Monday, February 21, 2011

Interview by Ioannis Michaletos for SRNA (Serbian Republic of Bosnia news agency) with journalist Danijela Dzeletovic, in June 2010.

1. Is there a real threat of new, frequent terrorist attacks in BiH following the latest one in Bugojno, BiH?

There is a real threat and the latest attacks show that the extremists have still the manpower, the will and the operational capability of staging attacks. Moreover the attack seems to be correlated with the massive police raid recently in the remote north-eastern village of Gornja Maoca. It is more or less safe to assume that the attack was a retaliation of some kind and also a show of force that the extremists have the ability to make spectacular attacks still despite the heavy pressure of the BiH security forces against them.

Of course the threat level in the future will also depend on the mobilization of the local police forces to uncover the full spectrum of the extremist networks that have a definite international support and most importantly the sources of their funding.

On the other hand I don’t believe that the EU-international community will seriously change the way under which it treats the country, because most technocrats and even diplomats from these organizations and countries, are still in a denial phase of the exact nature of the perils associated with the existence of such extremists. Moreover, there is tacit knowledge, that all of those are part of the modern day political equilibrium of power in BiH and in the Balkans in a wider level, and they don’t want to “rock the boat”. Needless to say, that very well informed circles in the Balkans, comment that Middle Eastern countries and also Turkey are very active in the Balkans with the support of Western states due to a mixture of business interests and ideological facets that clearly inhibit any kind of understanding of the level of threat BiH, the Balkans but also the whole of Europe is facing in the mid-term period.

2. Do you think that the Wahhabi movement’s threat in BiH is substantial, serious?

-It is serious and substantial, because they number a few thousands of members, that are quite fanatic, they have access to weaponry and they also have capital under which they can perform recruitment, training and acquire hide-outs and even infiltrate the state mechanism through bribing for instance. Furthermore I assess that the important point is what will be the response of BiH as a state and society. In a few words if a red line is draw under which the Wahhabis know they cannot procedure their demands further, it is likely that they will change their manner under which they assume they can exploit the religious cleavalages in BiH for their advantage. Of course for this to be possible the cooperation of Serbs, Croats and Muslims is necessary and that is the difficult aspect of the whole discussion.

3. What information do you have on Islamists in BiH, is there connection with similar movements or groups in Kosovo, Sandzak/Serbia/, Albania/?

-First of all I am going to give you a very small example of the connections involved. For instance the “Bosnian Wahabi dais”, consists of Bosnian Muslims, usually former students at the Islamic universities in Arab countries (mainly in Saudi Arabia, also Egypt and Jordan), who after returning to Bosnia from their education abroad started to preach conservative Islam, which differs from Bosnian traditional Islamic practices. Currently this group represents the main power behind the Wahabi movement in BiH and in Sandzak. Some of the most known Wahabi dais in this group are: Muhammed Porca, Safet Kudozovic, Semir Imamovic, Dzevad Golos, Jusuf Barcic (deceased), Senad Podojak, Adnan Buzar, Nedzad Balkan.

There are many reports, analyses and first-hand reportages that the extremist networks are active and cooperating between them across the Balkan region and in particular certain countries and regions have formed a closer contact between them and that is the case between: BiH-Sandzak, Kosovo-Albania, Kosovo-FYROM, Kosovo-Montenegro.

The main difficulty for the security forces oft he Balkan countries, is to identify the coordinators of the networks, which in many cases appear to be nationals of third countries, either in the Middle East or in European cities where extremist presence is noted, such as Vienna, as far as BiH is concerned. Basically we have a tremendous network of individuals, many of those related through kinship or family bonds that reside in different countries, in some cases carrying false documents and in many cases are also involved in organized crime activities such as narcotics trafficking or weapons smuggling.

There are many reported cases exactly as the above from the Police authorities of Balkan countries over the past few years. Moreover a process of converting Christians to Muslims through Wahabi organizations has been enacted, and I could mention the case of a Greek citizen that in April 2010 was in BiH in collaboration with local Wahabi organizations and staged public lectures and seminars. In Greece there is a trend of conversion that is being financed by Middle Eastern capital and all available information point out that the whole of the Balkans are being moulded into becoming a staging point for the spread of Islam -and not just Wahabism- to the whole of Europe.

