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The Caliphate

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The Balkan’s ISIS Training Grounds

September 18th 2016

ISIS Group with Flags

The individuals involved with the January and the November 2015 attacks in Paris, the June 2016 attack at Atatűrk International Airport in Istanbul, and the July 2016 Ansbach suicide-bombing in Germany had one thing in common; all spent time in or transited through the Balkans in the preceding period.

None of this is surprising. Already in May 2007, an American observer of Balkan Islam had noted that “a visitor to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia encountered unmistakable evidence that extremist intruders are opening a Balkan front in the global jihad.”  In January 2010 Israeli officials warned that the Balkan region “is global jihad’s next destination for creating an infrastructure and recruiting activists.”

Consequently, as intelligence and security services grapple with the ISIS threat, a key challenge will be dealing with ISIS’s Balkan networks. One aspect of this problem that has already received considerable attention is the large numbers of foreign fighters originating in the region; according to a number of studies, Bosnia and Kosovo provide more jihad volunteers per capita than any other countries in Europe.

Another aspect of the problem is the fact that the Islamic State now instructs devotees to funnel their financial donations through the region. For instance, Turkey and Bosnia (with Bosnia as the preferred option) have been designated by the Islamic State as the best countries through which monetary transfers should be routed. The fact that Bosnia is such an important conduit for ISIS’s financial flows reveals both the continued existence of terrorist networks in the country that are skilled in transferring money and the utter failure of Bosnia’s two-decade old international administration to confront the problem.

For example, in September 2014, Albanian foreign minister Ditmir Bushat acknowledged that terrorist training camps for individuals joining the jihadis in Iraq and Syria had emerged in Albania, and in November 2015 Bosnian security minister Dragan Mektić publicly admitted that there were areas in his country in which the legal authorities could not function because Islamist militants had set up roadblocks and checkpoints, and imposed their own order.

Furthermore, a 2014 Austrian intelligence report affirmed that the Wahhabi milieu in which militant Islamism in southeastern Europe flourishes, is continuing to metastasize and to build new communities. This was followed by a discussion on the Balkan terrorist training camps at the June 2015 G7 Summit at Schloss Elmau.[1]

EUROPOL’s January 2016 report, Changes in modus operandi of Islamic State terrorist attacks, details how training facilities in the Balkans, and within the EU itself, are teaching survival and interrogation-resistance techniques and simulating combat experience under the guise of “sports activities.[2]

In the case of Bosnia, the strategic calculation that goes into choosing an extremist base is evident in the fact that they are usually situated alongside the country’s international borders or along the inter-entity boundary line, and/or in remote, isolated locales such that there is only one point of entry and egress.[3] For instance, Wahhabis have recently founded an outpost in the northeastern Bosnian village of Bosanska Bojna (near Velika Kladuša), only a few dozen meters from the Croatian border. As a recent report in Der Spiegel noted, “those looking to smuggle people, weapons, and money into the EU could hardly find a better place to do so.”[4]

Defending Europe against ISIS will require a comprehensive strategy for dealing with ISIS’ Balkan infrastructure, and most especially ISIS’ recruiting and training facilities in the region. What follows is a brief description and review of the training facilities militant Islamists have set up in the Balkans over the past twenty-five years.

From the Bosnian Jihad to ISIS

The militant Islamist infrastructure in southeastern Europe was largely created during the Bosnian jihad in the 1990s when thousands of mujahedin from the Middle-East and central and southern Asia moved into Bosnia with the tacit acquiescence of the Clinton Administration. U.S. government officials at the time claim they did not recognize or understand what was taking place; thus, according to the late Richard Holbrooke, “we [then] called them mujahedin freedom fighters. We now know that that was Al Qaeda.”[5] Similarly, Richard A. Clarke, the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-Terrorism during the Clinton and Bush Administrations noted that “what we saw unfold in Bosnia was a guidebook to the bin Laden network, although we didn’t recognize it as such at the time . . . Although Western intelligence agencies never labeled [the mudžahedin activities] in Bosnia an al Qaeda jihad, it is now clear that is exactly what it was.”[6]

Mamdouh Mahmoud Salim, a founding member of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden’s personal imam, later told American investigators that their plan was to turn Bosnia into “the base for al Qaeda operations in Europe.”[7] These ambitions were abetted by sympathetic local officials within Izetbegović’s Islamist movement. As a Bahraini-born Al Qaeda operative, Ali Hamad, has noted, “from the political and military leadership in Sarajevo at the time we received the highest privileges and immunity from the police.”[8] Hamad has also revealed that Al Qaeda figures would visit Bosnia with “state protection.”[9]

According to Evan Kohlmann, in the 1990s Bosnia became “[a] new refuge, close to both the heart of Europe and the Middle East . . . an excellent tactical base for espionage, fundraising, and terrorist activities . . . a major center for terrorist recruitment and fundraising. . . a place where recruits could train, coalesce into cells, and seek shelter from prosecution by foreign law enforcement.”[10] Moreover, security experts believe that Bosnia continues to play this role; as Douglas Farah has noted, It is often forgotten that Bosnia played an extremely significant role in the formation of al Qaeda and that the infrastructure established during that war was never eradicated. Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups used Bosnia as a training ground, a financial center, a weapons storage site and a money laundering center.[11]

