ?
Wouldn't be at all surprised, although some people seem to think that NATO is expecting the KLA to help infiltrate the Taliban.......... have they got a shock coming.
This is indeed true. And can only be explained by a combination of stupidity and liberalism.
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