American Center for Democracy
By Dr. Gordon N. Bardos, the president of SEERECON, a strategic advisory and political risk analysis firm specializing on southeastern Europe.
Courtesy to East West Bridge by the author
Since the fall of communism two and a half decades ago, militant Islamism has been planting seeds and spreading roots in various parts of southeastern Europe, particularly the former Yugoslavia. With the help of local allies, militant Islamists have established training bases, recruiting stations, and safe-havens for would-be terrorists and terrorists on the run. The extent of the problem became obvious when the late Richard Holbrooke noted that “if it had not been for the Dayton Peace Accords, 9/11 would probably have been planned in Bosnia, not in Afghanistan.” [i] Indeed, almost every major terrorist action of the recent past has roots or connections to the Balkans.[ii]
Given the Balkans’ emergence as a new front for militant Islamists, understanding the ideology and beliefs driving the movement has become important for western security interests, and for the ramifications they may have on plans to integrate the region into Euro-Atlantic political and economic structures. Unfortunately, a thorough review of the ideology, beliefs, and values of these groups is cause for considerable concern. What has been developing in southeastern Europe is a movement based on extreme forms of religious and ethnic intolerance, opposed to modern conceptions of democracy, human rights and civil liberties, and virulently anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli. While at present these individuals and groups account for only 5-10 percent of the Muslim populations in the region, they are already complicating western efforts to establish the tolerant, democratic, multiethnic states and societies Washington and Brussels claim as their goal in the Balkans. Moreover, they are providing a dangerous stepping stone for the global jihad’s efforts to launch attacks in Europe and beyond.
The origins of militant Islamism in southeastern Europe can be most directly traced to the life and work of Bosnia’s late Islamist president, Alija Izetbegović. As one long-time Izetbegović observer, Zlatko Dizdarević (the former head of Bosnia’s Helsinki Human Rights Committee) noted in 1999,
. . . there is an infinite amount of proof for the claim that in the case of Izetbegović we are talking about a consistent concept of life and politics which he has realized, from which he has not stepped back, and which he, in the end, has realized . . . today we are the victims of a consistent view of the world which has shown itself to be fundamentally conservative, anachronistic, and fundamentally unacceptable for modern politics and the modern way of life . . . when you today read that same text and know that behind it in these ten years has existed the possibility of realizing that platform with the support of something which is called the state, which are called institutions of that state, such as the army, the police, etc., that those things, which 10 or 30 years ago one could proclaim a citizen’s right to their own opinion, grows into something which has a different dimension . . . the Islamic Declaration has been realized.[iii]
On the eve of World War II, and together with other young people of similar persuasion, Izetbegović founded a group called the Mladi Muslimani (“Young Muslims”) dedicated to raising Muslim religious and ethnic consciousness, and of creating, in Izetbegović’s own words, “one great Muslim state,”[iv] or as one author has described it, an “Islamistan” throughout the Balkans, northern Africa, and the Middle-East.[v]
The mindset and goals of the Mladi Muslimani are clear from the oath they swore upon joining the organization:
. . . I swear by the Almighty Allah that I will abide by all the instructions of the Koran . . . and uncompromisingly struggle against everything non-Islamic . . . I pray to the Almighty that he gives me will, strength, courage, and perseverance on this path of jihad.[vi]
Tellingly, the name chosen for the journal the Mladi Muslimani surreptitiously published was Mudžahid (“Holy Warrior”).
Izetbegović’s political goals would remain constant over the coming decades. Anticipating Osama bin Laden’s concept of perpetual jihad by some twenty years, in his most famous political manifesto, the 1970 Islamic Declaration, Izetbegović warned,
There is no peace or co-existence between Islamic faith and non-Islamic social and political institutions . . . Our means are personal example, the book, and the word. When will force be added to these means? The choice of this moment is always a concrete question and depends on a variety of factors. However, one general rule can be postulated: the Islamic movement can and may move to take power once it is morally and numerically strong enough, not only to destroy the existing non-Islamic government, but to build a new Islamic government. [vii]
The fact that Izetbegović devotes a section in the tract to Pakistan (which Izetbegović called “our great hope”)—a religiously “clean” country formed by its violent secession from a larger multi-religious and multi-ethnic entity—had clear implications for Izetbegović’s views regarding multi-religious, multi-ethnic Yugoslavia. This is in contrast to the very critical view Izetbegović exhibited in the Islamic Declaration towards reformers in the Muslim world such as Kemal Ataturk; thus, as one scholar has observed, “The [Islamic] Declaration designated Pakistan as a model country to be emulated by Muslim revolutionaries worldwide. The Pakistan parallel also revealed Izetbegović’s vision of Yugoslavia’s fate as analogous to that of India after 1948.”[viii]
In subsequent years, the political philosophy of the Mladi Muslimani and Izetbegović’s Islamic Declaration remained the policy guidebook for the Islamists he led to power in Bosnia. One of Izetbegović’s associates later flushed out his vision for Bosnia in more detail:
The territory controlled by the Bosnian Army after the war will be a Muslim state . . . This is a desire of the Muslim people and, after all, our leaders: secular leader Alija Izetbegović and religious leader Mustafa Cerić (the latter one in a private conversation with me confirmed that the old dream of Alija Izetbegović, member of the organization Young Muslims, has been and remains the establishment of the Muslim state in Bosnia-Herzegovina; finally, his dream is close to realization and “he is not terribly upset because of that”) . . . The Muslim state will have a Muslim ideology, based on Islam, Islamic religious, legal, ethical and social principles, but also on the contents of Western origin which do not contradict Islamic principles . . . The Muslim ideology will be the basis for the complete state and legal system of the future Muslim state, from the state and national symbols, over the ruling national policy, to educational system, social and economic institutions, and of course, the Muslim family as the unit on which the whole state is based . . . the level of personal prosperity, besides personal initiative, will especially depend on the degree to which the individual accepts and applies the principles and spirit of the Muslim ideology.[ix]
