Thursday, December 24, 2015

Nexus between Terrorism and Organized Crime

Nexus between Terrorism and Organized Criminal groups from the Balkans as threat to EU Security

By Ioannis Michaletos & Darko Trifunovic


Nowadays in the South East Europe, the existence of terrorist cells and safe havens is a real threat to the stability and coherence of the region and for entire Europe indirectly. It is more than certain that the local leaderships will soon have to cooperate in order to relieve the much torn-apart South East Europe from this 21st menace.

One has to remember that it took just 8 years of fighting and preparation in the Afghan War for the Mujahedin to become a global terror- complex. Expansion of the communications and transport facilitates the spread of terror organizations.  Evan F. Kohlmann, author of Al-Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network argues that “key to understanding Al Qaida’s European cells lies in the Bosnian war of the 1990s”. Using the Bosnian war as their cover, Afghan-trained Islamic militants loyal to Osama bin Laden convened in the South East Europe in 1992 to establish a European domestic terrorist infrastructure in order to plot their violent strikes against the United States  and rest of the World.

The following passages explores the emergence of the modern Balkan Islamic radicalism and its nexus with organized crime and its importance in relation to recent political culminations that are of interest for the security agencies and the intelligence apparatus.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina vital epicenter

The South East Europe and Bosnia-Herzegovina in particular remains a hot bed for the Islamic driven terrorism in Europe and it should be noted that they still remain a convenient entrance for the transfer of radicals from the Middle East. Therefore and due to the political, diplomatic and historical complexity of the region, a multilateral and highly effective international response is needed in order to effectively counteract the very real peril of subversion of the Bosnia and Herzegovina by numerous and highly dangerous networks composed by international Islamic-oriented terrorist networks and the associated cells of extremists that have set a foothold in the area and have been involved with countless acts of violence.

The civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995 showed that Islamic fundamentalists had organized entire terrorist-guerrilla units that arrived from Afghanistan in order to fight in a jihad together with other like-minded people[1] . During the civil war, the first nucleuses of terrorist cells of Islamic fundamentalists in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina were established with their specifics that are reflected in these acts. These specifics are not only ethnic and cultural-geographical. The fact is that these are completely new ways of creating a global terrorist network such as what we today call “Al-Qaeda”, but more precisely its branch in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The transformation of the first guerrilla units of Islamic fundamentalists into terrorist cells capable of conducting terrorist attacks at anytime and anywhere in the world is particularly interesting to monitor.

In mid-1992 some 3000 Mujahedin were already present in the ranks of the Bosnian Army as volunteer forces [2]. They retained their operational autonomy and in essence became an army within an army. Most of their forces were under the command of General Shakib Mahmouljin and their area of operations was Zenica. Soon the Mujahedin acquired the aura of the elite force within the Bosnian Muslim Army and were accounted for many atrocities against the civilian Christian population[3]. There were instances where the guerrillas didn’t hesitate in presenting publicly beheaded corpses with the heads of the victims in baskets, a tactic often used in the Ottoman period as a part of psychological warfare against the enemy.

Intelligence services of the Nordic-Polish SFOR (previously IFOR) sector alerted the U.S. of their presence in 1992 while the number of mujahedeen operating in Bosnia alone continued to grow from a few hundred to around 6,000 in 1995. Though the Clinton administration had been briefed extensively by the State Department in 1993 on the growing Islamist threat in former Yugoslavia, little was done to follow through[4] .

B. Raman (Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi) states in the South Asia Analysis Group, Paper No 2251, that “al-Sharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned, London-based daily, ran a front-page story on Abu Abdel Aziz and his activities in Bosnia. In August 1994, “Al-Sirat Al-Mustaqeem (The Straight Path)”, an Islamic journal published in Pakistan (Issue No. 33), carried an interview with Abu Abdel Aziz.  The journal, without identifying his nationality, reported that Abu Abdel Aziz spoke perfect Urdu and that he had spent extended periods in Kashmir.  It was stated that Abu Abdel Aziz’s followers, believed to be mostly Indian Muslims from the Gulf, were part of the seventh battalion of the Bosnian Army (7th Corp of so called Arm BiH).
B. Raman continues that in the interview he expressed that “I was one of those who heard about Jihad in Afghanistan when it started.  I used to hear about it, but was hesitant about (the purity and intention of) this Jihad.  One of those who came to our land (presumably Saudi Arabia) was Sheikh Dr. Abdallah Azzam.  I heard him rallying the youth to come forth and (join him) to go to Afghanistan. This was in 1984 — I think.  I decided to go and check the matter for myself.  This was the beginning (of my journey with) Jihad.  Then the conquest of Kabul came.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina, just like the entire area of the Balkans, in the period between the two wars was the main scope of the operation of Islamic fundamentalists. Because of their actions and connections with the global network of Islamic fundamentalists, Bosnian and Herzegovina and the entire Balkan region has become an unavoidable stop for numerous Islamic fundamentalists on their path to Europe. With a well-developed infrastructure, a huge amount of funds secured by Islamic countries, as well as Islamic fundamentalists’ general intentions to create an Umma, members of the network considerably contributed to the rise of the bloody civil war led in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Islamic fundamentalists were practicing and convoying their ideology of violence by all possible means. The processes and acts by which Islamic fundamentalists circles reached their peak followed the revolution in Iran. The main goal of Islamic fundamentalists was the establishment of a Muslim state in the heart of Europe, which would be regulated by Islamic standards. Whether it was about political activities or various forms of violence, the end sanctifies the means.

Civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995 showed that Islamic fundamentalists have organized entire terrorist-guerrilla units that arrived from Afghanistan in order to fight in a jihad together with other like-minded people. During the civil war, the first nucleuses of terrorist cells of Islamic fundamentalists in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina had been established with their specific goals that are reflected in these acts. These specific goals are not only ethnic and cultural-geographical. The fact is that these are completely new ways of creating a global terrorist network which we call today “Al-Qaeda”, or more precisely its branch in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The transformation of guerrilla units of Islamic fundamentalists into terrorist cells capable of conducting terrorist attacks at anytime and anywhere in the world is particularly interesting to monitor.

Certainly, the terrorist threat in Bosnia-Herzegovina does not come solely from the Wahhabis; one should not underestimate the role of the Iranian intelligence, which can leverage the experience of theocracy, powerful organization and local support among the ruling circles of the Bosnian Muslims (Haris Silajdžić, Bakir Izetbegović, Hasan Čengić, Omer Behmen, Edhem Bičakčić, Džemaludin and Nedžad Latić) to pose a danger to Bosnia itself, as well as regional and global stability[5] . By the same token, Wahhabi beliefs are not an altogether negative phenomenon in the Arab world. For example, it is the official outlook on Islam in Saudi Arabia, and has informed their process of liberation from the Ottoman Empire, and their subsequent conservative social organization. By advocating a puritan outlook on Islam, Wahhabism is actually a reform movement in many Arab societies. In well-ordered societies, even “stable dictatorships,” Wahhabism is not a threat.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, however, Wahhabism is the principal means of radicalizing the population. It is militant and exclusive, an ideology of hatred distinguished by a rigid interpretation of Islam [6]. It appeals primarily to the semi-literate and dispossessed rural and suburban populations, who serve as its foot soldiers, and the corrupt profiteers and usurers from Sarajevo, Zenica, Travnik and other Muslim centers.

By its nature, Wahhabism is a fundamentalist movement advocating the return to Islam’s original and basic teachings. It is openly hostile to the Shia, Sufi and other liberal Islamic teachings. When Wahhabis refer to their movement, they often call it a “revival” of Islam, a restoration of the faith in its original, pure form, without Western innovations and Oriental decadence alike. Wahhabism calls for the rejection of modernism and the return to the glorious past of the first Muslims. In fact, Wahhabis often prefer to be called the Salafi, the “forerunners” or inheritors of the “original” Islam.  Wahhabis are recognizable by their physical appearance, customs and behavior. They wear long beards but short hair, and their trousers are rolled up or cut off at the ankles. They rarely communicate or associate with others. When they pray, they do so with their feet and elbows spread out, hitting the floor, thus signaling their determination to fight and sacrifice for Islam. These men are prepared not just to die in the jihad, but to bring death to as many others as they deem necessary. Wahhabism in Bosnia-Herzegovina first appeared in the 1980s, with the students returning from religious schools in from Arab countries.

It has spread significantly following the war, with the influx of foreign Wahhabis and aid from Gulf countries on the first floor from Saudi Arabia. Aid from Islamic countries (in particular Saudi Arabia) was focused on social program such as building madrassas (Islamic schools) and funding program for war orphans, and infrastructural reconstruction projects (the rebuilding of mosques in the Muslim-dominated parts of Bosnia & Herzegovina). But the aid came with conditions. Saudi money has indeed helped fund social program and reconstruction of mosques, but the character of Islamic places of worship has changed significantly as a consequence.