Al Qaeda dedicated many of its most important operatives to the Bosnian jihad. According to Aimen Deen, another early Al Qaeda member and Bosnian jihad veteran who ultimately switched sides and began working for MI5 and MI6, “Bosnia was a school in which many talented leaders of al-Qaeda were born.”[12] Al Qaeda’s chief of military operations, Ali Amin al-Rashidi, aka “Abu Ubaydah,” trained mudžahedin in Bosnia,[13] and many individuals who later rose to prominence within bin Laden’s organization also received their initial training in Bosnia; for instance, Nasser Abdel al-Bahri, a.k.a. “the Father of Death,” who later became bin Laden’s chief of security, first trained in Bosnia.[14] The Izetbegović regime even gave Khalid Sheikh Muhammed (KSM), the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, a Bosnian passport.[15] (While in Bosnia KSM met two individuals who would later become 9/11 muscle hijackers, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar). Bin Laden himself reportedly went to Bosnia at least three times between 1994-96, during which he visited mudžahedin camps and met with Bosnia’s Islamist president Alija Izetbegović.[16]

In addition to the several thousand foreign mudžahedin who entered Bosnia at this time, between 1992 and 1995 alone some 2000 people are believed to have undergone “religious training” at Al Qaeda affiliated camps such as the one run by Egyptian-born Imad al-Misri.[17] Along with the obligatory religious indoctrination, such Bosnian camps also provided weapons- and explosives training for budding international terrorists.

One of Al Qaeda’s leading bomb experts, Tarik Mahmud Ahmad, was in Bosnia from 1992-1999, after which he went to Afghanistan and ran an explosives curriculum at the Abu Ubaydah camp. Ahmad was suspected of having developed various IED’s for use against American troops and commercial airliners, as well as a prototype shoe-bomb.[18] We do not know exactly whom Ahmad instructed while he was Bosnia, but it is known that individuals involved in the November 1995 bombing of the Saudi National Guard Building in Riyadh,[19] the October 2000 suicide-bomb attack on the USS Cole,[20] the November 2003 Istanbul Bombings,[21] Madrid Train bomber Amer Azizi,[22] the July 2005 London Bombings,[23] the November 2008 Mumbai Bombings,[24] and would-be shoe bomber Saajid Badat,[25] were all in Bosnia at some point in their careers. (Remarkably, Ahmad has recently been released from Guantanamo and sent to . . . Bosnia).

In addition to Al Qaeda, the Iranians ran some five to seven training camps in Bosnia of their own.[26] One such camp NATO shut down in February 1996 after it moved in to Bosnia was outside Sarajevo where “students” were taught, amongst numerous other things, how to manufacture booby-trapped children’s toys, how to engage in ecological terrorism, and how to assassinate Izetbegović’s political opponents. The commander of the camp was Izetbegović’s personal intelligence chief, Bakir Alispahić.[27]

Indeed, worrying evidence of the fact that Islamist hardliners continue to hold prominent positions in Bosnia is seen in the fact that Alispahić remained the head of the security council of Izetbegović’s political party until 2014, despite the fact that he is on the list of individuals banned from entering the United States.

Terror training facilities in Bosnia frequently operate under the cover of being “youth camps” set up in remote areas far from prying eyes, where former mudžahedin take young people into local hills and forests to receive military training and give the new cadres the chance to build the relationships in these extremist networks. As one analysis of this effort described it,

Extremist recruiters, who are likely to be a few years older, take the young people under their care, organizing bonding activities like camping trips and sporting events. The recruiter gradually isolates the recruits from their families and steps into the role of mentor. In this newfound clique, young recruits find the social integration and spiritual space they have yearned for, as radical indoctrination intensifies, and bonds tighten around a shared worldview.[28]

Such camps are intentionally non-permanent to make it more difficult for security officials to track them.[29] Training regimens typically last 6-7 weeks, and involve intensive religious indoctrination, watching videos of jihads in Afghanistan and Iraq,[30] and various weapons training exercises. A source familiar with activities in the headquarters of the Bosnian Wahhabi movement, Gornja Maoča, has reported that instructors there trained volunteers in a variety of urban guerrilla tactics, such as the use of car bombs and the manufacture of other types of explosive devices. These “lectures” are sometimes filmed and distributed in radical-controlled mosques and “Islamic Arts Centers” around Europe.[31] Leaked

Leaked Bundesnachtrichtendienst (BND) reports obtained by German media have described how Arab mudžahedin with Bosnian citizenship train locals the proper techniques to “cut throats [a]nd use explosives.”[32] According to Jűergen Elsässer, a German specialist on Islamist terror groups in the Balkans who had access to Western intelligence agency reports on the situation in Bosnia in 2003-2004, “In those reports it is clearly implied that in rural areas of Bosnia some types of camps exist for terrorist and religious education of young men which are organized by youth groups connected to the SDA . . . these are summer camps whose attendees are indoctrinated in radical Wahhabism and taught how to kill.”[33] The former head of Al Qaeda’s propaganda operation in Germany, Irfan Peci, has described his personal experiences of being instructed in the use of explosives and Kalashnikov’s in Gornja Maoča.[34] In recent years, relatives of individuals who have joined ISIS have similarly claimed that these people have received military training in Bosnia before they are sent to the Middle-East.[35]