Indeed, the aforementioned Mustafa Cerić, one of the founders of Izetbegović’s Islamist party and his handpicked choice to be head of Bosnia’s Islamic Community, would in September 1992 call on Muslims around the world to support the Bosnian jihad against the ongoing Croat and Serb “crusade.”[x] Izetbegović’s war effort would subsequently take on other rhetorical trappings of jihad as well, with soldiers who died in Izetbegović’s army being designated “šehids,”[xi] (martyrs for Islam), and individuals who led the war effort, such as Sandžak Muslim vice-president of Bosnia, Ejup Ganić, being officially proclaimed a “Gazi” (i.e., an Islamic warrior against the infidels).[xii]
The view that Bosnia and other Balkan regions are “Muslim” has become a frequent refrain of the militant Islamists. According to a recent statement by the Syrian radical Omar Bakri Muhammed, “When Islam enters a territory, it becomes Islamic, therefore Islam is under obligation to eventually liberate it . . . Spain, for instance, is a Muslim territory. Eastern Europe, as well. Romania, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia … due to its decision to send troops to Afghanistan and Iraq and its military co-operation with Israel, Bulgaria is also a legitimate target.”[xiii] In a similar vein, Bűlent Yildirim, the president of IHH (the Turkish-based Islamist organization that, among other things, sponsored the Mavi Marmara flotilla), claimed that his organization remembers “the murders the Russians, Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians committed in the Ottoman lands.” (emphasis added)[xiv]
Other Islamists frequently express the same views. Elfatih Hassanein, a Sudanese national considered one of Osama bin Laden’s bagmen, and a longtime friend of Izetbegović’s, once noted that “Bosnia, at the end, must be Muslim Bosnia.”[xv] Izetbegović’s former military chief, Sefer Halilović, warned in 1993 that if negotiations to end the war do not lead to a “unitary Bosnia . . . we will realize this kind of state on the battlefield. If Europe doesn’t change its attitude, we will take action and bring terrorism to its territory. Many European cities will be in flames.”[xvi] Bosnian jihad veterans would in fact subsequently go on to carry out bombings in Rijeka, Istanbul, Madrid and London.
More recently, the former head of the Islamic Community in Bosnia, Mustafa Cerić, has begun a campaign for Bosnia to be transformed into a “Bosniac” (i.e., Muslim state), claiming that all other peoples in Europe have their own national states, so Bosnia should be recognized as the Muslim national state.[xvii] Another Muslim politician, Sejfudin Tokić, has picked up this theme, arguing (with respect to Bosnia’s recent October 2013 census), “If there are more than 50% of us [Muslims], Bosnia will be a national state of Bosniaks and we will dominate the other two peoples.”[xviii] In a recent sermon, the Bosnian Wahhabi leader Bilal Bosnić has claimed that everything “from Prijedor to the Sandzak” belongs to Muslims,[xix] and has even claimed that Muslims believe that one day the Vatican will be Muslim. On his deathbed, Alija Izetbegović went so far as to “bequeath” Bosnia to Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.[xx]
The belief that the Balkans are “Muslim lands” of course presupposes the understanding that sharia should ultimately be imposed in the region. Izetbegović, for instance, once told an interlocutor, “what is wrong with the sharia? Is it less humane to cut off a man’s hand than to take several years from his life in prison? You cut off the hand, it is done.”[xxi] Similarly, according to Mustafa Cerić, “Sharia is the basis of faith for every Muslim, about which there is no discussion. Sharia is like the Ten Commandments for Christians.”[xxii] The number of individuals in the region who agree with such views is not negligible. A 2013 Pew Research survey reveals that 36 percent of Muslims in southeastern Europe believe in severe corporal punishment for criminals, and 13 percent favor executing people who leave Islam. The same poll also found that 20 percent of Muslims in Kosovo and 15 percent in Bosnia favor making sharia the law of the land.[xxiii]In Bosnia, the push to make public life sharia-compatible has become more and more visible. Wahhabi leaders Nusret Imamović and Bilal Bosnić, for instance, have begun a public lecture campaign speaking on the theme “The Perfection of Sharia, the Danger of Democracy.”[xxiv]
A central tenet in the ideology of Balkan militant Islamists is a virulent form of ethnoreligious intolerance based on extreme interpretations of Islamic texts. Thus, an early essay by one of the founding members of the Mladi Muslimani exhorted Muslims to heed the Koranic injunction “O believers! Do not take infidels for friends in place of believers,”[xxv] a sentiment frequently repeated in Islamist circles today.[xxvi]
يا أيها الذين آمنوا لا تتخذوا اليهود والنصارى أولياء
”O vi koji vjerujete nemojte jevreje i kršćane uzimati za prijatelje ”
“Oh believers, do not take Jews and Christians as friends”[xxvii]
Various manifestations of Islamist supremacist doctrine come out on the websites and in the publications Islamist groups maintain and publish. For instance, one Wahhabi website urges readers to reject international law because it grants non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims, and counsels readers that they should not drink coffee with non-Muslim co-workers—unless they are trying to convert them to Islam. Wahhabis in Bosnia also decry freedom of religion, because then “we Muslims would not be allowed to destroy statues . . . . which are worshipped in spite of Allah.”[xxviii] Grade school textbooks for Islamic religious classes in Bosnia now include the following: “Today Islamic countries are confronted with a form of blackmail: thus, if they want to join the United Nations, they have to tacitly renounce jihad as an organized form of Muslim interest.”[xxix]
