A surprisingly decent and thorough report on Bosnia-related terror and “Islamism,” from a year ago, forwarded to me recently by Mickey a Serbianna.com. Written by an establishmentarian, no less — Leslie S. Lebl, who had been “Political Advisor to the Commander of Stabilization Forces (SFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the late 1990s.”
Put out by Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, and available in paperback. It’s only a little disconcerting that she thinks the ICTY and The Hague are in the Czech Republic. (If I understood correctly.) I reduced the report to its more salient parts, bolding the most salient parts. Lebl’s third paragraph below is especially noteworthy, given the familiar balking at the suggestion that Balkan Muslims have the potential to be anything but secular. Her response recalls that of author Christopher Deliso, whom she mentions a few times and whose 2007 book The Coming Balkan Caliphate Lebl cites in her endnotes.
ISLAMISM AND SECURITY IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA (By Leslie S. Lebl, May 2014)
…Although the levels of Islamist terrorism and separatist movements are comparable to those elsewhere in Europe, they are particularly troublesome in Bosnia for two reasons. First, senior political and religious Bosniak (Muslim) leaders have long-standing ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist terrorism, including al-Qaeda and Iran, that they are very reluctant to abandon. Second, Islamism contributes significantly to Bosnia’s dysfunction as a country. Calls to re-impose traditional Islamic law, or sharia, arouse opposition from Bosnian Serbs and Croats, as does the nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire and Islamic Caliphate shared by key Bosniak leaders, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the Turkish government.
…The European Command and the Office of the Secretary of Defense should alert Washington policymakers to the danger to NATO policymaking and day-to-day operations arising from the Islamist ties of some Bosniak leaders and representatives.
ISLAMISM AND SECURITY IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
…Most Western observers dismiss warnings about the dangers of Islamism as crude Serb or Croat propaganda intended to undermine the Bosnian state. In so doing, they usually note that Islamism is unlikely to become a significant force because most Bosniaks continue to adhere to their traditionally moderate and relatively secular version of Islam. However, evidence drawn primarily from Bosniak and Western sources reveals a more nuanced and alarming picture…
Islamism first appeared in Bosnia in 1941 when Alija Izetbegović and others formed the Young Muslims, a group patterned after the Muslim Brotherhood. Izetbegović’s famous political tract from the early 1970s, the Islamic Declaration, contained many Islamist concepts, confirming his personal attraction to the ideology.
This ancient history suddenly sprang to life when Izetbegović founded a political party with former Young Muslims as its inner core, outmaneuvered his more moderate rivals, and became president of Bosnia in 1990. He filled that position during and after the Bosnian war, from 1990-96, and then became a member of the joint presidency (which rotates between a Serb, a Croat, and a Bosniak) from 1996-2000. He died in 2003, but his legacy lives on, as his long-time associate, Haris Silajdzić, and son, Bakir, follow in his footsteps, both as presidents of Bosnia and as Islamist sympathizers.
Brotherhood ties today are very important to another senior Bosniak, Mustafa Cerić. Cerić served for years as Grand Mufti of Sarajevo and the head of the official Islamic Community. In addition, he is considered to be a leading Bosniak political figure in his own right.
Thus, while little is said or written about Muslim Brotherhood activities in Bosnia, the most senior Bosniak leaders — viewed by Westerners as representing moderate, relatively secular Muslims — are, in fact, closely connected to, or deeply sympathetic with, that organization. [In 1997, “Cornell University stated that ‘Silajdzic today represents the forces for an integrated, secular and multinational Bosnia. He…is a proponent of multiethnicity, political pluralism and parliamentary democracy in the country.’” — From Lebl’s Endnotes] Their views and their relationships steer Bosnia toward Islamism and the Muslim world, while alienating Bosniaks from Bosnian Serbs and Croats, their fellow citizens.
Islamism received a tremendous boost with the arrival of Islamic fighters, or mujahideen, to fight on the Bosniak side during the 1992-95 war. Their military value has been disputed, but the accompanying financial and military support from Saudi Arabia and Iran was vital to the Bosniak war effort. While those two countries are rivals, they arrived at an accommodation in Bosnia to support the mujahideen. Saudi Arabia focused on financing and logistical supplies, and Iran on importing the fighters and on military aid.