In the ten-year period since the end of armed conflict in Bosnia, around 550 new mosques have been built - primarily in the Wahhabi style[7] . Thanks to mentioned process, today, however, the Wahhabi community in Bosnia-Herzegovina is led by native converts, numbering daily and provoking troubles and valance claiming to act in the name of Islam[8] . Worldwide, Wahhabism is the most widespread in poor and backwater parts of Asia. It has been linked to terrorist activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, leading to an association in the West between Wahhabism and Al-Qaeda, not altogether undeserved. Thanks to the backing of the most powerful Islamic financiers and the favor of certain governments, Wahhabis are slowly but certainly gaining converts throughout the Muslim world. The financial contributions of many Wahhabi followers – including the Muslims in Bosnia - have been used to fund the terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Europe[9].

A past surge in Wahhabi activity in Bosnia-Herzegovina is directly related to the return of the former commander of the “El mujahedin” unit of the Bosnian Army, an Egyptian by the name of Imad al-Misri. After the street demonstrations in Egypt, a large number of radical Islamists were released by the opponents of the now former President Mubarak. Prior to his extradition to Egypt, Al-Misri, also known as Eslam Durmo, resided in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Al-Misri wasted little time upon returning to Bosnia. He began preaching right away. On February 13, 2011 in Sarajevo and the following day in Travnik, he spoke of the proper role of women in Islam. On April 24 in Bugojno, he preached about the evils causing strife within Islam[10] . Al-Misri’s radical Egyptian faction (fraction of Ayman al Zawahiri) is growing in influence, and may well take the leadership within Al-Qaeda after the death of Osama bin Laden.

Another disturbing illustration was the May 13, 2011 sermon of Imam Bilal Bosnić of the Bihać mosque, glorifying Osama bin Laden as a true Muslim believer, a martyr on the path of Allah who fell fighting the vile infidel [11].
From Imam Bilal Bosnic speech: “Dear brothers, imagine how much a singer, an artist, a doctor, an American president would neeed to spend on billboards and advertising, before the entire world would know them. Hitler killed fifty-plus million people. See if you can have a petition drive in Germany to declare him a terrorist. Or anywhere in Western Europe. But today, when the media are our main source of knowledge, and when we have forsaken the word of Allah, anyone can convince us to believe in garbage. And so they tell us that most Muslims consider a man who spent his entire wealth and gave his life to raise the banner of Islam to be a terrorist. Does he care? Will the Almighty judge by the verdicts of the corrupt? Or will He judge by His own will? Now Americans say they had to spend $300 billion. Let them be aware, they did not kill Allah. They cannot kill the idea of Islam. Our heroes, they lay down their lives for the Cause. That is the proof of their faith. After their death, their every word weighs heavily on the scales of True Believers. Only then every word of the one who sealed his Islamiyet (faith) with his life comes to matter“.

According to a past report  by Juan Carlos Antúnez, the Bosnian Wahhabi movement is currently comprised of two main streams[12] :

- A Salafi / Wahhabi stream loyal to the Bosnia and Herzegovina Islamic Community;
- A Salafi / Wahhabi stream outside the control of the Bosnian and Herzegovina Islamic Community. This stream can also be divided into two main groups: Missionary and Jihadi.
It seems that for the long-term purposes of further subversion of radical elements of the Bosnian Wahhabi networks into Bosnia and Herzegovina, the infiltration of the religious structure of the mainstream Muslim community is needed. A security report by the ISN, comments on the “Bosnian Muslim cleric Muhamed Porca, who has served as the head of the Vienna-based Al-Tawhid Mosque since 1993. Bosnian intelligence believes he is the main source of financial and ideological support for the Bosnian Wahhabi movement[13] .

Another of Porca’s associates, the recently arrested Nusret Imamovic, entered the spotlight after the first leader of Gornja Maoca, Sabahudin Fiuljanin (also a holder of residence permit in Vienna) was arrested in Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 2002 by US forces, who followed him home after observing him outside a US military base in the city of Tuzla on several occasions. In his apartment, soldiers found a shoulder-held rocket launcher and several different passports, along with a last will and testament. Fiuljanin was released in early 2003 under pressure from human rights groups who protested the suspect's lack of rights to a lawyer while in detention. Since then he has lived in Sarajevo. Fiuljanin was then replaced by Imamovic, a naturalized Austrian citizen who served as the local imam in the town of Kalesija and spent his time shuffling back and forth between Vienna and Gornja Maoca. Imamovic became better known to the Bosnian public when he and six other Wahhabis, three of them Austrian citizens, assaulted a Bosnian Serb near Gornja Maoca in 2006. After a short trial, the seven were given symbolic sentences and released on parole. Some of them returned to Vienna.  Imamovic also runs an extremist website, which glorifies jihad and tabulates number of dead Americans in the war on terror. Imamovic has previously attracted public attention by his statement on the website that suicide attacks are not forbidden by Islam, and that they should be used in “exceptional circumstances.” During the 2009, SIPA (Bosnian State Security Agency) opened an investigation into the website, suspecting it is serving as a recruitment point for Bosnian Wahhabis to fight against US-led coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, through the distribution of propaganda material [14].

Narcotics and the emergence of crime syndicates in the Balkans

The main threat to the Balkans nowadays, is the existence of well organized criminal groups that to an extent are an integral part of the world wide “Crime Syndicates” that for the most part control the narcotics trade in our époque.  The infamous Balkan drugs route[15] is the main path by which narcotics and specifically heroine; are smuggled to European countries. It is actually a network of contrabands, corrupted public officials and war lords that make sure that the heroine produced in Afghanistan is smoothly transferred to the European addicts.

According to the Council of Foreign affairs[16], Afghanistan has almost tripled its heroin production and in 2005 32,000 acres were reserved for poppy cultivation, out of 12,000 acres in 2004. Between 2002 and 2013 Afghanistan came to dominate almost 90% of world’s heroin production[17].This fact shows first of all the total failure by the NATO Forces in that country to create the necessary framework for the reconstruction process. As far as the ramifications for the Balkans are concerned, the increased profits by criminal gangs have boasted them with tremendous riches and political influence.

There are mainly two organized ethnic groups that deal most of the arrangements concerning the organized crime in the Balkans. The so-called Albanian mafia[18] and the Turkish crime syndicates[19]. The Albanian organized crime is very active since the collapse of the Communist rule in this country that opened the way for various indigenous gangs to spread their wings further  and take part in one of the most profitable commerce of all times, namely drugs.  A leading French criminologist Xavier Raufer[20] has extensively dealt with the issue of the Albanian mafia. He considers the Albanians as the only true “Mafia” in the Balkans due to the peculiar social structure of their society in the Northern parts of the country “The land of the Genghis”.

An isolated society with very firm beliefs in issues of honor and manhood pride coupled with severe social problems and a culture of vendetta; has been transformed into a huge international crime network. Various reports[21] indicate that roughly 70-80% of the heroin distributed in European is under Albanian control, a really impressive percentage for a nation of just 6 million people. Moreover in the Balkan route –In reality three distinct routes-, the Albanian mafia plays a vital role in safeguarding the interests of the world drugs trade by having its “Soldiers” and “Capos” along the way and protecting shipments from police and official interruption.

Furthermore Albania as a country is a major producer of Cannabis[22], which is mainly exported to neighboring Greece and Turkey. The narcotics traded is placed along the trafficking and illegal immigrant smuggling[23] operations that have seen the Albanians gaining the fame as the most powerful and dangerous criminal group in South Eastern Europe. In Greece alone the revenues from prostitution run at around 7.5 billion USD[24], a large portion of that being controlled by Albanian criminal groups. Trafficking of women from Albania is one of the main ways to establish a “War chest” for the organized crime, in order to invest its wealth in the drugs trade.

In essence the first stage for every respectable organized crime unit, is to establish a prostitution ring, make easily large amounts of cash, and then invest them for the drugs trade by constructing the expensive logistics bases, fake companies, pay corrupted officials and so on. Therefore when looking into the different aspects of organized criminal activity, one should note that all forms of that activity are interconnected and that each one leads to the other. That actually is one of the differences of organized crime from the other forms of criminality[25]

Back to the activities of the Albanian criminal groups, the recent history illustrates the existence of a hybrid criminal form[26], meaning the interconnection between criminal activities and terrorism. The Albanian groups that are mostly active in the North of the country have been associated with the preparations of the U.C.K guerilla forces in the late 90’s, as well as, with their arming and training[27]. The troubling 90’s in South Eastern Europe saw the convergence of the drugs trade along with the formation of radical Islamic groups and the pervasion of corruption in the upper echelons on the countries involved. In the Albanian case the past decade it is assumed that the country is facing a virtual take over of its institution by the organized crime that in its turn has been linked with international terrorism, with Al Qaeda withstanding[28]

The main role of the Albanian Mafia in the narcotics trade is the one of wholesale distributor of Afghan heroine. Along the Balkan route and especially the one passing through Southern Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia; the Albanians import heroin and then dispense it to Italy, or Bosnia- Croatia to Austria and Central Europe. After 1999 and the consequent Albanian dominance in Kosovo, Pristina has become the unquestionable narcotics capital of Europe[29]. A traditionally provisional city in the midst of the Balkans is nowadays the epicenter of all drugs deal of an area encompassing Central Europe, Balkans, and Middle East.