Indicative of the ethnic distance Islamists try to cultivate between Muslims and non-Muslims are the views of Izetbegović’s inner circle. Dzemaludin Latić, at one time the leading ideologist of Izetbegović’s Stranka Demokratske Akcije (“Party of Democratic Action,” or SDA) once announced that “spiritually and emotionally, I feel closer to a Muslim in the Philippines than I do to a Croat in Sarajevo,”[xxx] and Latić has similarly endorsed the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death sentence against “the apostate Salman Rushdie,” saying “the Imam Khomeini’s fatwa is a must for every Muslim to carry out.”[xxxi] More recently, a leader of the Wahhabi movement in Bosnia, Bilal Bosnić, gave a sermon in which he claimed “We have to love the one who loves Allah, and hate the one who hates Allah. We have to hate infidels, even if they are our neighbors or live in our homes.”[xxxii]
“The beautiful jihad has risen over Bosnia”
“We have to hate infidels, even if they are our neighbors or live in our homes”
Bosnian Wahhabi leader Bilal Bosnić
Predictably, individuals with such worldviews emphasize religious and racial purity. The aforementioned Latić has vehemently argued against mixed marriages, claiming that “Mixed marriages, a symbol of misunderstood mutual life, are mostly ruined marriages in which big conflicts exist and children are frustrated by their origin.”[xxxiii] Mirsad Ceman, a former secretary-general of Izetbegović’s Islamist party noted that under Izetbegović’s Islamist regime, “a normal Muslim will marry a Muslim woman and others will be the exception,” and Mustafa Cerić once claimed that mixed marriages “are just another form of genocide.”[xxxiv] The effect of such views has been apparent in interethnic marriage rates in places such as Bosnia. Indeed, in contrast to the myth that high levels of interethnic/interreligious marriage took place in Bosnia, on average less than seven percent of Bosnian Muslims married individuals from a different ethnic or religious group.[xxxv]
Taking the racial purity concept to the extreme, some historians have recently claimed that Balkan Muslims even have few blood ties with their Slavic neighbors; thus, the author of a recent history text claims that “the Bosnian Slavs, later the Bošnjaks or Bosnian Muslims . . . mixed very little with other peoples . . . Bošnjaks rarely mixed blood even with other non-Slavic Muslims, despite their strong spiritual ties with the Islamic Orient.”[xxxvi] This theme has been taken up by others as well; for instance, the Mufti of the Islamic Community in Serbia, Muamer Zukorlić, urges his followers to claim that they are Illyrs rather than Slavs, to further distinguish themselves from their Croat, Macedonian and Serb Slav neighbors.[xxxvii] Again pointing to the effect that the promotion of such views is having, the aforementioned 2013 Pew Research study found that 93% of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo said that all or most of their close friends were Muslims.[xxxviii]
Another frequent trope of Balkan militant Islamists is the view that non-Muslims cannot “understand” Muslims. In the late 1980s, the anthropologist Tone Bringa related the following discussion she had with a Muslim cleric in the central Bosnian village she studied: “the local hodza (Islamic instructor) reminded me that there was a limit to my friendship with and understanding of the Muslims. Ultimately I was not one of them, I was not Muslim. Furthermore, he warned, always remember that people do one thing, say another, and think a third.”[xxxix] Mustafa Cerić has taken this position to an even more extreme point; on one occasion he criticized a Bosnian Muslim family for hiring a Christian lawyer, because Christians “cannot understand Muslims.”[xl] Such chauvinism and exclusivism takes numerous other forms as well. Bosnian Wahhabi Bilal Bosnić, for instance, recently argued that non-Muslims in Bosnia should be required to pay the jizya, a poll tax imposed on non-Muslims in “Islamic” countries.[xli]
Misogyny is a central feature of the belief system of militant Islamists in the region. Islamist extremists advise their followers that “lazy wives” should be beaten,[xlii] and remind followers that the proper Islamic punishment for unmarried adulterers is 100 lashes, and for married adulterers death by stoning.[xliii] In Kosovo, the mufti of Prizren, Irfan Salihu, publicly claimed in a recent sermon, “Any woman who has intimate acts without being married according to provisions of the Islam is a slut and a bitch . . . Leave the garbage out so everyone will know which of them was used.”[xliv] In Bosnian Wahhabi circles, girls are considered ready to be married at the age of 14, and women who argue with their husbands are deemed to be possessed by demons, the therapy for which is to have their backs cut with razor blades.[xlv] In the Sandžak there have been a number of reports of Wahhabis engaging in female genital mutilation, and in Bosnia Arab “humanitarian organizations” allegedly tried to spread the practice during the war in the 1990s. (It should be stressed that officials of the Islamic Community in the Sandžak condemned the practice.)[xlvi]
Catholics in Bosnia have been under attack as well. As Vatican Radio recently reported, “Christians are massively leaving post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina amid mounting discrimination and Islamization.”[xlvii] Vinko Cardinal Puljić, the Catholic archbishop of Bosnia, claims that although seventy new mosques have been built in Sarajevo alone, building approvals for churches “take years,”[xlviii] and he decried the fact that he had been denied permission to build a new church in Sarajevo for over a decade. Catholic nuns in Sarajevo now only go out in pairs for fear of being attacked by Islamist extremists, and report that Wahhabi bakers refuse to sell them bread, even when it is in plain sight.[xlix] Even Mother Theresa is the object of the Islamists’ intolerance and hatred. In a sermon in Skopje, the radical Kosovo imam Sefket Krasnici claimed that the Macedonian-born Albanian nun, “belongs in the middle of Hell because she did not believe in Allah, the prophet and the Koran …”[l]
The gay community is a predictable target of Islamist extremists. In September 2008, Wahhabis attacked participants in the Sarajevo Gay and Lesbian Festival, after which the chairman of the Bosnian Helsinki Human Rights Commission said that the incident was reminiscent of “the pogroms that happened in the times of Adolf Hitler.”[li] In a recent issue of the mouthpiece of the Wahhabi movement in Bosnia, SAFF, a leading Bosnian Islamist penned an article entitled “The Spectre of Pederasty . . . “ in which the author claims that “Fascism = Pederasty,”[lii] and “Pederasts are the Fathers of Pedophiles.”[liii]