Often these camps take on the appearance of survivalist training facilities; for instance, in March 2007, Serbian police raided a camp in the mountainous Sandžak region straddling the border between Serbia and Montenegro, arresting a number of individuals planning to attack western embassies in Belgrade, and seizing weapons, explosives, and food stocks.[36] In March 2008, several remote mountain cottages were discovered in central Bosnia where military equipment was stored and evidence suggested military-style exercises had been held. The cottages were discovered after a map was found in the Sarajevo apartment of Rijad Rustempašić, called by police “one of the most notorious and most violent” radicals in Bosnia.”[37] Of particular concern is the fact that these extremists have access to significant stockpiles of weaponry. In July 2013, a raid near the village of Kalošević in the central Bosnian heartland of the Wahhabi movement uncovered the largest stash of undeclared weaponry and explosives found since the end of the Bosnian jihad, including over 500 rocket-propelled grenades. Local inhabitants of the village claimed the arms and ammunition were hidden there on the order of a high-ranking member of Izetbegović’s party whom Bosnian media

In July 2013, a raid near the village of Kalošević in the central Bosnian heartland of the Wahhabi movement uncovered the largest stash of undeclared weaponry and explosives found since the end of the Bosnian jihad, including over 500 rocket-propelled grenades. Local inhabitants of the village claimed the arms and ammunition were hidden there on the order of a high-ranking member of Izetbegović’s party whom Bosnian media claimed was one of the main local liaisons with Al Qaeda operatives in the country.[38]

These Islamist extremist enclaves often serve as incubators for terrorist violence. Arid Uka, the Kosovo émigré who murdered two U.S. servicemen at Frankfurt Airport in March 2011, spent two months in the town of Zenica, the heartland of the Bosnian Wahhabi movement, in the period leading up to his attacks.[39] Mevludin Jašarević, who spent 45 minutes shooting at the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo in October 2011, had spent the previous few days in Gornja Maoča. (One of Jašarević’s companions that day, Emrah Fojnica, carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq in August 2014.[40]) Nerdin Ibrić spent three days in the extremist enclave of Dubnica before attacking a police station in Zvornik and killing two police officers.[41]

Throughout the western and southern Balkans, extremist-led mosques also serve as bases for militant Islamists. The Saudi-funded King Fahd Mosque and Cultural Center in Sarajevo have been called, “the epicenter of the spreading of radical ideas” in Bosnia,[42] which for a number of years functioned under the direct supervision of the Saudi embassy in Bosnia. The imam of the King Fahd Mosque, Nezim Halilović-Muderis (a former brigade commander during the Bosnian jihad) gives Friday sermons that “are replete with incitement to violence in Israel, Kashmir, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and the Philippines. He preaches the same line on the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq as [was] heard among the acolytes of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.”[43] In 2003, the CIA attempted to infiltrate the King Fahd mosque’s Al Qaeda cells with a Pakistani double agent, Abdulrahman Khadr, the son of a prominent Al Qaeda official. The success of the effort remains unclear.

In 2003, the CIA attempted to infiltrate the King Fahd mosque’s Al Qaeda cells with a Pakistani double agent, Abdulrahman Khadr, the son of a prominent Al Qaeda official. The success of the effort remains unclear.[44] In Kosovo, the Makowitz mosque on the outskirts of Priština and the Mitrovica mosque are reportedly recruiting militants to fight alongside Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria.[45] In Macedonia, Wahhabi extremists have taken control of four mosques in Skopje and are active in western parts of the country as well.[46]

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Unfortunately, shutting down ISIS’ Balkan training grounds and overall infrastructure will be an extremely difficult task. First, international officials are more focused on ignoring or covering up the problem than in dealing with it. They also refuse to confront the militant Islamist’s political backers. In Bosnia, it is widely acknowledged that the Wahhabi movement is supported by hardcore elements within the late Alija Izetbegović’s Islamist party, the Stranka Demokratske Akcije (SDA, the “Party of Democratic Action,”). As Esad Hećimović, a leading Bosnian journalist covering the Islamist terrorist threat in that country has noted, “Terrorists have their protectors at the summit of power . . . Some politicians clearly think that at a given moment the terrorists will be useful.”[47] Indeed, Izetbegović’s wartime military chief-of-staff, Rasim Delić, explicitly said this at the conclusion of the Bosnian jihad when he addressed members of the El Mudžahedin battalion (the Al Qaeda unit within Izetbegović’s army) when he told its members that “this is only the first round . . . further help will be necessary, and remain necessary until Islam is victorious in this world.”[48]

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Along similar lines, an extremely well-connected and informed Bosnian journalist, Nedžad Latić, has claimed that the Wahhabi movement, which provides the backbone of this militant Islamist movement in Bosnia, is directly supported by Izetbegović’s party. According to Latić, “every serious analysis of SDA policy [reveals] the benevolent, and even the protective, relationship of the president of the SDA, Bakir Izetbegović, towards the problem of so-called Islamic radicalism.”[49] Latić has also claimed that “the Salafis in BiH have the ideological and material support of the Arab world, especially wealthy waqfs from Saudi Arabia, and have until now enjoyed the political support of the SDA.” Because of access to such financial resources, and because the Wahhabi’s are naturally inclined to support the SDA against more secular or left-of-center parties, Latić argues that it was practically a certainty that SDA-controlled municipal governments were the ones giving Salafis the necessary legal registrations needed to operate their mosques and prayer rooms.[50]