The lack of law coupled with the existence of a society reluctant to pursue organized crime, has created a “black hole” in the centre of the Balkans that primarily lives on criminal activities and the remittances of the Kosovo-Albanian Diaspora[30]. The latter is strategically located in countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Denmark and dominates the European heroin trade. Despite the fact that Albanians are relatively newcomers to the European organized crime scene-Like the old-timers Sicilians, Corsicans and  Irish- the have already taken over the entire European heroin market and make large advances in the sectors of trafficking, racketeering, arms smuggling and illegal gambling[31].

The infamous Albanian mafia is a formidable criminal network, but the existence of another one, influential as well, should be added in order to examine the whole spectrum of drugs trade in the Balkans. The Turkish crime syndicates are the undisputable partner of the Albanians. It would not be possible for the Albanians to become distributors in the first place if the weren’t able to acquire their good from the East, and that is where the role of the Turks begins.

Turkey is a country strategically located between the East and the West. Apart from its importance in political and military level, it is also an integral part of the international narcotics smuggling. It would just be very hard for heroin to travel from Central Asia to Europe without being able to trespass Turkey, the only Asian country bordering with Europe. Turkey is a state traditionally producing Opium[32], for pharmaceutical purposes. In the early 70’s international pressure –Mostly from Nixon administration in the USA- obliged Turkey to enforce stricter rules for Opium production in 1974. Up until then heroin was produced in Turkey as an Opium derivative and quantities were sold to the West with the assistance of the Sicilian[33] and Corsican mafias[34].

The heroin to be sold was transported with ships to Sicily, and then to Marseilles were the Corsicans had created labs for the fabrication of the commercial product. From then onwards it was transferred to New York and other USA ports where the American-Italian mafia would assure its allocation in the end-users, the heroin addicts. The forceful USA administration at that time declared a war against narcotics and obliged the Turks to seek other sources of the lucrative opium. Soon enough Turkish operational production bases were established in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. The war in the former during the 80’s, as well as, the resurge of the Kurdish guerilla fighting after 1984[35] and the Iraq-Iranian war[36] the same period; created a convergence of political, criminal and military operations based in heroin trade.

Events such as the Iran-Contra[37] scandal illuminate how far the heroin trade has penetrated the higher echelons of the world’s decision-making process and how it interacts with the international affairs. Moreover the effective destruction of Beirut during the 80’s collapsed the cities ubiquitous reputation as the prime port for narcotics trade and this role was overtaken by Istanbul[38].  The situation after the end of the Cold War in 1989, found the Turks financially strong from their trade in the previous decades and also ready enough to pursue stronger ties with the countries of Central Asia, an aim vividly supported by the USA administrations.

Furthermore the appearance of the Albanians and the civil wars in former Yugoslavia, provided ample of human resources in the Balkans, eager in getting involved in the drugs trade so as to survive financially or gain capital to achieve their political aims. Europe now already hosted considerable Turkish minorities-Especially Germany[39] - and individuals from those Turkish communities were used to act as local retail agents for the heroin distribution in Europe.

In 1996 the Susurluk accident[40] revealed to Turkey the extent where the Drug –Lords have penetrated the upper crust of the society and they were able to conduct their businesses untouched by the law[41]. Even the spouse of the then Turkish Prime Minister Tancu Tsiller[42] has been widely accused for close interactions with notable underworld figures. Furthermore the accusations that the Turkish security forces were conducting drugs trade in South Eastern Turkey[43] were in relation to the civil strife in that region because of the Kurdish fight and that presents once more that politics and criminal groups seem to go hand in hand. 

The modus opperandi of the Turkish organized crime in drugs trade follows the role of the coordinator and distributor. Large amounts of heroin shipments enter Turkey each month and then delivered through the Balkan route mostly, to all over Europe[44]. It has to be noted that the country with the largest Turkish community-Germany- is being used also as a redistribution centre. That means that when heroin reaches Germany, it is being handed out from there to the other major European markets, especially UK and Scandinavia. Moreover some of the strongest “Capo” of the Turkish syndicates resided in Germany and generally speaking this country has become the centre of gravity for the Turkish drug barons, as far as, their posture in the European narcotics scene is concerned[45]. Further the impact of the Turkish drug lords has alarmed European security agencies due to the importance of their overall contribution in the narcotics market in the Continent. For instances since the 1970s, Turkey has accounted for between 75 and 90 per cent of all heroin in the UK. The key traffickers are Turks or criminals who operate along that route using Turkish contacts[46].

The alliance of Turkish and Albanian crime groups[47] can be explained at first glance by the cultural, religious and ethnic links –A large percentage of Turks in W. Turkey has Albanian ancestry-[48]. Also, the tradition of the Albanians to join and serve larger ethnic groups with whom they feel to have a kind of affinity might have its explanation. The same was he case in USA and New York especially[49] where for decades the Albanian crime syndicates tended to operate under the aegis and influence of the much stronger American-Sicilian crime corporations.

It is more than certain that if Western societies along with their partners in the Balkans; cannot control the narcotics trade their incompetence will certainly spill over to the overall antiterrorist security framework that they are trying to enforce. The Hybrid forms that modern crime is currently experiencing will most certainly ensure the continuous flow of capital to terrorist enterprises along with the recruitment of loyal assistants and the corruption of public officials in sensitive sectors of the public sectors. The initiatives[50] by the heads of state of the Balkans to curb on organized crime should give the opportunity for further decisive measures. Balkans have already being developed as Europe’s soft underbelly-Not quite as Churchill imagined-  and one of the top priorities of the EU has to be the unquestionable joint effort to “close down” the Balkan route, achieving thus a real advance against terrorism in a worldwide level.

Organized crime outlook in Albania & Bulgaria

Since the end of the Communist era in the Balkans in the early 90’s, organized crime activities have soared, by expanding their activities in fields such as narcotics, trafficking, racketeering and goods smuggling. The civil wars in Yugoslavia and the continuous strife in Albania provided an excellent framework on which crime syndicates became stronger and gained political and societal clout.

The first and foremost criminal group that can be to an extent classified as a “Mafia” is the Albanian organized crime[51]. Its geographical spread is in and between the triangle Pristina (Kosovo) – Tetovo (FYROM) and Tirana (Albania). During the 1999 and the NATO campaign against Serbia, it was a common secret amongst the members of the international community that the KLA army was financed and assisted by the organized crime that hoped to achieve a safe haven in the Kosovo area[52]. The importance of Pristina is mainly associated with its use as a transit point in the infamous Balkan drugs route. Moreover the capital of Kosovo is a massive hideout for heads of crime syndicates across the Balkans and beyond[53].

Furthermore the high unemployment rate in the region along with the chronic industrial decay, have forced masses of the population to remain tolerant –at beast- in the practices of illegal activity[54]. The capital flowing from heroin trade mostly, have helped towards the revitalization of the local economies. To that point it is interesting to note that 4/5 of the heroin flowing to Europe from Asia (Afghanistan) is being transferred by Albanians that have established bases all across Europe from Oslo to Barcelona and from Budapest to Rome[55]. The Albanian organized crime as Xavier Raufer has pointed out operates on a dual basis[56]. That means it has also the function of a strong societal force that virtually governs peripheral areas of Albania, mostly in the North, as well as, Kosovo currently. The Albanian crime syndicates work in close contacts with their American-Albanian counterparts that are mainly located in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia[57]. Since 1991 quite a few Kosovo-Albanians have managed under not-so-legal ways, to immigrate to USA and act as liaison with the European community.

This highly sophisticated criminal network has been able to control much of the drugs trade in Europe and also the trafficking of women and children from the Balkans to Western Europe. Both of these activities are complementary to each other and frequently criminal groups switch from one activity to the other[58].

The ethnic conflicts in Former Yugoslavia, provided ample opportunities for weapons smuggling that reached unprecedented proportions in 1997. The same year a civil unrest in Albania, led to the overthrow of the government and the lack of the rule of law for almost 6 months. During this period 700,000 Kalashnikov and about 200,000 Albanian passports were stolen[59]. Consequently a large portion of the above was sold to criminal groups in the Balkans and in Europe, whilst there are many allegations of terrorist connection whereby Al Qaeda members were able to obtain Albanian passports and an easier access to the European Continent[60].

Islamic terrorism and the Balkans: The perfect training ground

The emergence of radical – militant Islam during the 90’s is a very complicated issue that involves worldwide actors, social dynamics and a deep knowledge of the religious realm of the Islamic world. This article aims to present and inform for the events that shaped Islamic terrorism in the Balkans. In this corner of Europe, the past 15 years, the roots of Islamic radicalism have deepened and it is of the outermost importance to comprehend this phenomenon, so as to be able to combat it.

The beginning of the Yugoslavian civil strife in 1991 presented an excellent chance for the Mujahedin to get into Europe via the ethno-cultural conflict between Christians and Muslims in Bosnia. These religious mercenaries had proved their aptitude in war from the early 80’s when they fought the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, and managed to inflict great damages to it using Western assistance.