The war in Bosnia definitely gave al-Qaeda a huge boost, both in terms of organization and recruitment, and helped radicalize European Muslims…Many jihadists later directed their fighting skills against European and American targets. Since the war ended in 1995, Bosnian veterans from various countries have figured in terrorist activities in countries around the globe, among them France, Indonesia, Iraq, Malaysia, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Yemen.
The best-known initiatives to combat Islamist terrorism were the 1996 IFOR raid on an Iranian-run terrorist training camp in Pogorelica and numerous steps taken after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), on the United States. At that time, SFOR interrupted terrorist plots aimed at NATO and other Western targets and raided the Saudi High Commission and other Saudi charities [in Bosnia] that were funding terrorist organizations.
By 2004, terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann, in a book warning about the Afghan-Bosnian terrorist connection, concluded that al-Qaeda had largely failed to take root in Bosnia. He noted the progress made in shutting down various terrorist operations and expressed the opinion that al-Qaeda had failed because moderate Bosniaks rejected its extremist ideology. However, Kohlmann may have spoken too soon. Box 1 shows a continuum from 1996 through 2006 in which Bosnia served as an active link in the al-Qaeda network.
The “Bosnian Connection” in International Islamist Terror.
• Starting in 1996, senior mujahideen leaders such as Abu el-Ma’ali and Abu Sulaimann al-Makki, then living as “civilians” in Bocinja Donja, oversaw plots in France, Italy, and Jordan designed to avenge the deaths of other leaders.
• In 2008, the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Sarajevo reportedly uncovered evidence that senior Bosniak politician Hasan Čengić signed off on a money transfer intended to finance the attacks of 9/11.
• Karim Said Atmani, the document forger for the group plotting the 2000 Millenium [sic] plot bombing, was a frequent visitor to Bosnia. He obtained his first Bosnian passport in 1995 and subsequently was allowed to stay without a valid passport after he was deported by Canada in 1998.
• In late October 2001, Algerians with Bosnian citizenship were arrested by the Bosnian authorities on charges of plotting to fly small aircraft from Visoko and crash them into SFOR bases in Tuzla and Bratunac. [All of the Algerians were released after some years spent at Guantanamo Bay; it is unclear whether these charges stuck or not.]
• The 2005 plot to bomb the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Croatia reportedly originated in Gornja Maoča. The plot involved smuggling rocket launchers, explosives, and detonators into Italy.
• Also in 2005, Bosnian police raided an apartment connected to a group seeking to blow up the British Embassy in Sarajevo, seizing explosives, rifles, other arms, and a video pledging vengeance for jihadists killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of those arrested, a Swedish citizen of Bosnian origin, ran a website on behalf of Abu Musab Zarqawi, head of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
• In 2006, a group of Bosnians and Macedonians [usually code word for Macedonia’s majority-Albanian Muslims] linked to al-Qaeda were arrested in northern Italy after smuggling some 1,800 guns into that country from Istanbul.
Nor were the Iranians routed after the 1996 raid in Pogorelica. Today, both the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (VEVAK) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have a presence in Bosnia…An Israeli expert, cited by Christopher Deliso, concluded that Bosnia posed the biggest danger in the region because “There remain pro-Iranian elements in the government, and Iran is active through the embassy in Sarajevo and charities.”
Today, Islamist terrorism persists in Bosnia, whether involving al-Qaeda, Iran, or home-grown sources…. Many Western analysts largely have dismissed this terrorism as not being a major issue. The 2013 Congressional Research Service report on Bosnia, for example, makes only a brief mention of terrorism, and recent State Department and EU terrorism reports suggest that the level of terrorism in Bosnia is no greater than elsewhere in Europe.