There is ample evidence to show that hardline Islamists within the Bosnian government have been allowing terrorists and other extremists to operate in their country for the past two decades. In June 1995, Anwar Shaaban, the head of the Islamic Cultural Center in Milan, considered a key figure in coordinating Al Qaeda’s efforts in Bosnia, was tipped off about an impending sweep of Islamist militant operations in northern Italy and promptly fled—to Bosnia, where he had been given citizenship.[51]

A Saudi terrorist named Ahmed Zuhair, a.k.a. Abu Hanzala, wanted in connection with a September 1997 Mostar Car bombing and the November 1995 murder of U.S. citizen William Jefferson near Tuzla, was revealed to have been hiding in the apartment of the Travnik chief of police (American intelligence ultimately captured Zuhair in Pakistan and transferred him to Guantanamo).[52]

In March 1997, a French-Muslim convert, Lionel Dumont (a.k.a. “Abu Hamza”), involved in an attempt to blow up a G-7 meeting in Lille was captured in an apartment belonging to the local Zenica-Doboj cantonal interior ministry, along with a mudžahedin from Djibouti, Biniam Zefferini.[53] Subsequently, in May 1999, Dumont managed to “escape” from a Sarajevo prison—just five days before he was to be extradited to France.[54]

In the summer of 1998, Mamdouh Mahmoud Salim, Osama bin Laden’s personal imam and architect of the August 1998 U.S. African embassy bombings, left Bosnia after being tipped off by Bosnian intelligence agent (and former Alija Izetbegović bodyguard) Munib Zahiragić that he was under surveillance.[55]

In 1999-2000, U.S. and Canadian officials tracked Karim Said Atmani, the document forger for the Millenium Bomb plot (and former roommate of would-be LAX bomber Ahmed Ressam) to Bosnia, where he was known to be traveling between Sarajevo and Istanbul. Bosnian officials denied that Atmani had ever been there—but investigators later discovered that Atmani had been in Bosnia the whole time, had married a local woman, taken the name Said Hodžić, and had even been issued a Bosnian passport.[56]

In 2007, officials in the interior ministry of the Central Bosnian canton even issued orders that investigations of “all activities connected to individuals, groups or organizations connected to the so-called “Wahhabi movement” are to be terminated.” [57]

Attempts by Bosnian government officials to cover up the Islamist extremist threat have also involved obstructing cooperation with international judicial bodies. For instance, between January 2000 and October 2004, Sarajevo officials rejected forty attempts by prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to obtain documentary material related to the involvement of the mudžahedin in the Bosnian army.[58]

Despite the widespread and imminent threat posed by the militant Islamist movement in southeastern Europe, international officials have until recently been very reluctant to confront it.

In September 2014, the U.S. State Department designated two Balkan extremists, Bosnian Wahhabi leader Nusret Imamović and Kosovo jihad Lavdrim Muhaxheri amongst a group of ten “global terrorists,” and there have been arrests and prosecutions of Balkan jihadis in Austria, Italy, and the United States, as well as within the region. Unfortunately, after two decades of neglect, it remains unclear whether all of this is a matter of too little, too late.

Absent a more serious and concerted effort to confront this problem, the Balkans’ militant Islamists will continue to threaten southeastern Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Europe as a whole for a long time to come.

Footnotes:

[1] See Nemanja Rujevic, “Are the Balkans Becoming a Gateway for IS?,” Deutsche Welle, 18 June 2015, at http://www.dw.com/en/are-the-balkans-a-gateway-for-is/a-18526062, accessed on 18 March 2015 at 6:54am EST.

[2] See “Changes in modus operandi of Islamic State terrorist attacks,” Europe (The Hague), 18 January 2016, 6.

[3] See “Terorizam u Zvorniku: pojedinac u službi zajednice,” Federalna.ba, 1 May 2015, http://www.federalna.ba/bhs/vijest/129479/iz-mreze-kalesijski-trougao, accessed on 2 April 2016 at 9:16am EST.

[4] See Walter Mayr, “Sharia Villages: Bosnia’s Islamic State Problem,” Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5 April 2016, at http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/islamic-state-presence-in-bosnia-cause-for-concern-a-1085326.html, accessed on 8 April 2016 at 9:26am EST.

[5] Holbrook made the comments during an interview on the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer, “A New Constitution for Bosnia,” which aired on 22 November 2005.

[6] See Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror (New York: Free Press, 2004), 137-38.

[7]See “United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, United States of America vs. Enaam M. Arnout, Section 5, 68-69.

[8] See Flottau, “Weiße Qaida in Bosnien: ‘Mit Motorsägen zerstückeln’.” Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 3 December 2006 at http://www.spiegel.de/politik/aUSland/weisse-qaida-in-bosnien-mit-motorsaegen-zerstueckeln-a-451729.html
[9] See “Jihad, Bought and Sold,” ISN Security Watch, 26 January 2009, at http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Security-Watch/Articles/Detail/?lng=en&id=95734, accessed on 30 June 2012 at 3:09pm EST.

