Region needs to remain on guard for terrorism

28/02/2013

Analysts do not expect the EU to label Hezbollah a terror group, but they say Balkan nations must remain vigilant.

By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 28/02/13

photo

Israel's Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov (centre, right) places a wreath at the site of July's terrorist bombing at Burgas Airport in Bulgaria. [AFP]

Bulgaria is urging the EU to take a harder stance toward the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah, but has stopped short of calling upon the EU to recognise it as a terrorist organisation.

Sofia recently blamed Hezbollah's military wing for the bombing at the Burgas Airport last summer. Five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver were killed and scores of others were wounded in the blast, which remains under investigation.

"It is very important for us in Europe to understand that when faced with the threat of terrorism, we need to stand up to it firmly ... and collectively," Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov told Reuters before he met with EU foreign ministers in Brussels earlier this month.

Israel and the United States, which have blacklisted Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, urged the EU to follow suit. But the EU has resisted, fearing that such a move could negatively impact stability in Lebanon and the region.

"There is no consensus in Europe concerning the attitude towards Hezbollah," Vladimir Chukov, Bulgarian Middle East expert and university lecturer, told SETimes. He said he has "very strong doubts" that EU nations can easily reach a decision to recognise the group as a terrorist organisation.

The only EU nation that has labeled Hezbollah as a terrorist group is the Netherlands. Britain recognises only Hezbollah's military wing as a terror organisation, which Chukov said leaves the door open for contacts with Hezbollah politicians.

Made up mainly of Shia Muslims, Hezbollah traces its roots to 1982. The movement has grown into a powerful political and military organisation, represented in Lebanon's national parliament and government. It has been blamed for numerous terrorist attacks against Israeli, US and European targets.

"Unfortunately, the Balkans is a region in which terrorist organisations are very present," Zoran Dragisic of the Faculty of Security in Belgrade told SETimes. "Islamist terrorist networks have a developed infrastructure in the Balkans, strong financial and technical resources and it is not impossible that in this network Hezbollah has its people."

Experts in Kosovo say Pristina should blacklist Hezbollah.

"Co-ordinating policies and actions with Western countries, [Kosovo] should block any intention of Hezbollah to be involved in social, political and economic life of Kosovo," Burim Ramadani, an MP and security analyst, told SETimes.

Ramadan Ilazi, executive director of the Kosovo Institute for Peace, echoed the call.

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"Religious radicalism in the Balkans, which is a growing trend, makes the region an attractive area for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. If these organisations were able to penetrate [Bulgaria], which is a member of the EU and NATO, then Kosovo seems to be an easy bite," he told SETimes.

Macedonian security expert Vladimir Pivovarov, a professor at FON University in Skopje, said Hezbollah has been present and spreading its influence in the region since the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"[Hezbollah] is selecting targets according to their interest and they are searching for these targets all over the world, so this type of attack could practically happen everywhere. Put simply, Bulgaria was not a target of the Hezbollah attack. The target was Israeli tourists there," Pivovarov told SETimes.

Correspondents Linda Karadaku in Pristina, Biljana Pekusic in Belgrade and Biljana Lajmanovska in Skopje contributed to this report.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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