Sunday, May 18, 2014

Balkan and Syria nexus, by Ioannis Michaletos

The nexus between the Balkans and especially its Western part with the war in Syria is evident through a web of linkages between various international radical groups, posing great challenges for the local authorities. 

The Balkans and especially its South-Western part has been a "playground" of Jihadist elements since the early 1990's which have already participated in three local wars in Bosnia, Kosovo and FYROM and have facilitated since then the conflict in Caucasus-Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan  as well as, in Syria since 2011, along with multiple terrorist attacks or attempts both in Europe and North America. The bulk of the actions associated with Balkan Jihadism nowadays in Syria is recruitment of fighters to be send there and logistic support. 

In Serbia the total number of radicalized Islamists in the country is estimated at around 500 people, out of which 80% is concentrated in the Muslim-populated Sanjak/Raska region right beside the tri-border with Montenegro, Bosnia and Kosovo, a real hotbed of radical religious incited action and organized crime hub for the rest of the region. 

The majority of the circles that fuel religious fanaticism and recruit people to be sent into Syria are financed mostly by Saudi Arabia networks, mostly through intermediates based in Sarajevo and Kosovo cities, linked as well with their Pan-European system which spreads in Vienna and Milano as peripheral hubs of importance. The Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood influence is gradually fading taking into account the 2013 “expulsion” of Qatari influence in the world Jihadi “movement”. 

The Serbian Police recently uncovered a network of this type specialized in providing fighters and weapons for the Jihadi front in Syria, whilst propaganda websites such as “Put vjernika”, “Balkanski emirat”, “Essune”, “Vijesti ummeta”, “Poziv u raj” are beaming 24/7 sermons and speeches, as well as, guidelines in order to seduce and induce prospective fighters. The facilitators and administrators of these websites are actually spread around Europe and pose a serious threat due to their widespread propaganda actions that do not confine only for Syria but in reality call for a total war against almost all states that do not conform to their radical viewpoint on Islam, literally the entire planet. 

The case of the teenage girls of Bosnia-Muslim descent that were persuaded to "join Jihad' and left from their family houses in Vienna-Austria is illustrative, since it was conducted by the aforementioned circles which non-surprisingly are well known for years. The corridor used was from Vienna -Istanbul-Adana-Syria, with Turkey playing the role of the Jihadi transfer corridor almost exclusively, as far as, European and Balkan Mujahedeen are concerned. 

It can be roughly estimated that around 120 million Dollars are being spent daily by mostly Saudi Arabia in order to finance the logistics, recruitment, salaries, armament, travels, propaganda and bribing need to sustain tens of thousands of foreign and local fighters in Syria. In the Western Balkans a well-formed infrastructure exists for at least 20 years for those purposes that routinely pays individuals to convert to the hardline version of Islam (Wahhabism) up to 500 Euros per month, or provides generous loans, housing and other benefits. Most certainly such a long-term "investment" is a clear case of state subversion and most frightening it proves to be an effective tool for the organization of mercenary -Mujahedeen system when needed as is the case presently. 

The deteriorating situation in Iraq, from where the Syrian crisis is mutating poses yet another security issue for Balkan states that have to keep an eye on potential movement of their own nationals, this time to fight in the "Mesopotamian battle field". Between 2003 and 2009 a significant number of mostly Albanians had joined the "Jihad" against US and UK troops there and have certainly built their personal connections with the Iraqi based Jihadists. 

A recent survey by an international organization researching on radicalization trends revealed that at least 10% of foreign fighters of “Western origin” in Syria are coming from the Balkans, which translates in numbers of 500 people minimum. On the 20th of March 2014 three Albanian nationals (Benjamin Xu, Çendrim Ramadani, Muhammed Zakiri), killed a Turkish Police officer and injured a Gendarmerie one in a bombing attack they staged, revealing yet another problem, that of the spill over effects of the Syrian war, which touch upon Turkey despite the fact that the country is a major benefactor of the various Jihadist groups. The Albanian Police has already uncovered a locally-based recruitment network which was found near Tirana and was responsible for sending up to 40 people, some with their whole families- to fight in Syria. All reliable information point out that the Albanian authorities delayed into disbanding these networks due to “outside non-Western pressure” and it was only the joint pressure by EU and US authorities that eventually mobilized Tirana. More networks of that nature are suspected of operating in Elbasan and in Kosovo proper from where 150 Mujahedeen have already been fighting in Syria, quite interestingly joining ranks mostly with Chechens and Iraqis. 