[10] See Kohlmann, Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network (Oxford: Berg, 2004). xii, 11, 221, and 230, respectively; and Harry de Quetteville, “US Hunts Islamic Militants in Bosnia,” The Telegraph (UK), 26 July 2004 at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/bosnia/1467897/US-hunts-Islamic-militants-in-Bosnia.html, accessed on 2 October 2012 at 8:47am EST.

[11] See Douglas Farah, “London and the Possible Bosnia Connection,” 14 July 2005, at http://counterterrorismblog.org/2005/07/douglas_farah_london_and_the_p.php, accessed on 5 February 2014 at 2:35pm EST. Emphasis added. Similarly, even Bosnia’s former deputy security minister, Dragan Miketić, noted that “all the indicators show that Bosnia is a territory where [terrorists] can come and rest, organize their activities, and then go and carry out [attacks elsewhere.” See Nicholas Wood, “Police Raid Raises Fear of Bosnia as Haven for Terrorists,” op. cit. Similarly, Sarajevo security expert Vlado Azinović has claimed that “The Islamic State probably considers BiH as a territory suitable for logistical support, radicalization, recruiting, transferring their people because of the often dysfunctional security system, and possibly as a recruiting base.” See “Riječ stručnjaka Azinović: Trend odlazaka naših građana na strana ratišta u opadanju,” Dnevni Avaz (Sarajevo), 9 April 2016, at http://www.avaz.ba/clanak/229612/rijec-strucnjaka-azinovic-trend-odlazaka-nasih-gradana-na-strana-ratista-u-opadanju?url=clanak/229612/rijec-strucnjaka-azinovic-trend-odlazaka-nasih-gradana-na-strana-ratista-u-opadanju, accessed on 10 April 2016 at 9:02am EST.

[12] See Aimen Deen’s interview, “The Spy Who Came in From Al Qaeda,”BBC News, 2 March 2015, at http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31700894, accessed on 8 March 2015 at 2:59pm EST.

[13] See Michael Sheuer, Through Our Enemies Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America (Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2002); and Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (New York: Vantage Books, 2011, 2nd Edition), 262.

[14] See Nasser Al-Saqqaf, “From “Father of Death” to Life Coach: The Journey of Osama Bin Laden’s Bodyguard,” The Yemen Times, 30 April 2014, at http://www.yementimes.com/en/1777/intreview/3799/From-%E2%80%98father-of-death%E2%80%99-to-life-coach-The-journey-of-Osama-Bin Laden%E2%80%99s-bodyguard.htm, accessed on 20 September 2014 at 10:13am EST. Abu Jandal also discussed his training in Bosnia in detail to Ali Soufan during interrogations in Yemen; see The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda (New York: Norton, 2011), 330-31.

[15] See Kean, et. al., The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, op. cit., 154; and Richard Miniter, Mastermind: The Many Faces of the 9/11 Architect, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (New York: Penguin, 2011), 63. See also the JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment for Ahmed Zeid Salem Zohair, (ISN US9SA-000669DP (S), 12 May 2008.

[16] See Abdel Bari Atwan, The Secret History of Al Qaeda (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008, Updated Edition), 255; Erich Follath and Gunther Latsch, “Der Prinz und die Terror-GMBH,” Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 15 September 2001; 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; and Yossef Bodansky Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America (New York: Prima Publishing, 2001), 100.

[17] See Giovanni Gacalone, “Il Jihadismo nei Balcani: I Nuovi Focolai Bosniaci” (Milan: Instituto Per Gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, Analysis No. 264, July 2014), 9.

[19] See the JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment “Tarik Mahmud Ahmad.” US9EG-000535DP. Date: 30 September 2008

[19] Bosnian jihad veteran Muslih al-Shamrani was involved in the November 1995 bombing of the Saudi National Guard building in Riyadh in which five Americans and two Indians were killed. al-Shamrani was a Sunni from Saudi Arabia who had participated in the jihad in Afghanistan as well as in Bosnia. He was beheaded by the Saudi government in 1996. See Kohlmann, Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network , op.cit., 158; Peter L. Bergen, Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (New York: Touchstone, 2002), 90; and Joshua Teitelbaum and David Long, “Islamic Politics in Saudi Arabia,” Washington Institute Policy Watch 259 (9 July 1997), at http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/islamic-politics-in-saudi-arabia, accessed on 7 January 2015 at 4:04pm EST.

[20] See “Verbatim Transcript of Combatant Status Review Tribunal Hearing for ISN 10015,” at http://www.defense.gov/news/transcript_isn10015.pdf, accessed on 25 November 2013 at 12:09pm EST. Bosnian jihad veterans Ibrahim al-Thawar, alias “Nibras,” and Hassan al-Khamiri were the two Saudi suicide terrorists who steered a small craft loaded with 270 kilograms of C-4 explosives alongside the USS Cole while it was in Aden Harbor, then detonated the bomb killing themselves and seventeen U.S. servicemen, and injuring another 37. See Akiva J. Lorenz, “Analyzing the USS Cole Bombing,” Maritime Security Research Papers, 27 September 2007, at http://www.maritimeterrorism.com/2007/12/27/analyzing-the-uss-cole-incident/, accessed on 11November 2014 at 5:10pm EST. See also Ali H. Soufan, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al Qaeda (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011), 239. See also the JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment for Abd al-Heela, ISN US9YM-001463DP, 24 September 2008, 13.