Even Santa Claus has been under attack by the Balkan Islamists. In 1996, Alija Izetbegović initiated the anti-Santa campaign, announcing that “Santa Claus had no business appearing on state television,” and criticizing local Muslims for celebrating New Year’s Eve. He was joined in this effort by Mustafa Cerić, who argued that Santa Claus was “not an appropriate symbol for Muslims.”[liv] In 2008, Sarajevo’s day-care centers banned the Bosnian equivalent of Santa (“Grandfather Frost”) because he was not “part of the Muslim tradition.”[lv]
Other Muslims (and Muslim historical sites) can be the target of such extremists as well. In November 2010, Macedonian Wahhabis set fire to a famous Sufi site in Tetovo, the Harabata Baba Bektashi complex after years of trying to take possession of the site.[lvi] In February 2012, the Sarajevo cantonal education minister resigned due to fears of being assassinated by Islamist extremists. What had earned the minister the wrath of the official Islamic establishment in Sarajevo and other extremists was his proposal that primary students’ grades in religion classes not be factored into their overall grade point averages. A letter sent to the minister’s home stated “Abandon Allah and his religion and the hand of the faithful will get you.” Enclosed was a 7.32 caliber bullet.[lvii] In August 2013, a Sunni extremist offered $20,000 for the murder of a professor at the Faculty of Islamic Sciences in Sarajevo who is a specialist on Shia Islam (an even greater amount was offered if he was killed “with a sword”).[lviii] In November 2013, an NGO activist from Novi Pazar critical of the way young women were being manipulated into wearing the hijab was threatened by local Wahhabis and had to be given police protection.[lix]
Promoting Anti-Semitism & Anti-Americanism
Predictably, the most virulent forms of anti-Semitism are a frequent theme of Balkan Islamist militants. Izetbegović set the tone in his Islamic Declaration when he argued,
the Zionists . . . have in Palestine extended a challenge to the entire Muslim world. Jerusalem is not just a question for the Palestinians, nor a question just for the Arabs. It is a question for all Muslim peoples To hold on to Jerusalem, the Jews must defeat Islam and the Muslims, which—thank God—is beyond their power . . . for the Islamic movement and all Muslims in the world there is only one solution: to continue the struggle, to extend it and prolong it, from day to day and year to year, without consideration for the victims or for how long the conflict might last, until [the Jews] are forced to return every piece of stolen land.[lx]
In January 2009, Mustafa Cerić appeared on a Sarajevo television station calling Israeli actions in Gaza “genocide” and in various parts of Bosnia graffiti and posters equating the Star of David with a swastika appeared.[lxi] (His colleague, Ismet Spahić, has likewise claimed that the Americans are committing “genocide” in Iraq.[lxii])
Bosnian terrorist Adis Medunjanin, accused by US Attorney General Eric Holder of being involved in “the most serious terrorist threat against New York City since 9/11.”
One of the main mouthpieces for the Wahhabi movement in Bosnia is the Sarajevo-based publication SAFF, founded by native Bosnian members of the El Mujahedin brigade who after the war founded the extremist group Aktivna Islamska Omladina (“Active Islamic Youth”). Editors frequently refer to the “terrorist state of Israel” [lxiii] and promote numerous forms of Holocaust denial. Thus, one of SAFF’s most prominent extremists, Fatmir Alispahić, has decried the fact that “Western studies” of the Holocaust are not available in Bosnia, in which readers can learn that no significant amounts of ashes have been found, whereas “six million Jews would have at least produced one hill of dross,” and further points out that these studies claim that at most 300,000 Jews died, mostly of typhus. Alispahić goes on to argue that “Jews . . . through the media industry of the Holocaust, especially film, are deceiving the world about their suffering, so that they can deny Zionist imperialism and crimes.”[lxiv] When the president of the Serb entity in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, sent a message of condolence to the Israeli people on the death of Ariel Sharon, Alispahić retorted by saying that “Ariel Sharon is the Hitler of the second half of the twentieth century . . . the most prominent Zionist criminal.”[lxv] (Significantly, during the celebration of the “Day of Israel” in Banja Luka, the Israeli ambassador to Bosnia, H.E. David Cohen, expressed his thanks to President Dodik by saying “Mr. President, the State of Israel is grateful to you for your personal contribution to ensuring that Bosnia never votes against Israel at the UN or any other international forum. “)[lxvi] Similar views have been expressed by Bilal Bosnić, who has claimed that Jews are those who “create disorder on earth” and believe that “all are slaves, while they are the holy people.”[lxvii]
At the Saudi-funded King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo, a focal point for Islamist extremists in Bosnia, a journalist reported on a sermon preached by Nezim Halilović Muderis, one of Izetbegović’s commanders during the war:
The obliteration of Israel is heralded in a torrent of words. “Zionist terrorists,” the imam thunders from the glass-enclosed pulpit at the end of the mosque. “Animals in human form” have transformed the Gaza Strip into a “concentration camp,” and this marks “the beginning of the end” for the Jewish pseudo-state. Over 4,000 faithful are listening to the religious service in the King Fahd Mosque, named after the late Saudi Arabian monarch King Fahd Bin Abd al-Asis Al Saud. The women sit separately, screened off in the left wing of the building. It is the day of the Khutbah, the great Friday sermon, and the city where the imam has predicted Israel’s demise lies some 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) northwest of Gaza. It is a city in the heart of Europe: Sarajevo.[lxviii]
Another radical Bosnian cleric, Muharem Štulanović, has offered the following views:
There are three foreign-political factors that play a role in creating BiH—America, the Jews, and the Shiites. As far as the Americans are concerned, everything is known. It is one of the main enemies of Muslims and Islam in the world. Furthermore, the Jews are the enemies of Islam, and enemy number one at that. And Judgment Day will not come, that is faithfully in the Hadis and it is true, without the Muslims completely winning. Judgment Day will not come, the conclusion of this world, until the Muslims begin a total battle against the Jews, and in that battle the Jews will be so defeated that they will hide behind every tree and behind every rock. And every tree and every rock will say, “Oh, Muslim, Servant of God, here is a Jew, he has hidden behind me, come and kill him.”