The West at that period, along with its regional allies, promoted the creation of the so-called “Green Arch”[61]. That meant the creation of strong Islamic pockets in areas of Soviet influence, or in border countries that deemed important for the strategy of the West against the Soviets. Thus Afghanistan, Pakistan, Caucasus, and in Turkey (through the use of the Turkish “Hezbollah”), became radicalized during the 80’s.
What the West could not comprehend and predict at that period, is the “Genie out of the bottle” effect. Once these radicals groups gained access to armaments and training, they became autonomous and sought to create their own agenda. Therefore the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was the trial test of their newly founded role.

In mid-1992 some 3000 -3500 Mujahedin were already present in the ranks of the Bosnian Army as volunteer forces. They retained their operational autonomy and in essence became an army within an army[62]. Most of their forces were under the command of General Shakib Mahmouljin and their area of operations was Zenica. Soon the Mujahedin acquired the aura of the elite force within the Bosnian Muslim Army and were accounted for many atrocities against the civilian Christian population. There were instances where the guerillas didn’t hesitate in presenting publicly beheaded corpses with the heads of the victims in baskets, a tactic often used in the Ottoman period as a part of psychological warfare against the enemy.

During the Bosnian war, the Al-Qaeda was beginning to emerge as a world wide Islamic force that intended to strike the West with all means possible. One of the key elements in its success would be to get a hold of “safe havens” in Europe[63]. The situation in Bosnia was the opportunity wanted, and soon logistic bases were established within the Bosnian territory. Moreover a campaign of recruiting Bosnian Muslims to the Al –Qaeda cause, resulted in the creation of “Islamic pockets” in the middle of the Balkans. By the end of 1995 and the subsequent Dayton treaty that ended the war; hundreds of Mujahedin fighters were permanent residents of the established Bosnia-Herzegovina state, and acquired the citizenship of that country[64].

The USA security agencies have revealed that two of the hijackers in 9/11 attacks, had toured the Balkans and were trained in an Al-Qaeda camp in Bosnia[65]. In addition the explosives used in the 7/7 attacks in London came from the Balkans[66], an event that portrays the tremendous lack of perspective that the West had when it tolerated the emergence of such networks.

The sensitive issue of the Kosovo status is also interlinked with the presence of terrorism –Of an Islamic nature- and its ramifications are much more extended than conventionally thought. Moreover the impact of Islamic driven terrorism in the Balkans is not only restrained in the region but has global consequences, thus it needs multiparty intelligence cooperation in order to be dealt with. Worries about Kosovo morphing into a safe haven for terrorists are not without merit. After all, radical Islamic elements aided some Kosovars--and earlier, Bosnian Muslims--in the ethno-religious warfare that destroyed Yugoslavia in the 1990s. For example, Australian al-Qaeda fighter David Hicks traveled to the Balkans to join the notorious Kosovo Liberation Army. Hicks completed military training at a KLA camp and later fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, where U.S. forces apprehended him[67].

The Albanian nationalism and the Islamic terrorism

As in the case of Bosnia, the Albanian Muslims (70% of the population) proved to be a magnet for the Islamists that sought to regain a foothold in Europe. The conditions by which Albania was freed by the Communist regime in the early 90’s, revealed the existence of a backward isolated country with no interaction with the rest of the world. The transition from a central command structure to that of a free market; ensured the development of multiple societal forces within the much repressed Albanian society[68].

In early 1994 the infamous Osama Bin Laden, paid a visit to Tirana, presumably to oversight the networking of his activities there. He came back in 1998 to oversight Al-Qaeda training camps in the Northern part of Albania, just across the borders with Kosovo[69]. The trainers –of Arabic origin mostly- were assigned to train the newly recruits of the Usthria Climirtare e Kosoves –U.C.K- units for the forthcoming guerilla warfare against the Yugoslav forces in Kosovo.

The then Albanian Director of the Albanian secret service-SHIK-named Fatos Klosi admitted the training that took place in these camps and the existence of “Jihad warriors” from Sudan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt that were responsible for the instruction of the UCK army. To this point it is important to add to the above, the existence of the Albanian Arab Islamic Bank, that was used for the financing of terrorist activities throughout the Balkans. Various sources indicate the existence of Bin Laden’s backing in the bank’s capital, with the sum of 11 million USD[70].

In 1997, the financial collapse of Albania by an economic scandal that shook the country; had as a result the social unrest throughout the territory and the collapse of the rule of law[71]. An uncounted number of armaments were stolen during the period of the riots from the Albanian’s Army caches, and the bulk of it ended in the hands of the UCK and its Islamist collaborators. Until early 1998 USA characterized UCK as a terrorist organization, due to its connection with well-known figures of the extremist elements of the Islamic world. Nevertheless, the American policy changed its direction since it deemed the existence of Milosevic more threatening at that period than the Islamic movement[72]. During the skirmishes and fights before the NATO bombings in March 1999, the Yugoslav Army managed to inflict great damages to the Mujahedin fighters that were combating along the UCK lines[73]. In Urocevac the bulk of them was eliminated by the Serbian Army and was obliged to retreat back in their safe havens in Northern Albania.

After the end of the 1999 war, the Mujahedin networks regrouped and started to infiltrate the Kosovo area in great numbers[74]. That included the mushrooming of Islamic charitable funds across the region, the construction of Mosques and the radicalization of the local Albanian population[75] and the wider Muslim populations of the ex-Yugoslavia.

It is interesting to note that the Albanian population in its majority cannot be conceived as a fundamentalist Islamic nation and the extremists are for the time being a forceful minority of that nation. The Islamic expansion in the Balkans is coupled with the existence of the criminal syndicates that are all prevalent in the Balkan Peninsula. Since the terrorist activities cannot be financed through the use of the legal free market economy, the use of narcotics and trafficking illegal trade has enabled the flourishing of the terrorist networks[76]. The “Hybrid” organizations as the merged terrorist and criminal are named[77], has created the necessary framework for the Balkans to enter in one of the worst periods of their modern history. The leading criminologist Loretta Napoleoni has researched articulately the issue and offers illuminating approaches as to the extent of the infiltration of crime & terrorism in world economy.

According to her recent interview for[78], some 1.5 trillion USD are the revenue of the organized crime worldwide. A fair portion of that is being achieved by controlling the “Balkan drugs route” a geographical area that encompasses Kosovo, Northern Albania and Tetovo. More or less the Islamic terrorism network has located some of its bases, along the way of some of the most lucrative criminal areas of Europe. Therefore it is able to increase its revenues and finance its monstrous acts.

In spring 2001, the Mujahedin forces, once again, were brought to day-light by joining the National Liberation Army in its fight in Western FYROM[79]. The NLA was a composition of various Albanian fractions that along with the Islamic extremists sought to prepare the basis for the disintegration of FYROM[80]. There is a large Albanian minority in the country, which also happens to be located right in the centre of the Balkans and where the “Balkan drug route” passes by. The Mujahedin formed the majority of the 113 brigade of NLA[81], and were accused of many atrocities against innocent civilians of Slavic descent.

On August 2001 the Ohrid accord was signed and the conflict ceased without any real gains by the Albanian side[82]. A month later, the attack on the twin towers revealed to the world the spread and the power the terrorist organizations have amassed, thus the “War on terror” begun and to a great extent dismantled the world wide Islamic terrorist web.


Nawaf al Hazmi, a Saudi.  He was a September 11th hijacker.  He fought in BiH in 1995.

Khalid al-Mihdhar, from Yemen.  He also was a September 11th hijacker.  He also fought in BiH with the foreign mujahideen battalion in Bosnia in 1995

Sheikh Omar abd-al Rahman (convicted of the 1993 attack on the WTC) was connected with the so-called humanitarian organization TWRA, which was a cover for terrorists. Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic made personal guarantees for TWRA’s general director and personal friend Elfatih Hassanein, so he could open an account with Die Erste Osterreich Bank in Vienna, Austria in 1993.

Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who recruited Mohamed Atta into Al-Qaeda, had a terrorist base in Bosnia. Zammar is also responsible for recruiting two of Atta’s lieutenants, Ramzi Binalsahib and Said Bahaji.

Osama bin Laden received a Bosnian passport from the Embassy in Vienna, Austria. Many other Al-Qaeda members were issued B-H passports, which enabled them to continue their terrorist activities.

Abu al-Ma’ali (Abdelkader Mokhtari), a senior Al-Qaeda operative, was stationed in Bosnia until recently. Just a few years ago, US officials used to call him “Osama Bin Laden, Jr.”