[21] Bosnian jihad veteran Habib Aktaş was the alleged mastermind of the Istanbul bombings that killed some 60 people in attacks on the British consulate, an HSBC bank in Istanbul, and two synagogues on November 15th and November 20th 2007. Among the fatalities was the British consul-general in Istanbul. Turkish authorities believed that Aktaş was the head of the Al Qaeda cell in the country. See Karl Vick, “Al-Qaeda’s Hand in Istanbul Plot,” The Washington Post, 13 February 2007, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/12/AR2007021201715.html, accessed on 4 May 2013 at 8:24am EST; and “Istanbul Bombing Suspects Charged,” BBC News, 25 February 2014, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3486536.stm, accessed on 7 October 2014 at 12:17pm EST. Luke Harding, Helena Smith and Jason Burke, “Istanbul Bombings: The Softest Target,” The Observer (UK), 22 November 2003, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/nov/23/turkey.terrorism, accessed on 4 May 2013 at 8:22am EST. Aktaş died in Iraq in April 2005, Ekinci died in a suicide bombing in Iraq in December 2004. See “2 Istanbul Bombers Arrested in Bagdat,” Today’s Zaman (Istanbul), 14 July 2005, at http://www.todayszaman.com/national_2-istanbul-bombers-arrested-in-bagdat_21717.html, accessed on 15 March 2015 at 2:32pm EST. Bosnian jihad veteran Louai Sakka was arrested by Turkish officials in August 2005 for his connections to the Istanbul bombings. See Chris Gourlay and Jonathan Calvert, “Al-Qaeda kingpin: I trained 9/11 hijackers,” The Sunday Times (London), 25 November 2007, at http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/world_news/article75950.ece, accessed on 12 October 2015 8:52pm EST; and Karl Vick, “A Bomb Builder, ‘Out of the Shadows’,” The Washington Post, 20 February 2006, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/19/AR2006021901336.html, accessed on 12 October 2015 at 8:58pm EST.

[22] For details on Aziz’s training in Bosnia, see Fernando Reinares, “The Evidence of Al-Qaida’s Role in the 2004 Madrid Attack,” CTC Sentinel 5 Issue 3,, 22 March 2012, at http://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evidence-of-al-qaidas-role-in-the-2004-madrid-attack, accessed on 26 July 2012 at 2:47pm EST; and Keith B. Richburg, “Plot Leader in Madrid Sought Help of Al Qaeda,” The Washington Post, 12 April 2004, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2004/04/12/AR2005040206327.html, accessed on 8 May 2014 at 1:22pm EST.

[23] Bosnian jihad veteran Abu Ubaydah al-Masri was considered Al Qaeda’s external operations chief and the mastermind of the London 7/7 bombings who “recruited, trained and directed the four homicide bombers.” See “Top Al Qaeda Leader Abu Ubaidah al-Masri Confirmed Dead in Pakistan,” Foxnews, 9 April 2008, at http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/04/09/top-al-qaeda-leader-abu-ubaida-al-masri-confirmed-dead-in-pakistan/, accessed on 25 January 2015 at 11:26am EST, and Eric Schmitt, “Attack Planner for Al Qaeda Reported Dead,” The New York Times, 10 April 2008, at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/washington/10terror.html?_r=0, accessed on 25 January 2015 at 11:19am EST, and Mickolus and Simmons, The Terrorist List, op. cit., 152. Abu Hamza al-Masri was the imam of London’s Finsbury Park mosque, and considered to be the spiritual leader of the London 7/7 bombers. Abu Hamza fought in Bosnia in the 1990s, married a Bosnian war widow, and was granted Bosnian citizenship. In July 2005, Douglas Farah reported that Western intelligence officials had been warning that a large quantity of high-level plastic explosives had gone missing in Bosnia, and “if there were an attack in Europe, it would be very likely the material would have been obtained in Bosnia.” See Farah’s comments at http://counterterrorismblog.org/2005/07/douglas_farah_london_and_the_p.php, accessed on 7 February 2014 at 10:06am EST.

(24] Pakistani native and Bosnian jihad veteran Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, aka “Abu Waleed,” was considered the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai bombings which killed 160 people and wounded over 300. The attacks, which lasted over the course of four days, involved attacks on hospitals, hotels and cinemas. In December 2014, a Pakistani court released him on bail. See “QI.L. 264.08. ZAKI-UR-REHMAN LAKHVI,” Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) concerning Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities” 9 March 2009, at http://www.un.org/sc/committees/1267/NSQI26408E.shtml, accessed on 10 February 2014 at 10:11am EST; and “Mumbai attacks ‘mastermind’ Lakhvi bailed in Pakistan,” BBC News, 18 December 2014, at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30529137, accessed on 18 December 2014 at 6:58pm EST.

[25] See Karen McVeigh, “Former al-Qaida operative turned informant testifies in Abu Hamza trial,” The Guardian (UK), 28 April 2014, at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/28/abu-hamzaa-trial-saajid-badat-testifies Accessed on 7 May 2014 at 12:32pm EST.

[26] See John Pomfret and Christine Spolar, “Foreign Fighters Train Security Corps for Bosnian Muslims,” The Washington Post, 7 March 1996, A19.