In a few words, and as far as Wahabism is concerned- there is connection in a definite basis and there is steady support from abroad in all of these.

4. Why BiH speaks rarely or not at all about the threat of radical Islamism and why Western media also ignore the issue?

-BiH would not like to make reference on the above, due to the delicate political balance in the country, in which extremists have already a foothold, and where which powerful Middle Eastern interests have a say in many things. The Western media as a I stated before they don’t want to alter the “facade” that has been built since the mid-90′s and they pretend that the region is progressing, religious & ethnic cleavages have been surpassed and so on. Clearly the Saudis and the Turks are the ones favoured by this situation and they seem to enjoy support from high-echelons of power in Washington and to a much smaller scale in Brussels.

Moreover I believe we are entering a crucial point in which there is going to be an eventual clash of interest between the Western-backed Islamic interests in BiH and the other ones that represent clear national interests. I think we are in a turning point in which the global media could no longer afford to hide the magnitude of the situation and the upcoming upturn in the Balkans that are again in the midst of a change of balance in world affairs that affects them. I am certain that within the coming year, the Balkans will actually gain a lot of exposure in the media in a global scale and may aspects of the current situation will be revealed.

5. What is Europe’s view of the spread of radical Wahhabism in the Balkans where it applies violence taking after Taliban movement in Afghanistan and some other Islamic countries?

-European countries are certainly against, the EU as a supranational body, seems not have grasped the importance of the situation. Italy, France, Germany seem pretty active against a perceived Islamist threat in the Balkans, whilst UK’s role still remains vague. Brussels now, due to complexes of its technocrats in an ideological level, do not want to admit the mistakes being made and still dream of a “globalized” world under which the Balkans will eventually “overcome their differences through economic prosperity” and so on.

Sooner rather than latter, the aforementioned will prove to be of an entirely false perception because the region as I mentioned earlier is on the brink of entering the phase of intense interstate competition, something that will shatter the worldview of a globalized world. In reality 2010 resembles more of 1910 that any time in recent history.

6. to what extent the politics of the U.S. and Europe is responsible for this modern world’s scourge – the spread of radical Wahhabism in the Balkans, which resort to suicide attacks?

-They are responsible in numerous ways, from turning a blind eye to the developments over the past 20 years, even to the indirect or direct if you say, arming of these groups in the early 90′s. Further there is a worrying trend of supporting an enchasement of the Turkish role in the Balkans since 2009, although clearly Ankara is following a ‘Caliphate” approach in its international exposure and the most worrying aspect of all is that this has at least a tacit support from the US State Department despite the faults of the 90′s that have yet to become “lessons learned”.

Concluding I think that there are many, influential voices throughout the West that in this particular historical period can raise their tone and actually proceed into concrete action in order to avoid another religious-based conflict in the Balkans and the division of a significant part of Europe of Christian-Islamic fault lines. In shot it is time to learn from our mistakes and from what history has proven over the past generation or so.

7. In your opinion, to what extent the politics of Turkish pro-Islamic government plays into the hands of the spreading of radical Wahhabism in the Balkans?

-The Wahhabis are not related to the Turkish foreign policy that prefers to act through its own local minorities or through befriending local politicians and businessman or with direct contact with the state mechanism itself. But of course, Turkey is on advantageous ground when an overall advance of Islamic interests is being players in the whole of the Balkans, in many ways the Saudi and Gulf-based support fro the Wahhabis is on Turkey advantage since it relays a wider turn in the Balkans that any Islamic power can take into its advantage.

8. In your opinion, how BiH should confront this threat, how to shape its political strategy, and what strategy to implement?

-I am not sure that under the present structure in both political and social terms, BiH can do much without the support of the international community. It is just too difficult to build a common domestic strategy when trust is lacking and when various para-state interests interfere with security policy. As a first step the media and academic and social exposure of the radical issue should be presented in all available means and the attraction of international interest is vital, so as, the local political forces take notice before it is too late.

There are no easy solutions because the Wahhabis for example, are not an isolated group of radicals but a pawn in a global game that correlates with the balance of power to a region from Danube to Hindu river and from Suez until the Caucasus, and so the approach should be multifaceted, international and flexible as well, needless to say network based as well, by all interested actors involved.