In Macedonia, another radical cleric, Bekir Halimi, the leader of an NGO named Bamiresia, has given verbal support for attacks on synagogues.[lxix] The Syrian conflict has given Balkan militant Islamists an opportunity to try to realize their ambitions. A rough estimate suggests some 500 Balkan militants have joined the Al-Nusra front in Syria, and in a recent interview the Bosnian extremist Bajro Ikanović explained “The goal for all of us is death, especially in the battle against the Jews. Syria is not at all important to us. Our goal is Jerusalem.”[lxx]
“The goal for all of us is death, especially in the battle against the Jews. Syria is not important to us. Our goal is Jerusalem.” Bosnian terrorist/Syrian jihadi Bajro Ikanović
The most extreme forms of anti-Americanism are also a part of the militant Islamist’s trope. Typical of the sentiments expressed on these websites is the following:
Tens of thousands of Iraq veterans, according to the new tactical thinking of the new president, are leisurely stationing themselves in Afghanistan preparing a great offensive against the Taliban . . . I pray to Allah to send these soldiers on the Taliban mines and Taliban ambushes, to make the Taliban bullets precise and their grenades precise.[lxxi]
Support for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda is frequently on evidence. In September 2012, a video surfaced of a group of Albanians in Macedonia gathered in a field singing “Oh Osama, annihilate the American army. Oh Osama, raise the Muslims’ honor. In September 2001 you conquered a power. We all pray for you.”[lxxii]
Sandžak Wahhabi Mevlid Jašarević attacking the US embassy in Sarajevo, October 2011
In a similar vein, the Bosnian Wahhabi Bilal Bosnić has posted a song on YouTube in which he sings
The beautiful jihad has risen over Bosnia
And the Bosnian started calling ‘Allah Akbar” and praying
America had better know I am performing da’wa
God willing, it will be destroyed to its foundations
If you try to harm the mujahideen once more, oh infidels,
Our Taliban brothers will come from all over,
And they will sentence you with their swords.
America and all the other tyrants had better know
that all the Muslims are now like the Taliban,
Jihad, Jihad, oh Allah, will be the redemption of the believers.
Allah Akbar. Allah is my Lord.
Listen, all my brothers, believers from all the world,
With explosives on our chests we pave the way to Paradise.[lxxiii]
The effects of such propaganda on impressionable young people in the region are already apparent. As one specialist on Al Qaeda in the Balkans has noted, in recent years a substitution has been taking place of foreign Islamist terrorists for “second generation” European Muslim converts and “Bosnian reverts.”[lxxiv] This new generation of Balkan militant Islamists have over the past several years been involved in numerous terrorist actions worldwide, from the 2011 plot to bomb the New York subway system, to the September 2012 plot to bomb the Sydney Opera House, to plots to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J., the January 2012 plot to bomb nightclubs in the Tampa Bay area, the October 2011 attack on the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo, the February 2011 murder of two U.S. servicemen at Frankfurt Airport, the June 2010 bombing by Islamist militants of a police station in the central Bosnian town of Bugojno; the July 2009 arrest of natives from Bosnia and Kosovo as Raleigh Group conspiracy; ” the October 2005 plot to bomb western embassies in Sarajevo; and the December 2003 Christmas Eve murder of a Bosnian Croat family as they were leaving their house for Midnight Mass by a Bosnian Wahhabi. U.S. military raids on Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in October-November 2001, turned up evidence that Balkan extremists had made it to Central Asia, as evident in a letter written by Damir Bajrami, a Kosovo native who suggested new targets of opportunity in western countries:
I am interested in suicide operations. I have Kosovo Liberation Army combat experience against Serb and American forces. I need no further training. I recommend (suicide) operations against (amusement) parks like Disney.[lxxv]
Unfortunately, an entirely new cohort of Balkan Islamist militants is currently being trained in the Syrian jihad. Recent reports suggest up to 140 ethnic Albanians are now fighting alongside Islamist groups in Syria,[lxxvi] as well as several hundred citizens of Bosnia & Herzegovina,[lxxvii] a large number of Bosnian émigrés,[lxxviii] and some thirty individuals from the Sandžak.[lxxix] In 2010, a Bosnian security official estimated that there are 3000 potential terrorists in Bosnia,[lxxx] and a former Al Qaeda operative in Bosnia, the Bahraini-born Ali Hamad, has claimed there are some 800 individuals of local origin making up a “white Al Qaeda”: i.e., people who can pass through security checks avoiding racial profiling.[lxxxi]
Rijad Rustempašić, “one of the most notorious and most violent radical Bosnian Muslims.”[lxxxii]
The challenge for local and international policymakers in dealing with the growth of militant Islamism in southeastern Europe is calibrating a response which neither exaggerates nor ignores the threat. Unfortunately, over the past twenty years the tendency has been more toward the latter. Although a majority of the Muslim population in southeastern Europe remains relatively moderate and pro-western (in comparison to Muslim populations in the Middle-East and Central Asia), significant empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests that some five-to-ten percent of the Balkans’ Muslim populations have become radicalized. In Bosnia, this would mean some 100-200,000 people, while in Kosovo perhaps some 50,000. The threat in Bosnia is more serious, however, because (as has been seen above) important segments of the political, religious, and security establishments have close ties to the international jihadist movement.