[27] As quoted by Anes Alic and Jen Tracy, “Training for an Islamic Bosnia,” Transitions Online, 26 April 2002, at http://www.tol.org/client/article/4246-training-for-an-islamic-bosnia.html?print, accessed on 10 March 2016 at 6:53am EST.

[28] See Juan Carlos Antúnez, “Wahhabism in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” 16 September 2008, available at http://www.bosnia.org.uk/news/news_body.cfm?newsid=2468 Accessed on 16 April 2013 at 8:53am EST.

(29] Sherrie Gossett, “Jihadists Find Convenient Base in Bosnia,” 17 August 2005 at http://www.aina.org/news/20050817121245.htm, accessed on 30 June 2012 at 2:24pm EST.

[30]See, for instance, Zenana Karup’s description of the experiences of a Central Bosnian recruit to the Wahhabi movement, Samir Pracalić, in “Poslednji dani raja,” BH Dani 67 (Sarajevo), January 1998, at https://www.bhdani.com/portal/arhiva-67-281/67/tekst567.htm, accessed on 30 September 2014 at 9:22am EST; and the description of the recruitment process into the El Mudžahid battalion by Esad Hećimović in the documentary Bosanski Lonac (“The Bosnian Kettle”). Belgrade: TV B92, 2009. Producer: Petar Ilić Ćiril. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAzcRjXGVWw

(31] See Richard Labéviène, Dollars for Terror: The United States and Islam (New York: Algora Publishing, 2000), 74.

[32] See Jan Drebes, Gabl Peters and Jan Schnettler, “Salafisten und Terror,” RP-online.de, 28 June 2011, at http://www.rp-online.de/nrw/staedte/moenchengladbach/salafisten-und-terror-aid-1.1316577, accessed on 9 March 2016 at 8:06pm EST.

[33] See Elsässer’s description of these camps as quoted by Azinović, Al-Kai’da u Bosni i Hercegovini: Mit ili Stvarna Opasnost? (Prague: Radio Slobodna Evropa, 2007), 73-74.

[34] See Peci’s comments in the report by Germany’s ZDF television network, “Ein Islamist I’m Staatsauftrag,” 27 May 2015, at http://webapp.zdf.de/beitrag?aID=2412710&title=Ein-Islamist-im-Staatsauftrag?ipad=true, accessed 9 March 2016 at 9:36am EST. For more on Peci, see Guido W. Steinberg, German Jihad: On the Internationalization of Islamist Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 134-137.

[35] See, for instance, the comments by Šefik Čifurović, the father of a young man who went to Syria, in Walter Mayr, “Sharia Villages: Bosnia’s Islamic State Problem,” Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5 April 2016, at http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/islamic-state-presence-in-bosnia-cause-for-concern-a-1085326.html, accessed on 7 April 2016 at 11:14am EST. See also the comments by the mother of a young Sarajevo man who was given weapons training in an area outside Zvornik, as cited by Dzana Brkanic and Denis Dzidic, “ISIS Recruiters Prey on Bosnia’s Forgotten Youth,” BalkanInsight, 18 July 2016, at http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/isis-recruiters-prey-on-bosnia-s-forgotten-youth-07-15-2016-1, accessed on 21 July 2016 at 3:51pm EST.

[36] See Amela Bajrovic, “Raid on Wahhabi ‘Camp’ Raises Tensions in Sandzak,” BalkanInsight, 22 March 2007 at http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/raid-on-wahhabi-camp-raises-tensions-in-sandzak, accessed on 25 April 2013 at 1:13pm EST.

[37] See Damir Kaletovic and Anes Alic, “Terror Plot Thwarted in Bosnia,” ISN Security Network (Zurich), 28 March 2008, at http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail//?ots591=4888CAA0-B3DB-1461-98B9-E20E7B9C13D4&lng=en&id=52023, accessed on 13 February 2014 at 10:29am EST.

[38] See “Nastavljena istraga o odgovornim za skrivanja oružja,” Dnevni Avaz (Sarajevo), 16 July 2013, at http://www.avaz.ba/vijesti/iz-minute-u-minutu/nastavljena-istraga-o-odgovornim-za-skrivanje-naoruzanja, accessed on 17 July 2013 at 12:50pm EST.

[39] See Esad Hećimović, “Atentator iz Frankfurta boravio u Zenici,” Dani 734 (Sarajevo), 8 July 2011, at https://www.bhdani.ba/portal/clanak/734/arhiva/atentator-iz-frankfurta-boravio-u-zenici, accessed on 9 March 2016 at 9:45am EST.

[40] In 2010, Jašarević had been arrested in Novi Pazar while standing in front of the Municipal Hall carrying a long-blade knife during a visit by the American ambassador to Belgrade, Mary Warlick. See “Radical Groups in the Balkans: The Case of Wahhabi Jašarević,” Helsinki Bulletin No. 84 (Belgrade: Helsinki Human Rights Committee in Serbia, November 2011), 1. For more on would-be suicide-bomber Emrah Fojnica, see “Emrah Fojnica poginuo u Iraku,” Oslobođenje (Sarajevo), 12 August 2014, at http://www.oslobodjenje.ba/vijesti/bih/emrah-fojnica-poginuo-u-iraku, accessed on 16 September 2014 at 11:57am EST.

