Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A quick look at the role of charities and NGO’s in extremist activities, by Giovanni Giacalone

The Kumanovo shooting perpetrated by an Albanian armed group on May 9th and the recent FYROM political crisis have brought to surface an extremely serious problem that could progressively deteriorate the stability of the western Balkans and that is the infiltration of religious and ethno-nationalist extremist groups for subversive purposes.
A mechanism that does not just rely on the infiltration of violent armed groups through some of the porous borders of Bosnia and Kosovo, but also on the presence of various NGO’s and charities with activities that go far beyond the humanitarian objectives that they claim to have.
A CIA report on charities from the late 90’s is clear on the issue:
Islamic activists dominate the leadership of the largest charities, and prominent members of some smaller organizations have been identified as extremists. The main objectives of these organizations include proselytizing, helping the needy, and defending Muslim communities from enemies. Where Muslims are engaged in armed conflict, some Islamic organizations provide military aid as part of a "humanitarian" package”.

A scenario that is obviously not new to the area as several charities from the Gulf area have infiltrated the Balkans through the years, taking roots in Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo during wartime. Many of them have been banned for links to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, Hamas and Gamaa al-Islamiyya.
According to investigations, some of them were directly involved in terror attacks in the Balkans; an interesting case is the one that links the Sudan-based Third World Relief (TWRA) agency to an attack conducted against a police station in Rijeka, Croatia, in 1995.
As illustrated by the International Assessment and Strategy Center:
The charity, which has served as a template for radical Islamist operations around the world, was founded in 1987 by a Sudanese named Fatih el Hassanein and he served as chairman. His brother, Sukorno Ali Hassanein, served as treasurer. Most of other officers were also Sudanese.
TWRA in essence acted as the funding mechanism to buy hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of weapons for the Bosnian Muslims, who were under siege by the Serbs. This attack galvanized the Islamic world, and several thousand Arab fighters from Afghanistan and elsewhere rushed to Bosnia, along with other volunteers in what was viewed by Islamic groups of almost every stripe as a defensive jihad, fully condoned by the Koran”. [1] [2]
On October 20th 1995 a Fiat 131 Mirafiori with 70kg of TNT was driven into the wall of the Primorje-Gorski Kotar police headquarter in Rjieka. Twenty-seven employees in the police station and two bystanders on the street were injured, although the only person killed was the attacker, later identified as Hassan al-Sharif Mahmud Saad, an employee of the TWRA.
The attack was conducted in retaliation for the arrest by Croatian police of Talaat Fouad Qasim, a senior Gamaa al-Islamiyya member. According to investigators, the attack was overseen by Anwar Shabaan, former leader of the mujahideen in Zenica and former imam at the Centro Culturale Islamico of Milan; Shabaan was killed in December 1995 by Croatian HVO.
Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation (AHIF) is another notorious charity, with headquarters in Saudi Arabia, that helped fund and support the “El-Mujahid” battalion in Zenica. The Zagreb office had often been raided by Croatian security for smuggling activities. In June 2004, the founder and former leader of AHIF, Aqeel Abdulaziz Aqeel al-Aqeel, was listed on an INTERPOL-United Nations Security Council Special Notice for being associated with Al-Qaeda.
In Kosovo a well-known charity that has been active since the 1998-99 war is “Rahma” (Mercy), operating from the UK and linked to the Deobandi ideology. Rahma has supported Albanian radical preacher “Xhemaji Duka, who was expelled from Kosovo in 2010. The charity had established a Wahhabi madrassa next to a mosque in the city of Skenderaj (coordinated by Duka), where children (often orphans) were indoctrinated. [3] [4]
The activity of NGO’s and charities with double agendas is a serious problem that does not only involve the Balkans, but all these areas that are sensitive to Islamist propaganda. It is not a case that the Egyptian government recently ordered the dissolution of fifty NGO’s in five Egyptian cities for being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. [5]
In the Northern-Caucasus, the closure by Russian authorities of all those foreign charities that were involved in political activities (and with links to extremist groups) brought positive results to the war on terrorism and the neutralization of Wahhabi infiltrations in the area.
The activities of charities and NGO’s with double agendas are essential for violent radical groups as they provide them with substantial flows of income that are necessary in order to carry out their activities that in many cases target weak and unstable countries with a high percentage of unemployment and where it is easy to recruit volunteers.

[2] For a complete accounting of the jihadist role in Bosnia, including TWRA, see: Evan F. Kohlmann, Al Qaida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network,Berg, New York, 2004.  
[4] Magni, Ciccotti, “Kosovo: un paese al bivio”, (Milano: Franco Angeli, 2013)

Giovanni Giacalone is an Italian researcher and analyst in Islamic radicalism, lives in Milan where he studies political Islam in Europe with a close look at issues linked to integration, radicalism and relations between the various European Institutions and the Islamic organizations present in Europe. He is an Associazione Italiana Sociologia member, associate research fellow at ISPI "Osservatorio Terrorismo" and an analyst for the Italian Team for Security,Terroristic Issues and Managing Emergencies. He wrote this artcile for RIMSE.