“The Wahhabis in Bosnia are not a danger to Europe”: International High Representative Valentin Inzko
Even such relatively small numbers, however, provide Islamist militants with numerous ideological, logistical and human assets to seriously threaten American, European, and Israeli interests. The July 2012 attack on a bus full of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, and the recent discovery of a Hezbollah cell tracking Israeli citizens in Cyprus provide further evidence that the international jihad movement has allies in the region that can aid their cause. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the dangerous extent to which militant Islamism has established itself in southeastern Europe, however, however, international officials prefer to ignore the problem. Unfortunately, this is a policy preference southeastern Europe can ill-afford. Balkan militant Islamism is the very antithesis of the “European values” and “democratic values” we are pretending to support and implant in the region. The sooner the U.S and the EU develop a realistic policy for dealing with the problem, the safer everyone in southeastern Europe will be.
* Dr. Gordon N. Bardos is president of SEERECON, a strategic advisory and political risk analysis firm specializing on southeastern Europe. This article is exclusive to ACD
[i] See Holbrooke, “Lessons from Dayton for Iraq,” The Washington Post, 23 April 2008, A21. Considerable evidence substantiates Holbrooke’s claim. Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attack, fought in Bosnia in the 1990s and was given Bosnian citizenship. Two other 9/11 bombers, Khalid al Mindhar and Nawaf al Hamzi, also fought in Izetbegović’s army. See Thomas H. Kean, et. Al., The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York: W.W. Norton & Company), 154. The British journalist Eve-Anne Prentice of The Guardian and German journalist Renate Flottau of Der Spiegel reported meeting Osama Bin Laden in Izetbegović’s office during the war ( see Erich Follath and Gunther Latsch, “Der Prinz und die Terror-GMBH,” Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 15 September 2001), and Bin Laden was in fact given a Bosnian passport by Izetbegović’s foreign ministry (See Senad Pečanin, “I Osama bin-Laden ima bosanski pasoš,” BH Dani 121 (Sarajevo), 24 September 1999 at http://www.bhdani.com/arhiva/121/t212a.htm Accessed on 1 June 2012.) When asked to respond to allegations that he had met bin-Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri during the war, Izetbegović replied “During and after the war I met with thousands of people coming from the Islamic world but I can remember the faces and names of only a few . . . ” See the interview with Izetbegović in Time (European edition), 31 October 2001. The Bosnian politician Sejfudin Tokić has claimed that Council of Europe officials had told him of the existence of a photograph showing Izetbegović with bin-Laden. See Hana Imamović, “Reactions in South East Europe to the Attacks on September 11,” AIMPRESS Sarajevo, 11 October 2001, at http://www.aimpress.ch/dyn/dos/archive/data/2001/11012-dose-01-14.htm Accessed on 29 October 2013 at 12:28am EST.
The core group behind the 9/11 attacks was Al Qaeda’s so-called “Hamburg cell,” composed of seven individuals including Mohammed Atta, the leader of the attack. The man called the “patron” of the Hamburg cell, and “under whose tutelage” the Hamburg cell operated, was Bosnian jihad veteran Mohammed Haydar Zammar; see Peter Finn, “Hamburg’s Cauldron of Terror: Within Cell of 7, Hatred Toward US Grew and Sept. 11 Evolved,” The Washington Post, 11 September 2002, A01. According to an investigation by Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachtrichtdienst (BND) between 1995-1998 a Saudi-owned Sarajevo rental car agency run by Reda Seyam deposited $250,000 into an account controlled by Mamoun Darkanzli, a Syrian-born Hamburg “businessman” with close ties to the 9/11 bombers. Darkanzli himself had been hired to provide rental cars for the agency’s operations in Albania. A 2003 Spanish indictment against Seyam named him “Osama Bin Laden’s financier in Europe.” Ramzi Binalshibh, the self-confessed “coordinator” of the 9/11 attacks, has been reported to have been in Bosnia in 1996. See John Crewdson (with Viola Gienger), “2 Firms Linked to Al Qaeda, Saudi Intelligence Agency,” The Chicago Tribune, 31 March 2004, at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2004-03-31/news/0403310198_1_al-qaeda-saudi-arabian-mamoun-darkazanli Accessed on 7 February 2014 at 9:53am EST. Reda Seyam himself was subsequently implicated in the October 2002 Bali nightclub bombings. In May 2008, the reporter Bakir Hadžiomerović reported on Bosnian Federation TV that Hasan Čengić, one of Alija Izetbegović’s closest political allies, “personally signed a money transfer intended for the Al-Qai’dah 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.” See “Bosnian TV Alleges Muslim Official Linked to 9/11 Attacks,” BBC Monitoring Europe, 9 May 2008. (Available on the LexisNexis Academic database). Accessed on 26 April 2013 at 9:19am EST. One month after the 9/11 attacks, Alija Izetbegović resigned from the last of his public positions (as president of the SDA) despite the fact that only weeks before he had been expected to serve one more term. Upon his death in October 2003 the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced that he had been under investigation for war crimes. The Saudi High Commission for Aid to Bosnia headquartered in Sarajevo has been named as a defendant in the lawsuit brought by 9/11 victims and families in U.S. federal court.
[iii] See the interview with Zlatko Dizdarević in Dani (Sarajevo), No. 124, October 1999. For interesting critiques of Izetbegović’s writings, see Dr. Jasna Samić’s series of articles in Dani (Sarajevo), No. 145, “Cari Arapskog Jezika,” 10 March 2000; and “Zašto postoji nesto a ne ništa?” Dani (Sarajevo), No. 146, 17 March 2000.
[iv] See Izetbegović’s interview in Mladi Muslimani (Sarajevo: Muslimanska Biblioteka, 1991), 53-69. The book features a collection of interesting essays with several of the movement’s original members.