On the other hand, a leading Bosnian law enforcement official said that the only reason there have not been more terrorist attacks was that “We’ve had more luck than brains.” The actual number of individuals involved is not trivial; Almir Džuvo, the director of the Intelligence and Security Agency of BiH (OSA), estimated in July 2010 that there were 3,000 potential terrorists in Bosnia, out of a population of just under four million people.
…[J]ust because the terrorist threat is not unusual does not [necessarily mean] it is unimportant. Comparisons with Western Europe can be misleading, as terrorism is much more dangerous to a fragile state than to a robust democracy.
One mujahideen leader predicted in 1996 that “[f]oreign fighters will not be a problem for Bosnia. They will move on. But we planted a seed here and you will have more and more Bosnian Muslims practicing traditional Islam.”
…Estimates of the numbers of Wahhabis or members of similar sects vary widely. Observers were surprised by the crowd of more than 3,000 people, half of them Bosnians, who attended the funeral of a Wahhabist leader in 2007, as well as by a 2013 conference in Tuzla that drew 500 participants, mostly young men. Given that an estimated 4,000 people gather each Friday to hear radical sermons preached at the Saudi-backed King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo, the number of Wahhabis could be quite high. But the most likely figure is that given by Federation police (not the police of the Serb Republic), who estimated in 2009 that there were up to 5,000 practicing Bosnian Wahhabis.
Unsurprisingly, the Wahhabis recruit followers from the least privileged classes…There have been cases in which new members are paid several hundred euros per month for their loyalty…[and] for convincing their wives to wear the hijab in public, among other things.
The Saudi role in this process is extensive. The Saudis financed an extensive mosque-building program after the war, of which the $30-million King Fahd Mosque is only the most visible and influential, and built a parallel religious educational structure to that offered by the official Islamic Community. The Saudis are also believed to fund various Wahhabi groups, to educate young Bosnians in Saudi Arabia, and to send operatives to Bosnia who typically marry Bosnian women and blend into local society.
As the Wahhabi movement has gained momentum, militants have engaged in violent clashes with traditional Bosniaks and sought to impose their standards of behavior on the public…
Some Bosniaks have always been anti-American, but the vast majority were openly grateful to the United States for intervening to stop the war and then to keep the peace. No recent polls appear to have measured how these views may have changed. It is, however, unrealistic to expect young people born during or after the war to share that sense of gratitude, or indeed, to expect older people to continue to feel gratitude as the political system imposed at Dayton fails to deliver results.
While Wahhabi violence and proselytization are quite visible, these Islamists are even better known for their separatist enclaves, which function as “no-go-zones.” …The first such enclave was in the village of Bocinja Donja, formerly a Bosnian Serb village, where the Bosniak government settled former mujahideen after the war.
The mujahideen married Bosnian women and so acquired Bosnian citizenship. The village provided them a safe haven in which to maintain their terrorist contacts under the guise of simple farmers. In the 1990s, the hostility of the inhabitants of Bocinja Donja to outsiders, including SFOR, was palpable, undermining their claims of innocence. Eventually the enclave was closed down, and the village returned to its original owners. Now the best-known enclave is in Gornja Maoča, a remote village where native Bosnians reside along with foreign-born former mujahideen.
While the Bosnian Serbs continue to insist that these enclaves pose a significant security risk, Bosniak policy has been bifurcated. [On] one hand, there has been pressure to isolate and marginalize the Wahhabis….Analyst Stephen Schwartz speculates that Bosniak political leaders have “pursued a strategy of trying to confine the Wahhabi agitators to remote locations, rather than settling the problem by consequential legal proceedings.” Not all Bosniak officials are willing to settle for this approach, however. The authorities have made numerous arrests, including a massive 2010 raid on Gornja Maoča and the arrests of two of the enclave’s leaders following the 2011 attack on the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo. Up to now, though, they have failed to obtain an indictment, let alone a conviction. As a result, a cloud of mystery is likely to cloak Gornja Maoča and other similar enclaves for some time to come, making it difficult to determine the degree of danger they pose to Bosnia’s internal security or their potential links to international terrorism.
