Thursday, October 3, 2013

Balkan jihadists in Syria, by Ioannis Michaletos

The Balkan region is exporting Jihadist fighters to Syria since 2011 and the latest information available point out about an ongoing process which is directly related to an international Al Qaeda related network that was also highly operational in the 1990's.

Some 30 radical Muslims from Sandzak have been recruited to fight alongside Syrian rebels, reported Blic newspaper, citing “a senior police officer in Novi Pazar,” the capital of the southern Serbian province, which is home to a large Muslim community.

Experts questioned by the Belgrade daily believe that the fighters were previously trained in Vienna, which is thought to be the main center for Wahhabism in Europe. According to other specialists, there are training centres in Novi Pazar, the northern Serbian districts of Novi Sad, Pancevo and in even in Belgrade. […] Several Serbian Muslims were recruited while studying abroad, mainly in Turkey and in Syria.

The daily reminds its readers that Novi Pazar was the scene of a major demonstration organized on August 25 2013 by the conservative “Islamic Nation of Sandzak” 

According to numerous reports by regional and global media, along with supplementary information deriving from security agencies from mostly EU countries, the total number of Balkan Islamists that have been recruited and travelled to Syria to engage in battles, exceeds 500 people. The vast majority of them are still to be found in Syria, mainly operating in the Aleppo province. 

Further, the main recruitment center is Sarajevo and to a lesser extend Pristina and Priznen. The Sandzak aforementioned fighters were channeled through the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated channels in Sarajevo and first passed through Istanbul before venturing further East to Syria. Lastly, the notable presence of Chechen and Caucasian Islamists to Syria is being assisted by a covert route that runs from Dagestan-Ingusetia to Syria through Azerbaijan and air travel to Turkish cities. Other groups that can be considered as émigré travelled to Syria directly from Turkey and individual members from various countries in the Middle East region. 

In past years a nexus between Western Balkans and Caucasus Islamists through Turkey was noted. According to Dr. Samuel Andrew Hardy "Members of the Bosnia-based terrorist group Kvadrat have been facilitated in traveling through Turkey to get into Chechnya, where they have been engaged in terrorist and insurgent operations, and then repatriated through Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus, where they are clearly supported by the Turkish Cypriot and Ankara authorities....Turkish ex-military and 'maybe' serving secret service staff trained Mujahideen to go to Chechnya at a (Grey Wolves splinter group) Nizamı Alem (Universal Order) camp in Turkey and '[a]rms purchased by Iran and Turkey [and].... Mojahedin fighters were also flown in [to Bosnia by the US, Turkey and Iran]'; moreover, '"... some of these people who went to fight Russians or Serbs were indoctrinated against infidels" and returned to Turkey as cell leaders for Al Qaeda'."

Kvadrad was financed by the Saudi Al Haraiman charity, now banned worldwide by United Nations Security Council Committee 1267., Moreover Kvadrad had in the past retained links with the radical Islamist figures residing in Vienna, the idnetical ones as those been accused of assisting the transfer of fighters to Syria nowadays. A past Global Information System (GIS) report identifies the following as the members of the Steering Committee of Kvadrat: "Mezit Nermin ("Nerko"), (Sarajevo), Seknic Sendad (Mostar), Sinanovic Kermal, (Sarajevo), Tahic Berin (Sarajevo), Tahic Berin (Sarajevo), Alic Galib (Sarajevo), Motoruga Elvir (Sarajevo), Hodzic Emir (Sarajevo), Zukic Sabahudin (Sarajevo), Cengic Faruk (Sarajevo), Hasanovic Aliya (Sarajevo), Ahmetovic Amir (Kaknja), Nuhanovic Sanel (Bihac), Ortas Emire (Sarajevo). In 2004, the Steering Committee was enlarged. Known to have joined the group are: Cardakovic Seco, Dedovic Edin, Gusic Elmedin ("Melo"), and Skrijelj Admir".

The Saudi magnate, Yasin Al Kahdi Qadi had close links to Abdul Latif Saleh, a Jordanian-Albanian dual citizen who has been designated by the US Treasury Department as an al-Qaeda supporter. Saleh set up an Albanian jihadist organization, financed by the Al Haramain Foundation that was mentioned previously as a supporter of Kvadrad. After 11 September 2001, Yasin al-Qadi moved many of his operations to Istanbul, Turkey and Switzerland. Forbes reported that Qadi is a friend of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and that through his friendship with highly placed Turks he was able to escape sanctions while living in Turkey. Al Haraiman had branches in Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Comoros, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Tanzania, and the United States.

Regarding Yassin Kahdi his relations with Turkey remain as strong as ever and the following reports (In Greek) highlight his latest endeavors in that respect.

Concluding it is almost certain that the routes that were used by Islamist terrorists in the 90's between the triangle Balkans-Caucasus-Middle East (with Turkey being the major transit zone and hub of activities; are re-activated due to the Syrian conflict, thus the issue of combatting the resurfaced Al Qaeda is once again on the table, bearing in mind that a merge of significant proportions is taking place in North and East Africa between various Jihadist forces. The aforementioned are coupled with the instability in Libya which was recently described from a French diplomat as a “Super market for weapons” that are been freely sold to myriads of terrorist and criminal groups across the Sahel and Magreb, as well as, to the Syrian rebels. 

Eventually the alertness for preparation against terrorist attempts in the wider MENA region is rising, while European countries have to face the return of a large number of Jihadists back home in the coming period, with al assorted security issues that this entails.