[v] See Mehmedalija Bojić, Historija Bosne i Bošnjaka (Sarajevo: Šahinpašić, 2001), 237-240.
[vi] The “Zakletva” (Oath) of the Mladi Muslimani dates from approximately 1947; see Sead Trkulj, Mladi Muslimani (Zagreb: Globus, 1992), 121.
[vii] See Izetbegović, Islamska Deklaracija (Sarajevo: Bosna, 1990), 22-43. Izetbegovic’s view that “there is no peace or co-existence between Islamic faith and non-Islamic social and political institutions,” anticipates of course the views of Osama bin-Laden and other Islamist extremists some two decades later. As the Rand Corporation terrorism expert Brian Jenkins notes, “for the jihadis, war is a condition, war is perpetual, war is infinite.” See Jim Woolen, “Endless War in bin-Laden’s Whole Point,” available at: http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/story?id=128353&page=1#.T7KCTFLy_IU Accessed on 15 May 2012 at: 12:26pm EST.
[viii] See Vjekoslav Perica, Balkan Idols: Religion and Nationalism in Yugoslav States (New York: Oxford, 2002), 77.
[x] As cited by Ina Merdjanova, Rediscovering the Umma: Muslims in the Balkans between Nationalism and Transnationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 60.
[xi] On the debates in Bosnia over whether it was appropriate to proclaim soldiers killed in Izetbegović’s army “šehids,” see Xavier Bougarel, “Death and the Nationalist: Martyrdom, War Memory and Veteran Identity among Bosnian Muslims,” in Xavier Bougarel, Elissa Helms and Ger Duijzings, eds., The New Bosnian Mosaic: Identities, Memories and Moral Claims in a Post-War Society (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007), 167-191.
[xv] See John Pomfret, “Bosnia’s Muslims Dodged Embargo,” The Washington Post, 22 September 1996, A01.
[xvi] El Pais (Madrid), 27 January 1993, as quoted by Ivo Lucic, “Bosnia and Herzegovina and Terrorism,” National Security and the Future 3-4 (2001), 128.
[xxi] See Brian Hall, The Impossible Country: A Journey Through the Last Days of Yugoslavia (New York: Penguin, 1995), 162.
[xxii] See Zorica Ilić, “Dr. Mustafa Cerić: Od Pohvala do Osuda,” Deutsche Welle, 16 November 2012, at http://www.dw.de/dr-mustafa-ceri%C4%87-od-pohvala-do-osuda/a-16384747 Accessed onn 16 October 2013 at 2:56pm EST. On another occasion, Cerić similarly noted, “Of course if you look at the Sharia of the way it is presented as the poenal (sic) law – cutting the head and cutting the hand on (sic) so on . . . Then of course your understanding of Sharia is fearful and is appalling to you . . . [but] I cannot disavow myself from the Sharia.” See Cerić’s interview, “Second Hour: Dr. Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia,” conducted on 18 March 2007, at http://www.abc.net.au/sundaynights/stories/s1874731.htm Accessed on 10 October 2013 at 3:43pm EST.
[xxiii] See The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics & Society, op. cit., 46.
[xxv] See the essay by Granov entitled “Kako ćemo se boriti,” in Trkulj, Mladi Muslimani, op. cit., 122-125.
[xxvi] For a sampling of such references, see “Srebrenica je Mekka u Bošnjaka,” SAFF (Sarajevo), no. 320, 29 June 2012, 5; the radical Islamist/Wahhabist website, islambosna.com, recently cited the Koranic injunction (5:51) against Muslims taking non-Muslims as friends. See http://moforaja.com/thread.php?postid=1024923, accessed on 18 July 2012, 6:18pm EST; See http://www.putvjernika.com/Fetve-i-odgovori/ispijanje-kahve-sa-nevjernikom-i-propis-el-vela-vel-beraa-privrenost-i-odricanje.html, accessed on 11 March 2013 at 11:08am EST; see also Dzenanna Karup’s interview with several members of the Aktivna Islamska Omladina (AIO), a group with close ties to the Wahhabi’s, where again readers are reminded that Muslims “should not take Jews and Christians as friends,” See Karup, “Kur’an je naš ustav,” BH Dani 72 (Sarajevo), 30 March 1998, available at http://www.bhdani.com/arhiva/72/tekst172.htm, accessed on 25 November 2012 at 11:05am EST.
[xxix] See Maja Radević, “Budučnost obrazovanja u BiH je dobra—jer teško da može biti gora,” Slobodna Bosna (Sarajevo) 840, 13 December 2012, 56.
[xxx] Oslobodjenje (Sarajevo), 26 September 1997, 8.
[xxxi] As quoted by Schindler, Unholy Terror, op. cit., 142.
[xxxiv] As quoted in Roger Cohen, “Bosnians Fear a Rising Islamic Authoritarianism,” The New York Times, 10 October 1994, available at http://www.nytimes.com/1994/10/10/world/bosnians-fear-a-rising-islamic-authoritarianism.html?pagewanted=2&src=pm Accessed on 22 April 2013 at 9:13am EST. Italics added. Indeed, in contrast to the myth that high levels of interethnic/interreligious marriage took place in Bosnia, even before the wars of the 1990s on average less than seven percent of Bosnian Muslims married individuals from a different ethnic or religious group. See Sabrina Ramet, Nationalism and Federalism in Yugoslavia, 1962-1991, 2nd Edition (Bloomington, In: Indiana University Press, 1992), 21. A 1998 United States Information Agency (USIA) public opinion survey also found little evidence of interethnic unions; for instance, 99% of Bosnian Muslim respondents said that their mother had been Muslim, and 98% said their fathers had been Muslims. Among Bosnian Serbs, the respective figures were 95% and 98%, and among Bosnian Croats, the respective figures were 99% and 100%. Source: Public Opinion in Bosnia Hercegovina Volume V: Two Years After Dayton (Washington, DC: United States Information Agency, April 1998), page 171, Tables 159-160.