Some observers caution that many Wahhabis are peaceful and should not be classified as terrorists, for fear of driving them into the arms of groups espousing violence. The Islamic Community, the official Muslim religious organization in Bosnia, has refused to condemn the Wahhabis, and attacks those who criticize them. But the Bosniak public remains unpersuaded; when last asked, 71 percent rejected Wahhabism, suggesting that this form of Islam remains for them both distinct from traditional Bosnian Islam and unwelcome.
The Wahhabis do not yet appear to have gained control of any significant governmental or official religious offices. Nor, although actual numbers are hard to estimate, have they created no-go zones in urban areas, as has happened in Western Europe. This lack of progress is most likely due to visceral opposition from local Bosniaks. Attempts to take over mosques have ended in violence; in one instance, a resident commented: “They should shave their beards and use deodorant instead of coming here like dogs. For me, they are wolf-dogs, they will attack our children. I have female children and do not dare to send them to [the religious school] at all.” These locals’ contempt of the Wahhabis is unmistakable.
Yet, current descriptions of the Federation suggest it is much more radicalized than was the case in the late 1990s. Given that the trend is pointing in the wrong direction, it would be foolish to regard Wahhabism as purely marginal, especially when an expert like Sarajevo professor Rešid Hafizović describes it as a “potentially deadly virus” for Bosnian Muslims. When times are hard and the future is bleak, such movements can gain momentum quickly.
ISLAMIST TIES OF SENIOR BOSNIAK LEADERS
…One factor that makes [Islamists] a greater danger in Bosnia than elsewhere, though, is their close connection to Bosniak leaders, in particularly three men (Bakir Izetbegović, Haris Silajdžić, and Alija Izetbegović). These men have occupied the Bosniak chair of the central state’s rotating presidency since its establishment. The danger of the Islamists in Bosnia has also been increased by their closeness to Mustafa Cerić, the mufti who until recently headed Bosnia’s official Islamic Community.
Those men, along with their associates and subordinates, have pursued policies inimical to the views and goals of moderate Muslims, and those of Bosnian Serbs and Croats. They have supported Islamist terrorism and Wahhabism, encouraged alienation between Bosniaks and other Bosnians, and sought closer ties with Islamist countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The most prominent Bosniak official today is Bakir Izetbegović, the current Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bakir served during the war as personal assistant and advisor to his father, Alija Izetbegović, who was then President of Bosnia. After the war, from 1999 to 2003, Bakir was a member of the managing board of the humanitarian Islamic charity, Merhamet. Like other Islamic charities, Merhamet used its humanitarian work as a cover during the war to deliver weapons to Bosnia.
It is unlikely that Izetbegović, as a personal assistant to the President, would have been unaware of these activities. Nor could he have been unaware of the initiative to bring mujahideen into Bosnia. In fact, Dževad Galijašević, a former Party of Democratic Action (SDA) official, in 2008, accused Izetbegović of being one of the chief protectors of the mujahideen who remained in Bosnia after the war.
Bakir, who for years directed the Construction Bureau of Sarajevo Canton, was involved in the construction of the King Fahd Mosque and reportedly arranged for the land on which the complex was built, previously owned by Serbs, to be donated to the Saudis. This mosque, the largest house of worship for Muslims in the Balkans, is also known for its key role as the center of Wahhabi influence and power in Bosnia…
Another indication of Bakir’s ideological orientation comes from his involvement in a secular initiative to advance the observance of sharia….He was responsible for coordinating the construction of the Bosna Bank International (BBI) Center in Sarajevo, described as “the only commercial shopping mall in Bosnia and Herzegovina that has prohibited sales of pork and alcohol.” The BBI Center was built by the BBI, the only bank in Bosnia to offer sharia-compliant finance. Among the principal goals of sharia-compliant finance is enhancing the appeal of an Islamic political order. Another is to generate funds that can be used to advance Islamist goals.
