The Balkans: Militant Islamism's New Front

By Gordon Bardos

The July 18 terrorist attack on a bus full of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria is only the latest in a series of deadly incidents in the Balkans involving Islamist extremists.

In April, five people on the outskirts of the Macedonian capital of Skopje were murdered by suspected Muslim radicals.

Last October, a Wahhabi convert attacked the US Embassy in Sarajevo.

In 2010, Serbian police broke up a terrorist cell in the mountainous Sandzak region straddling the border between Serbian and Montenegro planning to attack western embassies in Belgrade.

Long ignored or downplayed by western countries, al- Qaida and Hezbollah surrogates in the Balkans are increasingly important, thanks primarily to Saudi and Iranian financial support and the influence and power it buys. From Skopje to Sarajevo to Novi Pazar, Islamists and Wahhabis are attempting to take over mosques and building their own network of almost extra-territorial, sharia-run villages in remote Balkan areas. According to Malcolm Hoenlein, for radical Islamists Sarajevo, home to the largest Iranian embassy in Europe, is becoming "a jumping-off place, a radicalization place, a crossroads, something like Berlin during the Cold War."

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The origins of the Islamist/Wahhabi threat to southeastern Europe go back to the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, when the late Islamist president of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic, invited militants from the Middle East and Central Asia to join his war effort. In August 1993, Izetbegovic ordered the formation of the Kateebat el-Mujahidin, his own personal al-Qaida "Battalion of Holy Warriors."

The roster of veterans of Izetbegovic's Bosnian jihad reads like a who's who of terrorist all-stars. On September 11, 2001, three of Izetbegovic's holy warriors - Khalid Sheik Muhammed, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mindhar - planned and participated in the greatest mass murder in American history. Another Izetbegovic jihadi, Juma al-Dosari, was involved in the June 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Riyadh which killed sixteen US citizens.

In August 1998, Izetbegovic jihadi Abdul Rashim al- Nashiri participated in the bombing of the US embassies in Dar es Saalam and Nairobi in which over 400 people were killed; the mastermind of the plot, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, visited Bosnia shortly before the embassy bombings for a three-day "business trip" on a visa issued by the Bosnian consulate in Turkey.

IN DECEMBER 1999, Bosnian jihadi Ahmed Ressam was apprehended attempting to bomb LAX airport as part of the failed Millenium Bomb Plot; the document forger for the plot, Karim Said Atmani, was a resident of the Bosnian mujahedeen village of Bocinja Donja.

In October 2000, Izetbegovic army veterans Juma al- Dosari, Ahmed Zuhair, Jamal al-Badawi, Abu Asim al- Makki, and Abd al-Rahim Hussein Mohammed al-Nashiri attacked the USS Cole in Aden Harbor, killing 17 US servicemen.

In February 2002, Izetbegovic jihadi Omar Saeed Sheik was involved in the murder/ritual beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Amer Azizi, the key go-between for al-Qaida's top leadership and the March 2004 Madrid Train bombers, trained in terrorist camps near the central Bosnian town of Zenica. The list goes on, but the severity of the problem is clear.

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The writer is a Balkan politics and security specialist based in New York. © The Jerusalem Post 1995 - 2012

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