[xxxv] Ramet, Nationalism and Federalism in Yugoslavia, 21.
[xxxvi] See Imamović, Historija Bošnjaka (Sarajevo: Preporod, 1998), 23.
[xxxvii] See “Zukorlić: Mi Bošnjaci smo poreklom Iliri,” Politika (Belgrade), 6 May 2010.
[xxxviii] See The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics & Society (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2013), 123.
[xxxix][xxxix] See Bringa, Being Muslim the Bosnian Way: Identity and Community in a Central Bosnian Village (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), xvi.
[liii] Fatmir Alispahić, “Pederi su očevi pedofila,” in his collected volume, 40 izabranih kolumni iz Saffa 2003-2013 (Tuzla: Batva, 2013), 85-89.
[lx] See Izetbegović, Islamska Deklaracija, op. cit., 53-54.
[lxii] See Yaroslav Trofimov, Faith at War: A Journey on the Frontlines of Islam From Baghdad to Timbuktu (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005), 292.
[lxiv] See Alispahić’s essay, “Marketing Tragedije,” in 40 izabranih kolumni iz Saffa 2003-2013, op. cit. 25-28.
[lxv] See Alispahić’s comments on his weekly program Defter Hefte which airs on Sarajevo’s TV Igman, broadcast on 19 January 2014 (10th episode).
[lxviii] See Mayr, “The Prophet’s Fifth Column: Islamists Gain Ground in Sarajevo,” op. cit. The reference to Jews as “animals” is not the rant of an isolated extremist, it is relatively mainstream in Islamist religious and political circles. Thus, in 2010, the recently deposed president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, urged Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for Jews and Zionists . . . the descendants of apes and pigs.” See David D. Kirkpatrick, “Morsi’s Slurs Against Jews Stir Concern,” The New York Times, 14 January 2013, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/world/middleeast/egypts-leader-morsi-made-anti-jewish-slurs.html?_r=0 Accessed on 14 March 2013 at 2:02pm EST.
[lxxiv] See Evan Kohmann, “The North African Mujahedin Network,” in Michael A. Innes, ed., Bosnian Security After Dayton: New Perspectives (Oxford: Routledge, 2012) 113.
[lxxv] Jack Kelley, “Bin Laden’s training camps teach curriculum of carnage,” USA Today, 26 November 2001, 1A.
[lxxvi] See Mohammed al-Arnout, “Albanian Islamists Join Syrian War,” Al Monitor, 28 April 2013, at http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2013/04/albanian-kosovo-islamists-join-syria-war.html Accessed on 2 May 2013 at 8:25am EST; and Muhamet Hajrullahu, “Kosovo Muslim Embraces ‘Jihad’ in Syrian War,” Balkan Insight, 13 June 2013, at http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/kosovo-muslim-embraces-jihad-in-syrian-war Accessed on 17 June 2013 at 4:47pm EST. Several Albanians from Macedonia have also allegedly died in the Syrian conflict, although they appear to have been recruited in western Europe; see Sase Dimovski, “Syrian War Claims Macedonian Albanian Lives,” BalkanInsight, 30 August 2013, at http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/syrian-war-claims-macedonian-albanian-lives Accessed on 7 September 2013 at 9:54am EST.
[lxxvii] According to a news report by Večernje Novosti (Belgrade), an analysis produced by the BiH Joint Commission for Security and Defence has determined that 340 BiH citizens have gone to fight in Syria. See M. Filipović, “Džihad preti Evropi!” Večernje Novosti (Belgrade), 27 August 2013, at http://www.novosti.rs/vesti/planeta.300.html:451151-Dzihad-preti-i-Evropi Accessed on 31 August 2013 at 8:15am EST. See also “U Siriji ratovalo 52 bh. državljanina, jedan je poginuo,” Dnevni Avaz (Sarajevo), 17 May 2013, at http://www.avaz.ba/globus/svijet/u-siriji-ratovala-52-bh-drzavljanina-jedan-je-poginuo Accessed on 18 May 2013 at 5:26pm EST. See also Dženana Halimović, “Selafistički borci iz BiH u Siriji: Korijeni iz devedesetih godina,” Radio Slobodna Evropa, 1 June 2013, at http://www.slobodnaevropa.org/content/selafisticki-borci-iz-bih-na-ratistima-sirom-svijeta/25003939.html Accessed on 17 June 2013 at 4:53pm EST; S. Mijatović, “Imena vehabija iz BiH na ratištu u Siriji,” Slobodna Bosna (Sarajevo), 23 May 2013, at http://www.slobodna-bosna.ba/vijest/7996/ekskluzivno_imena_vehabija_iz_bih_na_ratistu_u_siriji.html Accessed on 11 July 2013 at 11:24am EST; S Mijatović, “Bosanci u sirijskom ratu,” Slobodna Bosna (Sarajevo), 17 June 2013, at http://www.slobodna-bosna.ba/vijest/8634/bosanci_u_sirijskom_ratu.html Accessed on 11 July 2013 at 11:27am EST; S. Mijatović, “Gornja Maoča je transit za vehabije koje odlaze u sveti rat,” Slobodna Bosna (Sarajevo), 2 April 2013, at: http://www.slobodna-bosna.ba/vijest/275/gornja_maocha_je_tranzit_za_vehabije_koje_odlaze_u_sveti_rat.html. Accessed on 11 July 2013 at 11:34am EST; Suzana Mijatović, “Bosanski džihad u Siriji: U svojoj vjeri, na tuđoj zemlji,” Slobodna Bosna, 10 October 2013, No. 883, at http://www.slobodna-bosna.ba/login.html?brl=%2Ftekst%2F34643%2Fnovi_zivot_bosanskih_ratnika_u_siriji_hoces_kucu_nadji_zenu.html.