Bensayah Belkacem was arrested in Bosnia in October 2001. Numbers saved in his cell phone connected him with at least one top-rank associate of Bin Laden

The “White Al-Qaeda” in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Information available to experts on international terrorism indicate that B-H is at this time one of the most dangerous countries in Europe, as it represents a nursery for potential Islamic terrorists – the so called “white” or “European” Al-Qaeda[84]. Money from Islamic countries that is laundered through “humanitarian” organizations finances the religious education of at least 100,000 young Bosnian Muslims[85]. In addition to such education, which follows the interpretations of Wahhabi Islam, there is another type of “training” in various officially registered camps throughout the B-H Federation[86]. There, the young and carefully selected Wahhabis attend “additional courses” in marksmanship, explosives and martial arts[87]. Organizations such as “Furqan,” the “Active Islamic Youth,” the “Muslim Youth Council” and others – differing only in name and primary donors, but otherwise interchangeable – teach young Muslims computer and Internet skills, so they could establish contacts with their coreligionists worldwide. Knowing all this, the former head of UN Mission in Bosnia Jacques Paul Klein recently said that some 200 mujahid’din in Bosnia did not represent a danger, because they can be easily controlled.Klein knew it would be a lot more difficult to stop the spread of young Bosnian Wahhabis throughout Europe, youths who consider Osama Bin Laden and the mujahid’din role models[88]. Nowadays there is still a strong presence of a variety of extremist Islamic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina, under the pretext of charity funds and related philanthropic establishments[89]. Thus it is not of surprise that the U.K Foreign Office still warrants concern safety for every British national traveling there, especially in relation to potential terrorist incidents[90].

 “Balkan Jihad” & narcoterror

After the 9/11, a worldwide “War on terror” begun in order to disband and neutralize Islamic terrorist networks across the globe. The main focus of the largest anti-terrorist campaign in history is focused in the Middle East area, as well as in Afghanistan.

Evan F. Kohlmann, author of Al-Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network argues that “key to understanding Al Qaida’s European cells lies in the Bosnian war of the 1990s”[91]. Using the Bosnian war as their cover, Afghan-trained Islamic militants loyal to Osama bin Laden convened in the Balkans in 1992 to establish a European domestic terrorist infrastructure in order to plot their violent strikes against the United States

So, the outbreak of the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992 presented an unparalleled opportunity for the international Mujaheedin to storm Europe, establish safe havens in the area and thus initiate re-conquest of regions they previously ruled[92]. The leader of Bosnia, Alia Izebegovic was eager to obtain as much assistance as possible and didn’t hesitate in providing the necessary framework by which the Islamic ties were forged[93]. In the same year, a variety of Islamic mercenaries flocked into the Balkans in order to support the “Holy cause”, meaning the establishment of the first Islamic state in Europe[94]. The end of the war in 1995 saw quite a few of those mujahedin, acquiring Bosnian citizenship and establishing the first Islamic community in the village of Bocinja Donja[95]. During 2006 and 2007, hundreds of citizenships were revoked by Islamists residing in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nevertheless the whereabouts of most of them remain unknown, raising fears for potential terrorist acts by them in the future and in an European soil[96]. What is more, the Novi Pazar town in Sanjak area in Southern Serbia; has become a core for Islamic fundamentalism, linked with Al-Qaeda cells. Novi Pazar is the focus of the Islamist attempt to build a landbridge from Albania and Kosovo to Bosnia. Further to the East, in southern Serbia’s Raška Oblast, are three other concentrations of Muslims: Sjenica and Pester area (lightly populated but mostly Muslim), Prijepolje (some 50 percent Muslim) and — very close to the Bosnia border where Republica Srpska controls the slender Gorazde corridor — Priboj (also some 50 percent Muslim). The land between is Serbian farmland, but the Islamist goal is to link the cities as “evidence” that the entire region is, or should be, Muslim territory. The same strategy worked successfully in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Serbian farmers were driven off their lands during the civil war.

Just south of the Serbian area of Raška Oblast is the Montenegrin part of Raška region, where, for example, Bijeljo Polje is some 60 to 80 percent Muslim, and Pijevlja, close to the Bosnian border, is about 40 percent Muslim. These Montenegrin towns, like those of the Western Serbian Raška region, are the key to the illicit arms and narcotrafficking across the Gorazde Corridor to Bosnia.

A new Islamist university has opened in Novi Pazar, ostensibly a normal college, but led by an Islamist mufti of little formal education. This modern institution — whose officials proclaim it a normal educational institution — reveals its character in its symbol: the Wahabbi/Salafi Dawa symbol, an open Q’uran surmounted with a rising sun. The university, in a renovated former textile factory, is a known center of radical Islamist thinking. A book fair held there in early October 2003 distributed very radical Islamist literature, specifically advocating conflict with the West.
The Dawa sign indicates that the university is predominantly Saudi-funded, although some Western funding is known to have been pumped into the institution, reportedly largely to undermine Serb interests in the region[97]

Western tolerance of Islamic radicals, however, was one of the gravest mistakes of modern times[98]. In addition, a well organized criminal network has already been established in Sarajevo that in a large extent facilitates illegal immigration from Asia to Europe[99]. That activity is coupled with the narcotics trade that is being supplemented by the infamous “Balkan Drug route”[100]. It is illuminating to note that the areas from where this route is passing are under Muslim influence mostly.  

One of the biggest problems is certainly the drug trade, which directly affects EU countries. Seventy percent of all heroins arriving to the EU come down three Balkans routes. BH is part of one of the routes, but is increasingly becoming a storage zone for illicit narcotics and an emerging market, as the number of users grows. Local crime syndicates are connected with Albanian, Kosovo, Serb, Turkish and Bulgarian mafias. There are two heroin routes into BH: One starts in Afghanistan, through Turkey, Greece, Albania and Serbia, and then through BH westwards. The second starts in Albania, and then goes across Montenegro into southern BH and Croatia, to proceed into Western Europe [101].

This recent situation is being exploited by various Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organizations in BH. During the civil war, some of the Muslim military commanders were petty criminals such as Ramiz Delalic – CELO[102]  (deputy commander, 9th Motorised Brig.), Ismet Bajramovic – CELO (Military police commander[103] ), Musan Topalovic – CACO[104]  and Jusuf -Juka Prazina[105] . Also, members of the mentioned group are: Sead Becirevic-Sejo, Zulfikar Alic-Zuka (Military commander of the terrorist unit call Black Swans) and Bojadzic Nihat, former officer of the R BiH Army. Political support to this group secure on of the prominent Muslim politician in Sarajevo Mr.Ejup Ganic and Mr.Haris Silajdzic. Haris Silajdzic are the actual member of the B-H Presidency. His sister Salidza Silajdzic is married in Iran, presumably to a high rank officer of the VEVAK, and his brother Husref Silajdzic is thought to be a secret agent of the Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI). New information speak about the fact that Haris Silajdzic is trying to restart the work of “Patriot League”[106].  The center of “Patriot League” is to be in Sarajevo with General Vahid Karavelic as its head.     

Terrorist networks have seized upon these advantages of local criminals-turned-Islamic fundamentalists, creating a new model of terrorist funding.

While terrorists and criminal syndicates have different motivations, they both seek financial gain – only terrorists see it as a source of funding their ideological pursuits. As a result, terrorist networks in cooperation with organized crime syndicates generate significant sums of money. Both parties profit from cooperation. Terrorists provide drug supplies, weapons and contacts to drug-makers and smugglers worldwide. They also provide safe havens for organized crime syndicates, because they often control large territories where there is no rule of law. On the other hand, the terrorists can use smuggling routes and illicit trade goods. Both groups gather and exchange intelligence on corrupt state officials in all branches of government.

Islamic fundamentalists, including Al-Qaeda members, realize profits from drug trade in two ways. One is by taking a percentage from the local criminal syndicates, and the other is taking a portion of illicit substances transported towards Western Europe. Profits from those drug sales are used by the terrorists to purchase arms and offer bribes, but increasingly often as well for hiring professional PR and lobbying firms to come up with political justifications of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.

Recent discoveries in BH indicate that the trend of terrorist organizations funding themselves from drug sales is on the rise, due to a series of factors:

1.         Financial scrutiny and closing of so-called “humanitarian” organizations that were terror fronts;
2.         Greater pressure on state sponsors of terrorism, resulting in their inability to funnel money to terrorists openly;
3.         Increase in supply of heroin coming from Afghanistan;
4.         Connections between Islamic fundamentalists and organized crime syndicates

The Albanian factor

Albania was under the Communist rule during the Cold War, the most isolated country in Europe. The break of the Soviet Empire unleashed forces that were kept dormant in the society for decades, and resulted to some very interesting developments. In 1992 Albania becomes a member of the Islamic Conference, an international Islamic organization[107]. The same year as well the government of Sali Berisha, currently also a Prime Minister, signed a military agreement with Turkey, thus enacting a series of discussions in the neighboring states, around the possibility of an Islamic arch from Istanbul to Sarajevo.

One of the main reasons the Albanian officials were eager to form strong ties with the Muslim world was the hope that large investments from the Gulf would ensure the uplifting of the decaying Albanian economy. Therefore the religious sentiment of the majority of Albanians, mostly in the North, was overplayed in order to gain capital from the Islamic world. Unfortunately no serious investment initiatives were undertaken; instead the Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, found another state to expand their illegal activities. Many different and respectable sources have indicated two visits by Bin Laden in Tirana that aimed into creating an Islamic platform for the country and the construction of terrorist networks within the territory.