Finally, Bakir Izetbegović is known for his sympathies toward Iran. During his tenure in the BiH presidency, bilateral ties between Bosnia and Iran have expanded, including in trade and investment. Izetbegović called for even closer Iranian-Bosnian ties during a meeting with then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in February 2013 in Cairo, Egypt, on the margins of an [OIC] meeting. While a small country like Bosnia naturally seeks to maintain good ties with powerful countries, these initiatives stand out, coming as they did at a time when the UN, the United States, and the EU have put sanctions in place to isolate the regime in Tehran.
Some of those connections are particularly controversial. The Sarajevo weekly Slobodna Bosna reported that, according to the Iranian opposition, the Iranian Ibn Sina Institute in Sarajevo, described as a scientific research institute, is, in fact, the IRGC’s headquarters in the Balkans. The magazine also questioned the bona fides of some 200 Iranian “businessmen” who entered Bosnia in the first half of 2012, noting that they appeared to lack business contacts.
…In the spring of 2013, Bakir became embroiled in a dispute with Bosniak political rival Fahrudin Radončić, a former businessman who is currently the state-level minister of security. Bakir reportedly intervened to oppose expelling two Iranian diplomats whom Radončić had accused of improper activities and declared personae non grata. The diplomats eventually left, and a third was expelled in June 2013. Two of the three had reportedly made contact with the Wahhabist leader in Gornja Maoča. While no one has alleged any direct contact between Izetbegović and the Iranian diplomats, or between him and the enclave of Gornja Maoča, the reports do raise questions about whether Bosnia’s most senior Bosniak politician is opening the door to Iranian intelligence services and terrorist operatives.
Izetbegović’s predecessor in the tri-presidency was Haris Silajdzić. A prominent SDA politician, Silajdzić was a former close associate of Alija Izetbegović and a senior member of his wartime cabinet, serving first as foreign minister and then as prime minister. During that time, he also oversaw directly the effort to bring mujahideen to Bosnia. Silajdzić was an effective spokesman for the Bosniak cause, making the case that his side was Western, secular, and democratic. However, his true convictions apparently lay with the mujahideen: In July 1995, he declared an Islamic holy war on Sarajevo TV and invited all Islamic states to fight on the side of Bosnia’s Muslims.
After the war…he continued to hold high government positions, but in 1997 he left the SDA to form the Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He resigned his government and party positions abruptly on September 21, 2001, reportedly because of his radical connections, but reemerged 5 years later to win the election to the tri-presidency.
In 2006, Silajdzić ran on a platform to abolish the Federation and the Serb Republic entities and strengthen the central Bosnian state — an unacceptable proposal for any official of the Serb Republic. In office, he engaged in a very public and polarizing dispute with Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, thereby contributing to the radicalization of Bosnian society. In the opinion of analyst Steven Oluic, Silajdzić took Bosnian society and politics back to the painful days of 1995. It is also noteworthy that the Iranian government not only expressed pleasure at his election but pledged him its continuing support. In 2008, Silajdzić was among those identified by Galijašević as one of the chief Bosnian protectors of the mujahideen since the war…
Neither of those men, however, has had as lasting an impact on Bosnian politics and society as Alija Izetbegović, Bakir’s father. Izetbegović, the man affectionately called “Dedo” (Grandpa) by many Bosniaks, was Bosnia’s president during the war and then the first Bosniak member of the tri-presidency. Throughout, he became the embodiment and symbol of embattled Muslims. Many U.S. policymakers considered him a leading proponent of multiethnic democracy and tolerance. Yet, Izetbegović left numerous signs pointing to his Islamist ideology. Even more importantly, he succeeded in forming an Islamist cadre of insiders, including Haris Silajdzić and Bakir Izetbegović, which remains highly influential today and has done much to shape Bosnia’s post-war history.
Izetbegović’s Islamist ideology is laid out in his famous political manifesto, The Islamic Declaration….Simply put, Muslims living in a non-Muslim majority country should play by the rules of that country — until they are strong enough to overthrow the system and install an Islamic government. Nothing in the Declaration suggested any compromise toward this goal.