[41] See “Terorizam u Zvorniku: pojedinac u službi zajednice,” Federalna.ba, 1 May 2015, http://www.federalna.ba/bhs/vijest/129479/iz-mreze-kalesijski-trougao, accessed on 2 April 2016 at 9:16am EST.

[42] Antúnez, “Wahhabism in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” op. cit.

[43] See Stephen Schwartz, “The Failure of Europe in Bosnia, and the Continuing Infiltration of Islamic Extremists,” The Weekly Standard, 20 June 2005, at http://www.weeklystandard.com/the-failure-of-europe-in-bosnia/article/6926, accessed on 4 March 2016 at 10:04am EST.

[44] For the story of Abdulrahman Khadr, see the PBS Frontline Documentary “Son of Al Qaeda,” op. cit.

[45] al-Arnout, “Albanian Islamists Join Syrian War,” op. cit.

[46] Sinisa Jakuv Marusic, “Radical Islam Threatens Macedonia,” BalkanInsight, 2 July 2010 at http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/main/news/29193/, accessed on 2 July 2010 at: 1:24pm EST, and Bojan Pancevski, “Saudis Fund Balkan Muslims Spreading Hate of the West,” The Sunday Times (London), 28 March 2010, at http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/world_news/Europe/article251901.ece, accessed on 30 October 2014 at 9:22am EST.
[47] Hećimović made the comments during an interview on the Bosnian TV program Dobar, loo, žao. Comments as carried by Postaja.ba, 7 November 2011, at http://www.postaja.ba/index.php/vijesti/bosna-i-hercegovina/8152-esad-heimovi-teroristi-imaju-zatitnike-u-vrhu-vlasti-i-to-je-problem-ove-drave-, accessed on 13 February 2015 at 11:19am EST.

[48] Delić’s address to the El Mudžahedin battalion were recorded and can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWRSoMBL82M

[49] See Latić’s comments in “BOSNA OD A. DO B. IZETBEGOVIĆA Ono što je Tito dao Bosni u Mrkonjić Gradu, Alija spasio u Daytonu, Bakir je ubio u Sarajevu,” The Bosnia Times (Sarajevo), 26 November 2015, at http://thebosniatimes.ba/clanak/2035, accessed on 4 December 2015 at 5:12pm EST.

[50] See the comments by Latić in his interview, “VIZIJA ‘SARAJEVSKOG ARMAGEDONA’ Latić: Umjesto da Bošnjacima islam bude utjeha nakon genocida, selefije nam unesoše nespokoj i tegobu,” The Bosnia Times, 8 March 2016, at http://thebosniatimes.ba/clanak/3330, accessed on 19 March 2016 at 7:54am EST.

[51] See Damir Kaletovic and Anes Alic, “Al-Qaida’s Bosnian War Move,” ISN Security Network, 3 October 2008, at http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail/?id=92320, accessed on 7 January 2015 at 3:14pm EST.

[52] See Vilna Selimbegović, “Slučaj Leutar: Rat AID-a i Hrvatskih Obaveštajnih Službi,” BH Dani 98 (Sarajevo), 29 March 1999, at https://www.bhdani.com/portal/arhiva-67-281/98/tekst898.htm, accessed on 16 October 2014 at 12:06pm EST; and Kolhmann, Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network, op. cit., 199.

[53] See the report by Amarillo Gutić in the TV newsmagazine Mreža: Politički Magazin, which aired on 14 November 2014 on Federalna Televizija (Sarajevo), at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lg1xkutJqh0&list=PLDXGkGdGoJIYYaWE3k1Kiq2lBwOkLugZH

[54] See Anes Alic, “Bosnia Compensates Terror Suspects,” Transitions Online, 22 November 2003, at http://www.tol.org/client/article/11373-bosnia-compensates-terror-suspects.html?print, accessed on 18 November 2014 at 12:14pm EST; and the report on the Wahhabi movement in Bosnia that aired on Mreža-Politički Magazin (Sarajevo: Federalna Televizija), aired on 14 November 2014. Reporter: Amarildo Gutić. At http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lg1xkutJqh0&list=PLDXGkGdGoJIYYaWE3k1Kiq2lBwOkLugZH

[55] See Ena Latin (pseudonym), “Bosnia: Agent to Stand Trial,” IWPR Balkan Crisis Report 28 August 2002, at https://iwpr.net/global-voices/bosnia-agent-stand-trial, accessed on 15 November 2015 at 2:47pm EST.

[56] See Hećimović, “Leto kada su hapsili mudžahedine,” op. cit., and Pyes et. al., “Bosnia Seen as Hospitable Base and Sanctuary for Terrorists,” op. cit.

[57] See the report by Damir Kaletović on the Bosnian Federation Television channel “60 minute,” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1XRXcCupYo Accessed on 20 June 2014 at 2:21pm EST.

[58] See Samira Puskar, “New Claims of Bosnian Army Ties with Mujahedin,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 17 November 2005, at https://iwpr.net/global-voices/new-claims-bosnian-army-ties-mujahedin, accessed on 21 May 2016 at 12:41pm EST. The requested materials were intended for use in the trials against ARBiH officers General Enver Hadžihasanović, commander of the ARBiH’s Third Corps, and Amir Kubura, commander of the Seventh Muslim Brigade. The requested materials were only turned over three months after the prosecution had rested its case.

Dr. Gordon N. Bardos is a Balkan politics and security specialist based in New York.


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