An Albanian called Naseroudin Albani played an instrumental role in spreading extremist Islamic values into the Albanian society. He was a fugitive from Albania since 1963 and resided in Amman-Jordan[108]. Sources from Albania point out that Albani organized radical Sunni sects back in the 70’s in the Middle East that became the nucleus of the modern day Mujahedin. Another Albanian, the then head of the Albania’s Secret service, SHIK, called Bashkim Gazidente assisted into implementing radical Islamic agenda in Albanian domestic policies. During the 1997 Albanian riots Gazidente fled from Albania and he is said to be an instrumental part in global Islamic networks[109]. He fled presumably to a Middle Eastern country and currently he resides in Rome-Italy treated in a local hospital due to chronic illness; according to reliable regional sources[110].

The Al Qaeda factor in Albania was consolidated by the creation of the Arabic-Albanian bank, in which Bin Laden allegedly invested the sum of 11.4 million USD. This financial institution acted as a front cover for the transfer of capital for Islamic activities within the country[111]. Just before Berisha’s political overturn in 1997, another Islamic institution called “El Farouk”, acted as a recruitment agency for young Albanians, under the pretext of a charity. One of the most dramatic indicators of the degree of Islamic presence in Albania is the militant Islamic training camp just outside Tirana, the same camp on which Berisha relied in his unsuccessful 1998 coup of his rival Fatos Nano[112].  At this point it is interesting to note that it was a well known fact around the international community of the nexus between organized crime syndicates, terrorist cells and the KLA, operating under and with Albanian assistance[113]. Actually Albania was mainly used as springboard to neighboring Kosovo. In April 1999, some 500 Arab Mujahedeen were smuggled into the capital of Tirana. Their mission was to conduct special operations against Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. They entered Kosovo from Northern Albania. The whole operation was led by Bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri[114].

The Nairobi and Tanzania bombings of 1998 shocked the US administration into taking some action, for the first time, do dismantle terrorist’s networks. Soon, the pressure fell on Albania and in the October of the same month individuals of Middle Eastern origin were rounded up and deported[115]. The head of SHIK, Fatos Clozi, admitted for the first the existence of extremists in Albania and promised the eradication of the terrorist nucleus.

The 9/11 attacks proved to be a fatal blow for the radicals in Albania and the USA forces have more or less neutralize any remaining cells[116]. The government of Albania, which is more than willing to become inducted in the Euro-Atlantic security framework, has ceased to seek Islamic assistance and the current Berisha’s administration has refaced its Islamic outlook into a modern European one[117].

Nevertheless, the Albanian-Islamic connection is now concentrated in Kosovo, the very same province NATO forces are stationed! There is an overwhelming variety of sources and reports that indicate a well established fundamentalist presence in that area. It is a common secret in the international community that the West kept a blind eye during the 1998-1999 Winter where hundreds of Mujahedin joined the UCK forces and helped it expand[118].  Shaul Shay describes “The [Kosovo Albanian] KLA enjoyed the support of former Albanian President Sali Berisha, who regarded the war in Kosovo as a Jihad and issued a call to all Muslims to fight for the protection of their homeland”[119].

At that period the means justified the end which was the disbandment of the Russian influence in the Balkans, as the Clinton administration viewed the Milosevic one. The result was a resurge of Islamic radical networks in the region, thus eliminating the beneficial results of previous actions against it. Moreover Russia managed to regroup and it is still viewed as a great player in South Eastern Europe.

The newly independent Montenegro nowadays faces a long term Islamic population bomb and it is certain that should current trends continue, in 2050 half of the population would be Muslim That is not of course a prelude of terrorism action per se, but the overall turbulent Balkan history and the existence of terror networks in nearby Kosovo do not assure a tranquil political future for the newest Balkan state.

The FYROM is also another terrain where the delicate balance between radicalism and Muslim secularism is taking place. Back in 2001, an Albanian uprising nearly resulted in the disintegration of the state although nowadays there is an uneasy stability. However any negative developments in Kosovo will affect directly the country which is also the epicenter of the Balkans by a geopolitical point of view.

Lastly the Sanjak area in Southern Serbia is a territory to watch, where the Wahhabi strain of Islam has gained tremendous influence in the local Muslim population. On March 2007 a terrorist cell was disbanded by the Serbian authorities and a terrorist plan was dwarfed at the last minute[120] .Again Kosovo as the centre of radicalism in the Balkans could play the role of the powder keg for any developments in Sanjak, against the Serbian population in the region[121].

The complicated Balkan reality: the region is a mostly secular one, but it has the peculiarity of hosting safe havens of terrorists and organized crime related Islamists[122]. Most of these areas are under international protection a paradox that ridicules the entire Western anti terror campaign. Another worrying fact is the real danger of proliferation of chemical or biological weapons into the hands of terrorists, especially in the case of Albania[123].  Already this threat is one of the top priorities for the security services across Southeastern Europe, and Greece along with the USA, Italy, Switzerland, and the European Union; assists Albania in destroying the stockpiles of its chemical weapons[124]. It is worthwhile to mention that the Albanian authorities had discovered 16 tons of chemicals in 2002, stored in an underground cache, but there are no verified accounts if any amount had been stolen during the 1997 riots, thus raising a question as to whether terrorist organizations already have taken hold of quantities of chemicals.
Lastly, the attack on the USA Embassy in Athens-Greece with an RPG weaponry, is assumed to have a Balkan-Albanian connection, meaning source it came from, the “Weapons black market” vividly active in the borderlines between Kosovo and FYROM.[125]

In lieu of a conclusion

The overall challenges for the security and intelligence services, oriented in the Balkan region seems overwhelming, judging by the multitude of the challenges involved and the tasks needed to overcome them. The current époque has brought the re-engineering of security policies, in order to combat non- symmetrical threats such as the ones of organized crime and terrorism. Taking into account the globalization process, the interrelation between societies and the breathtaking advancements in telecommunications and transport; it is fair to assume that certain issues should be seriously reflected upon, on a different perspective than the traditional mode.

 A multiparty approach to organized crime should be form here upon the core of any intelligence activity in the Balkans. Organized crime & terrorism, need measures that are up to the modern way of life and communication of ours. A parallel and well constructed method of Open Source Intelligence gathering and the operation of specialized crime intelligence units will certainly help towards the aim of curbing crime and its calamities. In addition a conclusive analysis and synthesis of the available information, without any bias; should be the core of any serious attempt into reaching viable prognosis and stall malicious situations such as terrorists incidents and further empowerment  of organized crime.

In order for the aforementioned to become a custom reality, there has to be a constructive and significant replenish of the human resources involved and an upgrade of the present era technical equipment. Therefore decisions should be taken soon enough so as to foresee any positive results, before events surpass the ability of the intelligence community to react and function properly.  The Balkan Peninsula remains more than ever “The soft underbelly of Europe”, apart from the other more conventional menaces in the wider Eastern Mediterranean area.


Books & Academic literature

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Cviic, Christopher.  Remaking the Balkans. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1991.

Evan F. Kohlmann, “Al-Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe“,Berg Publications,  Oxford-UK, September 2004.

Galeotti, Mark. 2001. “Albanian Gangs Gain Foothold in European Crime Underworld.” Jane's Intelligence Review 13(11, November): 25-7.

H.T. Norris "Islam in the Balkans: Religion and Society Between Europe and the Arab World", C. Hurst & Co, London, Jan 1994 

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Kaplan, Robert D. “Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History”, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1993.

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Maltz D. Michael , "Defining Organized Crime", in: Robert J. Kelly et al. (eds.), Handbook of Organized Crime in the United States, Westport/London, 1994

Mark Galeotti ‘Albanian Organized Crime: The Threat to Europe,’ Cross Border Control Issue 12

Raufer, Xavier avec Stéphane Quéré. “La Mafia Albanaise, une Menace pour l'Europe: Comment est née cette Superpuissance Criminelle Balkanique” Lausanne, Favre, 2000.

Schindler John R. "Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa'ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad", Zenith Press, Osceola WI,July 2007

Shay Shaul "Islamic Terror and the Balkans", Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, December2006

Schwartz Stephen, “The failure of Europe in Bosnia and the Continuing Infiltration of Islamic Extremists”, The Weekly Standard, 20 June 2005

Suha Taji-Farouki and Hugh Poulton "Muslim Identity and the Balkan State", New York University Press, New York, October 1997 New York

Todd Stiefler, “CIA's Leadership and Major Covert Operations: Rogue Elephants or Risk-Averse Bureaucrats?", Intelligence and National Security, Volume 19, Number 4, Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group, London, December 2004.

Xenakis Sappho, "International Norm Diffusion and Organised Crime Policy: The Case of Greece",  Global Crime, Volume 6, Issue 3 & 4 ,P:345 - 373 ,London, August 2004.