Most Westerners ignored the Declaration or dismissed its contents on the assumption that it had been attacked by the Yugoslav government simply because it was an anti-communist tract. [NOTE: Similarly, they dressed up Croatian fascism — and especially one of its clerical heads (Aloysius Stepinac) — as anti-communist heroism/protest/freedom-fighting/pro-Westernism/pro-democracy.] But the Declaration was much more than that — and it was politically relevant after the fall of Yugoslavia. It was published in 1990 (before that, it was distributed secretly only) and later distributed to the troops of the Bosniak army…Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzić and Milorad Dodik have both testified before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, The Czech Republic [???? sic: Netherlands], that Izetbegović intended to build an Islamic state in Bosnia based on the concepts set out in the Declaration.
Accusations of Izetbegović’s continued commitment to the ideology of the Declaration were consistent with his marked preference for the Islamist regime in Iran. That preference first surfaced in 1983, when he was accused of seeking Iranian support for his cause. Izetbegović visited Iran in May 1991 as president of Bosnia and obtained assurances of Iranian support a year prior to the outbreak of hostilities…
Ideology is, of course, of little impact without an organization to implement it. Izetbegović created such an organization in the late 1980s: the SDA. Although the SDA gave the impression of being a moderate Muslim party in order to win Bosniak votes and garner Western sympathy, its inner core was comprised of former Young Muslims…[which] based its operations and program on Islamism, and one of its main principles was the unification of the Muslim world through the creation of a large Muslim state.
Although the Yugoslav government did its best to stamp out the group, it survived underground for decades. Some of its leading members (Hasan Čengić, Omer Behmen, Edhem Bičakčić, Huso Zivalj, and Ismet Kasumagic), imprisoned with Izetbegović in 1983, were assigned the most sensitive and important tasks during the war…Muhammed Sacirbey, Izetbegović’s wartime ambassador to the UN, was the son of Nedžib Šaeirbegović who had been imprisoned with Izetbegović after World War II [for terrorist activities related to Young Muslims]…
Several Young Muslims continued their political careers in the post-war period: Zivalj became Bosnia’s ambassador to the UN, and Bičakčić became prime minister of the Federation. After the war, Čengić served as Federation deputy defense minister until the United States forced his dismissal. Behmen focused on ideology, working actively with Islamist youth organizations and educational institutions on a so-called “third offensive” of the Young Muslims movement.
The fortunes of most of these individuals have attracted little attention from U.S. policymakers, but the same cannot be said for the activity that first drew Western attention to Izetbegović’s Islamist connections: his decision to bring mujahideen to Bosnia. His personal connections reached the very top of al-Qaeda: during the war Osama Bin Laden, who had been issued a Bosnian passport, reportedly met Izetbegović in his Sarajevo office.
After the war, all foreign fighters were required to leave Bosnia under the terms of the Dayton Peace Accords. Despite the best efforts of IFOR and the U.S. Government, many still remained in the country — and Izetbegović protected them. He openly supported supposedly disbanded mujahideen military units, while numerous murders and other acts of violence, particularly against Bosnian Croats living in the Federation, were carried out by those same mujahideen and their Bosnian accomplices.
These were not just random acts of violence in a lawless post-war period. Rather, the SDA was using the mujahideen “as powerful leverage in a struggle to maintain an ethnic majority in previously mixed regions of Central Bosnia and Sarajevo. . . .”
During the same period, more than 200 Iranian agents reportedly infiltrated Bosniak political and social circles as well as the U.S. “Train and Equip” military program, collaborating closely with a pro-Iranian faction within the Bosniak intelligence service. These agents aimed to gather information, sow dissension between Bosniak and Croat participants in “Train and Equip,” and turn Bosniak leaders against the West. It is highly unlikely that Izetbegović was unaware of this activity, as the Bosniak intelligence service at that time reported directly to him.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a number of terrorists were apprehended, and the charities funding them were closed. Then moderate political parties won a national election, and Munir Alibabić, a senior Bosniak security expert known for opposing al-Qaeda and the Iranian influence, was appointed head of the Federation Intelligence and Security Service.