Over the past few years there have been noticeable attacks by Kosovo-Albanian Islamic-driven terrorist against Western targets. In 2008 in Fort Dix military base in US, in 2012 in a military complex in Virginia-US, whilst the same year the Kosovo Hackers Security, staged a spectacular cyber-attack against the meteorological service of United Sates citing oppression against Muslims. In 2011 in the Frankfurt-Germany international airport, the Kosovo-Albanian Arid Uka, known as “Abu Reyyan", assassinated two US air force service men. Despite the politically correct media posture of Kosovo, it is a fact that both US and EU member states retain strong focus and attention in preventing Islamic terrorism from that area, which along with Bosnia-Herzegovina are considered as "critical links" for the global security architecture and for the prevention of international terrorism.  

Radical Islam or hardline Islam is a major theme in the specified regions through the pervasion of a variety of groups. For instance the Peace TV station’s program which beams in Kosovo is handled by a Deobandi organization based in Dubai and coordinated from Mumbai and Saudi Arabia.  Various and mostly self-proclaimed Imams provide radical view points and target Christians, Jews, atheists and as noted previously anyone not espousing their religious and social viewpoints. Unsurprisingly they propagate vigorously on the need "To help things in Syria".

In UK, in Leicester and Bolton a Deobandi foundation named Rahma Mercy, is highly activated and in parallel with Peace TV. Rahma Mercy is a charity foundation with a well-developed linkage with the Albanian-populated regions in Western Balkans, having helped to build 15 mosques and provided funds to hundreds of families, albeit under the inclusion of the beneficiaries into the Deobandi variant of Islam. Presently a volunteer group composed by:Iqbal Master, Iqbal Ali, Ikram Umarji,Ayub Karmada, Farook Subedar, Habib Al-Haddad, Salim Daud Valli. Abdul Raoof Kali, Moulana Imtiaz Mahetar, Asif Vhora, Imtiaz Abdul Haq Dassu, Sadik Mahetar, Μaulana Ismail Novsarka, Irfan Mururajan, is managing the charity work there from UK.  

A leading role into the Albanian projects is held by: "Hafiz Subhaan Kazi", and "Imam Faik Khamkar" who regularly travel in the region. A more interesting aspect is that the foundation has spread its wings in neighboring Albania and in particular in Elbasan where they established in late 2013 an academy of religious studies, a 9-floor madrassa with modern equipment and fully staffed by locals that already adhere to the purposes of the group. 

Another organization, named Al Waqf Al Islam is in collaboration with the leading Islamic figure of Kosovo, Imam Naim Ternava. Al Waqf was exposed through the 2010 WikiLeaks State Department leaks to be suspected of direct linkage with Al Qaeda, as noted by American diplomats serving in previous years in FYROM and Netherlands, nevertheless is a donor to the causes of Ternava who in turn is routinely accused by secular Albanians as a destabilizing factor in the territory.  Interestingly enough Ternava is also linked with the aforementioned Deombadis and in the past he tried to establish links with the Turkish AKP, a project which was not a success after the 2013 rift in the hardline Sunni world. 

The above networking is just a glimpse of a wider phenomenon in the Balkan region which continuously links the region with war-fronts around the globe where Islamic fighters are involved. In that sense it is a recurring phenomenon and one of substantial security proportions for the political stability and the homeland safety of the countries involved and in a wider scale those of the EU which are indirectly affected, either through émigré communities of affiliations between the various radical groups.