Material used from Open Sources Intelligence (Media, Reports, Presentations, Papers,  Quotes, Documentaries, Open Editions, Articles, Speeches, Reviews, Reports, Briefings, Hearings, anecdotal data, statistics)

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American Council for Kosovo Organization

Antiwar Organization

Association of Breton & Celtic Journalists

Assyrian News Agency

Axis Global Research Corporation

Balkanalysis News Agency

BBC News

BIA-Security Information Agency in Serbia-

Boston Globe Newspaper 

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Business Week Journal

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Center for Contemporary Conflict

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Centre for Peace in the Balkans

CERE Research Centre

Chicago-Kent College of Law and the Illinois Institute of Technology

CIA Publications

CIAO Organization


Columbia Encyclopedia

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Publications

Council on Foreign Affairs

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Der Spiegel Newspaper

DHKC Information Bureau

Drug Text Organization

European Commission -External Affairs Service-

European Communities Official Journal

EUROPOL Publications

Federation of American Scientists Publications

Foreign Military Studies Publications

Geopolitical Drug Watch Journal

German Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Global Policy Forum

Global Research Organization Publications

Jamestown Foundation

Journalismus - Nachrichten Von Heute

Hellenic Resources Organization

Independent Newspaper

Indian Ministry of External Affairs

International Herald Tribune

Interpol Publications


Irish Examiner Newspaper

ISSA -Defense & Foreign Affairs Journal-

Italian Parliament Publications

FBI Publications

Kathimerini Newspaper

Kokkalis Foundation -Kennedy School of Goverment-

Le Monde Diplomatique

Library of the USA Congress

Lobster Magazine

London School of Economics- Hellenic Observatory-

MSNBC News Service

NATO Publications

Observatoire Geopolitque des Drogues Foundation

Organization of Islamic Conference

Radio Free Europe

RAND Institute

Reuters News Agency

Rupert Schumann Foundation

National Post

New York Times Newspaper

Nexhat Ibrahimi

Novi Sad Newspaper

Partnership for Peace Consortium

Saudi Aramco Corporation Publications

Serbianna News Agaency

Sisyphe Organization

Strategic Culture Foundation
Strategic Insights Journal

Terrorism Monitor Journal

Transnational Organized Crime Journal

Truth in Media News Broadcast

Voice of America News Service

Washington Quarterly Journal

Washington Post Newspaper

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University of Belgrade

University of Buffalo

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[1] Evan F. Kohlmann (2004). Al-Qaida's Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network. Berg.2004.NY, New York, US.
[2] Nigel Thomas,K. Mikulan, The Yugoslav Wars: Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia 1992-2001, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2006. p.9
[3] ICTY: Summary of the judgment for Enver Hadžihasanović and Amir Kubura. he full summary of the judgement as read out by Judge Antonetti can be found
[4] "Al Qaeda's Balkan Links", By Marcia Christoff Kurop, November 2, 2001,

[5]   Dore Gold, The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West, Regnery Publishing, Washington DC, US. 2009p.132
[6] Dore Gold, Hatred's kingdom: how Saudi Arabia supports the new global terrorism, Regnery Publishing Inc, Washington DC, US, 2003.p.235
[7]   Kenneth Morrison, Wahhabism in the Balkan, Advanced Research and Assessment Group, Balkans Series 08/06 Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, 2008, p.5
[8] Russell A. Berman,Herbert and Jane Dwight,  Freedom Or Terror: Europe Faces Jihad, Working Group on Islamism and the International Order, Hoover Institute press publication, 2010, p.183-196
[9] Darko Trifunovic , Financial Infrastructure of Islamic Extremists in the Balkans, 09/08/2008,
[10] Egipćanin okuplja vehabije u BiH, 21.Maj.2011,
[11] Vodja vehabijske zajednice u Bihacu pozvao Muslimane da osvete Osamu, by Ervin Felic, 17.05.2011.
[12] "Wahhabism in Bosnia-Herzegovina - Part One", By Juan Carlos Antúnez, Tuesday, 16 September, 2008, Bosnian Institute,
[13]   "Bosnian Forces Conduct Massive Wahhabi Raid", 8th of February 2010, By Anes Alic in Sarajevo for ISN Security Watch,
[14]   “Bosnian Forces Conduct Massive Wahhabi Raid”, International Relations and Security Network (ISN), Zurich, Switzerland, 2010.
[15] Interpol official publication (2006), “Heroin production”, Website:
[16] Council of Foreign Affairs (09/2006), by Lionel Beehner; “Afghanistan’s role in Iran’s Drug problem”. Website:
[17] "Afghanistan opium harvest at record high", 13 November 2013,
[18] BBC News Europe (03/08/2000), “Albanian mafia steps up people smuggling”. Website: 
[19] Federal Research Division, Library of Congress (12/2002), By Glenn E. Curtis & Tara Karacan. Website:  
[20] Website of  Xavier Raufer:
[21] The Washington Quarterly Journal (09/1999), By Frank Cilluffo & George Salmoiraghi. Website:
[22] EUROPOL Publications (2005), “EU Report on drug production and drug traffiking 2003-2004. Web site :
[23] CEMES Institute (2004), “Balkan trafficking report”.  Website:
[24] Sisyphe Organization (02/2005), By Prof. Richard Poulin, “The legalization of prostitution and its impact in trafficking of women and children”. Website:
[25] Maltz D. Michael , "Defining Organized Crime", in: Robert J. Kelly et al. (eds.), Handbook of Organized Crime in the United States, Westport/London 1994, 21-37. ALSO for the particular Modus Opperandi of the Albanian criminal groups see: Raufer, Xavier avec Stéphane Quéré. “La Mafia Albanaise, une Menace pour l'Europe: Comment est née cette Superpuissance Criminelle Balkanique” P. 12-124, Lausanne, Favre, 2000.
[26] United Nations Information Service in Vienna (09/2004), “Nexus between drugs, crime & terrorism”. Website:
[27] Xavier Raufer (2002), “At the heart of the Balkan chaos: Albanian mafia”. Website:
[28] BIA -Security Information Agency- (09/2003), “Organized crime in Kosovo & Metohija”. Website:
[29] National Post (04/2000), By Patrick Graham, “Drug wars: Kosovo’s new battles”. Website:
[30] Wikipedia (2007), “Albanians”. Website:
[31] Observatoire Geopolitque des Drogues Foundation; Annual Report (1996) "The World Geopolitics of Drugs".Page 61-75.
[32] Wikipedia (2007), “Opium”. Website:
[33] FBI Publications (2002), “Report on transnational narcotics trade”. Website:
[34] Drug Text organization, Reference library, By McCoy, “Marseille: America’s heroin labatory”. Website:
[35] Federation of American Scientists briefing, “Kurds I Turkey”. Website:
[36] The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed. (2001-2005), “Iran-Iraq war”. Website:
[37] Charles R. Grosvenor Jr. (2007), “The Iran-Contra scandal”. Website:   
[38] Lobster Magazine; Issue 30 (1995), “Persian Drugs: Oliver North, the DEA and Covert Operations in the Mideast
[39] German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (10/2006), “Profile of Turkey”. Website:
[40] DHKC Information Bureau (01/1997), “The Susurluk accident”. Website:
[41] BBC News (06/10/2005), By Sarah Rainsford, “ Turkey at the drugs crossroads”. Web site:
[42] West Network organization (1998), “Corruption in Turkey”. Website:
[43] Le Monde Diplomatic (07/1998), By Kendal Nezan, “Turkey’s pivotal role in international drugs trade”. Website:
[44] Centre for Drugs Research-University of Amsterdam- (1998), By Tim Boekhout Van Solinge, “Drugs use & trafficking in Europe”. Website:
[45] Ibid
[46] Journalismus Nachrichten Von Heute (11/12/2006), "The Highjacking of a Nation", Quoting Mark Galeotti, a former UK intelligence officer and expert on the Turkish mafia. Web Site:
[47] Centre for European Reform (07/2006), By Hugo Brady, “Organized crime & punishment”. Web Site:
[48] Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Publications, “Open Edition on Albanian people”. Web Site:
[49] CNN (26/10/2004), By Eric Pearce, “Albanian crime rings suspects arrested”. Website: 
[50] Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (11/05/2005), “Bucharest Declaration”. Website:
[51] Subcommittee on European Affairs, Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate (30/10/2003), Testimony by Grant D. Ashley, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division, FBI, "Eurasian, Italian, and Balkan Organized Crime". Website: ALSO see more on: Galeotti, Mark. 2001. “Albanian Gangs Gain Foothold in European Crime Underworld.” Jane's Intelligence Review 13(11, November): 25-7.
[52] CIAO organization, interview of Mark Edmond Clark in CIAO, “Terrorism and organized crime”. Website:
[53] The Center for Peace in the Balkans (06/2003), “Humanitarian bombing vs. Iraqi freedom”. Website:
[54] Global Policy Forum (2004), “Kosovo”. Website:
[55] Gus Xhudo. (1996) "Men of Purpose: The Growth of Albanian Criminal Activity." Transnational Organized Crime. 2(1). Spring: 1-20
[56] Website of  Xavier Raufer:

[57] Wikipedia (2007), “Albanian Mafia”. Website:
[58] USA Department of State (2006), Trafficking in person’s reports”. Website:
[59] Albanian-Canadian organization (2006), “Dateline of Albanian history”. Website:
[60] Serbianna News Agency (19/04/2005), By M. Bozinovich, “Al-Qaeda in Kosovo”. Website:
Strategic Culture Foundation Journal (03/04/2007), By Mikhail Yambaev, " Kosovo-2007: Russia’s Moment of Truth". Web Site:
[62] Congressional Research Service – The Library of the USA Congress- (26/07/2005), Report by Steven Woehrel, Specialist in European Affairs; Foreign Affairs, Defense & Trade Division. “Islamic Terrorism & the Balkans”. Website:
[63] Strategic Insights Journal, Volume IV, Issue 5 (05/2005), By CPT Attanassoff; Bulgarian Armed Forces, “Bosnia Herzegovina: Islamic Terrorism”. Website:
[64] Ibid.
[65] MSNBC News Service (16/06/2004), “9/11 Commission Staff Statement”. Website:
[66] The Irish Examiner Newspaper (14/07/2005), “Explosives used in London bombings originated in the Balkans”. Website:
[67] Assyrian International News Agency (24/05/2007), By Alan W. Dowd, "An Independent Kosovo?". Web site:
[68] NATO Publications (06/1998), By Kosta Barjaba, " Albania in transition"
[69] USA TODAY Newspaper (2002), “Bin Laden linked to Albania”. Website:
[70] The center for Peace in the Balkans (09/2001), “Bin Laden’s Balkan connections”. Website:
[71] New York Times Newspaper (10/06/2000), “Stolen Albanian weapons”. Website:
[72] USA TODAY Magazine; Society for the advancement of education (05/2002), By Ivan Eland, “Provoking terrorist groups”. Website:
[73] Novi Sad weekly Newspaper "Nezavisni" (11/09/1998), By Slobodan Inic, “Defeat of KLA in Kosovo". Website:
[74] Balkanalysis News Agency; Security & Intelligence Brief-Part 1 (26/06/2006), By Christopher Deliso, “Dragas pocket worries terrorism experts”. Website:
[75] The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Monitor Journal, Volume 4, Issue 12 (15/06/2006), By Anes Alic. “Al Qaeda’s recruitment operations in the Balkans. Website:
[76] The USA Embassy in Rome-Italy Publications , CRS Report (06/01/2006), By Kristin Archick (Coordinator), John Rollins, and Steven Woehrel, “ Islamic extremism in Europe”. Website:
[77] RAND Institute Publications, Monograph (04/1998), Chapter 3, By Phil Williams, “Transnational Criminal Networks”. Website:
[78] Balkanalysis News Agency (17/04/2006), Interview of Loretta Napoleoni by Balkanalysis, “Terrorist finance & the Balkans”. Website:
[79] Official Journal the European Communities; Council Common Position (16/07/2001), “Concerning a visa ban against extremists in FYROM”. Web site:
[80] Axis Global Research Corporation (11/10/2005), By Can Karpat, AIA Balkan section, “Political Solution and Terrorism in F.Y.R.Macedonia”. Website:
[81] University of Buffalo; Listserv Buffalo (04/03/2002), By MILS News, “Seven terrorist killed near Skopje”. Website:
[82] The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (04/2002), By Lt. Col. Harry Dinella, Policy Advisor, Western Policy Center, “Uncertainty in the Slav-Albanian Partnership”. Website:
[83] University of Belgrade; Faculty of Security Studies Publications (2002), By Prof. Drako Trifunovic, “Terrorism and Bosnia and Herzegovina - Al-Qaeda’s Global Network and its influence on Western Balkans nations” P. 9-11.
[84] Washington Post Newspaper (01/12/2005), By Rade Maroevic and Daniel Williams, “Terrorist Cells Find Foothold in Balkans”. Website:
[85] Ibid.
[86] The Jamestown Foundation; Terrorism Monitor Journal; Volume II; Issue 20, (21/10/2004), By Stephen Schwartz, “Wahhabism and al-Qaeda in Bosnia-Herzegovina”.
[87] PfP Consortium; Study Group Crisis Management in South East Europe; Vienna and Sarajevo (12/2002), By Alfred C. Lugert, “Preventing and Combating Terrorism in Bosnia and Herzegovina
[88] University of Belgrade; Faculty of Security Studies Publications (2002), By Prof. Drako Trifunovic, “Terrorism and Bosnia and Herzegovina - Al-Qaeda’s Global Network and its influence on Western Balkans nations” P. 16-17.
[89] Kokalis Foundation; Kennedy School of Government; Harvard University, Paper presentation by Teodora Popesku, “Tackling Terrorism in the Balkans. Website:
[90] United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office (Current as of 13/05/2007), “Bosnia & Herzegovina travel advice”. Website:
[91] Evan F. Kohlmann, “Al-Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe“,Berg Publications, Preface, Oxford-UK, September 2004.
[92] Kokalis Foundation; Kennedy School of Government; Harvard University, Presentation paper by Xavier Bougarel, “Islam & Politics in the Post-Communist Balkans. Website:
[93] Foreign Military Studies Publications (02/1995), By LTC John E. Sray, U.S. Army, “Mujahedin Operations in Bosnia”. Website:
[94] Department of the USA Navy; Naval Historical Centre Publications (26/07/2005), By Steven Woehrel, “Islamic terrorism & the Balkans”. Website:
[95] Ibid.
[96] Reuters, Alert Net Service (11/04/2007), By Daria Sito-Sucic, "Bosnia revokes citizenship of Islamic ex-soldiers". Web Site:
[97] Information was provided by a variety of ISSA Reports, informal journalist sources from Serbia, Albania & FYROM. The material has been made publicly else were and has not been contended for its reliability.
[98] For extensive and sensitive information on the subject see: ISSA Special Report (17/09/2003). Web Site:
[99] Council on Foreign Relations; Open Edition (13/02/2002), By David L. Phillips, “Keeping the Balkans free of Al-Qaeda”. Website:
[100] European Commission; External Affairs Service (2004), “The Contribution of the European Commission to the Implementation of the EU-Central Asia Action Plan on Drugs”. Website:

[106] Patriot League is a paramilitary organization of the Bosnian Muslims, at the beginning of Civil War in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is established as a party organization by General Sefer Halilovic and his associates, on May 2, 1991, and not later than June 10, 1991, the meeting of Bosnian public servants from the whole Yugoslavia is held in the Militia Hall. Many criminal elements that show their patriotism by attacking people of nationality different from their own enter this organization. They disguise their own goals as preserving the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its borders, and protecting the Muslim population in case of war.    
[107] Organization of Islamic Conference (2007), memberships. Website:
[108] Center for Contemporary Conflict; Strategic Insights; Volume V; Issue 4 (04/2006), Anouar Boukhars, “ The challenge of terrorism in Jordan”. Website:
[109] ISSA Research & Analysis Corporation; Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis (16/01/2006), "Kosovo SHIK Directly Linked With Albanian SHIK Intelligence Organization”.
[110] According to Stavro Markos, acclaimed Albanian journalist, correspondent for UK, French and Greek media.
[111] Global Research Organization Publications (22/10/2003), By Michel Chossudovsky, “Regime rotation in the USA”. Website:
[112] Federation of American Scientists Publications (1998), By Milan. V. Petkovic, “Albanian terrorists”. Website:
[113] Alessandro Politi, “European Security: The New Transnational Risks,”Chaillot Papers, No. 29, October, 1997. This paper discusses analytically the strong evidence around the KLA’s tendencies towards criminal actions well before the U.S. intervention in Kosovo and with the suffice knowledge by the international bodies. ALSO see an article by the Independent newspaper (25/09/2002), “Bin Laden linked to Albanian drug gangs”. Website:
[114] Der Spiegel, 24 September 2001, p. 15
[115] Federation of American Scientists Publications; Patterns of global terrorism (1998), “Europe overview”. Website:
[116] International Herarld Tribune (22/12/2006), "Albania seizes assets of alleged bin Laden associate". Web Site:
[117] Voice of America News Service (08/05/2007), “Albania supports War on terror”. Website:
[118] Anti War Article & Analysis Organization (19/09/2001), By Christopher Deliso, “How Islamic terrorism took root in Albania”. Website:
[119] Shay Shaul "Islamic Terror and the Balkans",P. 82, Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, December2006
[120] For detailed information on terrorist sympathizers in the Sanjak area ( Names, locations), see a GIS Security Briefing: (Reprint)
[121] ISSA Research & Analysis Corporation; Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis (03/2007), By Darko Trifunovic, “Terrorism: The case of Bosnia, Sanzak & Kosovo”.
[122] United Nations Information Service in Vienna (01/10/2004), Press Release SOC/CP/311, “UN warning on terrorism in the Balkans”. Website:
[123] Washington Post (20/01/2005), By John Stilides, "Albania's Dangerous Past".
[124] Boston Globe (o1/05/2006), By Jonathan B. Tucker and Paul F. Walker  , “A long way to go in eliminating chemical weapons”. Web Site:
[125] Kathimerini Newspaper (07/02/2007), “ Kosovo link to Embassy strike”. Web Site: