Radical Islam an increased threat in the Balkans

10/12/2012

Balkan security sectors need to be more prepared to deal with the threat of terrorism, analysts said.

By Miki Trajkovski and Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Skopje and Sarajevo -- 10/12/12

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Shukri Alia tried to take control over the Muslim religious community in Macedonia. [AFP]

As radical Islam becomes more apparent in the region, security experts said that movements like Wahhabism represent a growing threat to security in the Balkans.

Radical Islam appeared in the Balkans in the early 1990s when conflicts began to rage in the former Yugoslavia. Mujahadeen fighters and religious leaders from the Middle East arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to fight on the Muslim side, and many remained because they were able to obtain citizenship.

"Radical Islam is one serious threat for the region … western Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Sandzak and Bosnia. These persons exist in larger number than what the public knows," Vladimir Pivovarov, a former head of the Macedonian Military security and Intelligence Service, told SETimes.

Shukri Alia, considered to be one of the ideologists of the radical Muslim movement in the region, was arrested last month on an international warrant. He was extradited to Macedonia from Kosovo on Wednesday (December 5th), where he will be charged with a series of criminal acts.

Alia was convicted of an attack on imams from the Islamic community in Macedonia few years ago, when his group tried to take control over the Muslim religious community in the country.

Police are investigating his connection with a mass murder near Skopje this year, when five fishermen were killed.

"According to our operational investigation, Alia is one of the biggest promoters of radical Islam and we can't exclude the possibility that he is the mastermind behind these killings," Ivo Kotevski, Macedonia deputy minister of interior in charge of public relations, told SETimes.

Pivovarov said that radical Islam is present in countries with weak economic development, therefore making them unable to respond to threats.

A stepping stone to terrorism, radical Islam should be taken seriously by the security services in the Balkans, he added. "Although the governments in the Balkan are announcing that they are prepared to deal with such phenomenon, on the field we see that it is not so."

Acting preventively is the key, according to Frosina Remenski, a security studies professor at Faculty of Security in Skopje. But prevention necessitates even greater co-operation among regional states and security services.

"Harmonising legislation among all regional countries and joint preventive anti-terrorist activities in tandem with existing anti-crisis economic policies will greatly reduce the possibility of individuals joining the radical Islamists' cause," Remenski told SETimes.

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A file photo taken on October 28th 2011 shows Mevlid Jasarevic, 23, standing at an intersection holding an AK-47, after opening fire upon the US Embassy in Sarajevo. [AFP]

A year ago, Sarajevo was horrified by terrorists attack by Wahhabi member Mevlid Jasarevic from Serbia on the US Embassy. On October 28th 2011, Jasarevic fired an automatic rifle at the building for more than an hour, striking it more than 100 times before he was wounded by a police sniper and arrested.

In 2010, terrorists attacked a police station in Bugojno, central BiH, and killed one police officer and injured five others. Both trials are still ongoing.

Experts believe that BiH's radical Islamists have strong links with groups in Sandzak, Serbia, as well as in Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro.

In late 2009, media revealed a confidential internal document of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in BiH that said that top Bosniak political and religious officials are funding terrorism and radical Islam in the country.

Among those named in the document were the former head of the Islamic Community in BiH Mustafa Ceric, leader of Social Democrats Zlatko Lagumdzija and Alliance for Better Future leader and media mogul Fahrudin Radoncic.

The officials denied the accusations and the OHR said the document was internal.

Leaders of the radical Islamists are becoming more present in the public, via video links, communications, press releases and maintenance of public forums.

The informal leader of Wahhabis in BiH, Nusret Imamovic, recently said that BiH should be regulated by Sharia law.

"Islam has an unbreakable bond with the policy. For us, the highlight of Islam is jihad. Allah loves those who fight in his way," Imamovic said at the "Extremism, terrorism-volume and headings" forum held in Sarajevo on September 23rd.

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Dzevad Galijasevic, a member of the Southeast Europe Expert Team for the Fight Against Terrorism and Organised Crime, a regional NGO, said that things like Imamovic's forum represent a direct attack on the constitution of BiH.

"This is the first time that such ideas were represented publicly, in the heart of Sarajevo.

None of the politicians reacted after Imamovic's forum. The worst thing is that other Muslims are suffering damage because of this," Galijasevic told SETimes.

SETimes correspondents Biljana Lajmanovskic and Ivana Jovanovic contributed to this report from Skopje and Belgrade.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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