In May 2002, Alibabić arrested five senior Bosniak officials connected to the SDA on suspicion of terrorism and espionage. The officials were allegedly linked to the murders of Croats, bomb blasts at Catholic sites, and two high-profile assassinations. [”He reportedly said that the Bosniak secret police ‘had been infected by al-Qaida….’” — From Lebel’s Endnotes] The SDA protested; all were released in October 2002, and no indictment was ever brought. Instead, Alibabić was dismissed by OHR’s High Representative Paddy Ashdown for mishandling intelligence information.
The SDA soon returned to power, making revelations of its misdeeds even more unlikely, while at the same time, the accusations fester and suspicions remain regarding their Islamist sympathies. As one analyst wrote, “There are countless examples of local authorities in Bosnia failing to act properly against Islamic extremism. The majority of these criminal cases have not been resolved and when the terrorists are identified the trials take years.”
…Much about Izetbegović’s wartime activities might have become known had he lived longer: At the time of his death in 2003, the ICTY was investigating him for alleged war crimes. However, after he died, the ICTY closed its investigation, thus shutting off a major avenue of inquiry that might have illuminated some of these murky postwar terrorist activities. [Perish the thought.]
Much of the support for Bosniak nationalist parties and policies comes from former Grand Mufti of Sarajevo Mustafa Cerić. For years, he led the Islamic Community, the official Muslim organization in Bosnia… Like Silajdzić, Cerić set himself up in opposition to Dodik, continuing wartime rhetoric by portraying Bosniaks as victims in mortal danger from the Serbs.
Feted in Western Europe as a moderate Muslim, Cerić enjoys a different reputation at home, where he is known as “homo duplex,” the man with two faces. This nickname arises from numerous indications that he is anything but “moderate” — a judgment based on his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, his view regarding the imposition of sharia, and his positions on Wahhabism. These range from refusing to condemn it to hurling accusations of Islamophobia at anyone who criticizes it.
Cerić’s current ties to the Muslim Brotherhood arise from his membership in two pan-European organizations: the European Council for Research and Fatwa, a Brotherhood-linked group chaired by Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Brotherhood, and the UK-based “Radical Middle Way,” which includes a wide range of scholars associated with the global Muslim Brotherhood.
On several occasions, Cerić has publicly advocated positions consistent with Brotherhood ideology. For example, in 2006, he issued the document, “A Declaration of European Muslims,” in which he declared European Muslims (including Bosniaks) fully committed to the values of democracy and human rights but called, among other things, for the partial implementation of sharia. Several years later he argued, in a speech in Berlin, Germany, that implementing sharia would not be contrary to Bosnia’s constitution — a position that would probably surprise most Bosniaks.
Over the years, Cerić has refused to condemn Wahhabism. His position stands in stark contrast to that of representatives and leaders of the Islamic Community in Montenegro, who did not hesitate to condemn Wahhabist activities…When asked if Saudi funding was deleterious, Cerić replied that Bosnia was in no position to turn down money from Saudi Arabia, which, after all, was an ally of the West. [Excellent point for the West to mull.]
But Cerić goes far beyond what would be required if he were simply bowing to a stronger player. He attacks critics of Wahhabism for being “Islamophobes” …and has led the way in developing the concept of “good” versus “bad” Bosniaks…Indeed, in 2010 and 2011, the Islamic Community issued reports on Islamophobia, cataloguing all the statements and actions that it believes express intolerance, hate, and hostility against Islam and Muslims. The definition deliberately obscures any differences among Muslims.
In 2012, Cerić was replaced as Grand Mufti by Hussein Effendi Kavazović, the mufti of Tuzla who is considered close to Cerić…
[T]he long-term impact of the Islamism of these men and their colleagues, subordinates, and supporters will most likely be extremely detrimental to the future of the country. Bosniak terror expert Dževad Galijašević describes the danger vividly:
“Active Islamism is pushing one’s own nation in the whirlpool of problems of other Islamic countries. It is getting Bosnian Muslims interested in events in the Arab world, in the Iranian revolution, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It is bringing Bosnia closer to Palestine. It is turning Muslims’ true historical brothers, Serbs and Croats, into eternal and irreconcilable enemies, and turning Arabs into the only and actual brothers who look, behave, and talk differently and have a completely different view of the family, the state, and themselves.”
Analysts often blame the failure to build a Bosnian state on the Serbs and Croats…It is wrong, however, to disregard the “push” factors….One very important factor is embedded in Balkan history during the period when the Ottoman Empire enforced sharia…Bosnian Serbs and Croats have not forgotten this system of dhimmitude. When Bosniak politicians talk about tolerance, Serbs and Croats suspect that they really mean a political system in which Muslims dominate. Similarly, Serbs and Croats dismiss Bosniak leaders’ affirmations of their commitment to multi-ethnicity, since under sharia, “multiethnic” means that many different ethnicities co-exist peacefully — but only under Muslim domination and according to strict rules.
These tensions would exist to some degree, regardless of which political ideology was dominant among Bosniaks. As historian Aleksa Djilas described the problem in 1992:
“Muslims imagined Bosnia as an independent state in which they would predominate. Although it was only Muslim extremists who thought non-Muslims should be expelled from Bosnia, most Muslim leaders believed only a Muslim should be allowed full citizenship. Religious Muslims based their demand for supremacy on the traditional belief that the rule of non-Muslims over Muslims was blasphemous. But most Muslims were typical nationalists. They wanted more for their group. . . .”
The influence that Islamists hold in Bosnia is also key with regard to their publicly stated goal of establishing a global Caliphate…While talking about it may baffle or bemuse Westerners, the reference is all too clear to inhabitants of the Balkans. This Islamist goal is dangerous because it also appeals to non-Islamist Muslims and because it is shared by two increasingly important foreign players: Turkey and the OIC.
In recent years, Turkey has used its relative economic strength to build influence in the Balkans. Its trade with those countries has increased, as has its investment in Bosnia. On the cultural side, Turkish companies have built the largest university campus in the Balkans in Ilidža, a suburb of Sarajevo…Turkish diplomats have also been very active in seeking to promote reconciliation among the Balkan countries…The nostalgia of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu for the Ottoman Empire, however, is more likely to raise the hackles of non-Muslims… Were the Bosniak leadership genuinely committed to reconciling Bosnia’s ethnic groups, it would presumably find some diplomatic way to cushion or rebut such statements.
In addition to its bilateral ties to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, Bosnia has observer status at the OIC…During an April 2013 visit to Sarajevo, OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu urged Bosnia to upgrade to full membership. Bakir Izetbegović suggested that full membership would be useful to Bosnia by giving it access to OIC development funding. Were this to occur, Bosnia would presumably have to adopt any existing OIC agreements or conventions, including the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights. The Cairo Declaration rules out any rights incompatible with the Koran. That principle negates much of Western human rights, such as equality for religious minorities and freedom of speech, including the right to criticize Islam.
The OIC reinforces the tenets of the Cairo Declaration by means of annual reports on Islamophobia in Western countries, similar to the reports on Bosnia prepared by the Islamic Community. Bosnian OIC membership would probably give added impetus to this exercise, making it ever more difficult to criticize Islamist policies or groups. The OIC could be expected to show an active interest in Bosnian internal developments, as it recently resuscitated its Bosnia Contact Group from the early-1990s. There is little chance that the OIC would remain neutral regarding disputes between Bosniaks and Bosnian Serbs and Croats.
Given all these factors, Bakir Izetbegović’s comments in favor of full OIC membership were hardly designed to improve inter-ethnic relations…
Were Bosnia to split into three parts, the Bosniak rump state would come under strong pressure to join the OIC and could, in so doing, set a decidedly non-Western course.
Nor is the EU equipped to resolve Bosnia’s inter-ethnic tensions. On such issues, fuzzy rhetoric prevails, not constructive policies or actions. For example, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, in response to a complaint by Bosnian Croat Cardinal Vinko Puljić that Bosnian Muslim discrimination was driving out Catholics, countered that a “European perspective” (e.g., EU membership) “is the only way to overcome the crisis.” Exactly how this transformation would work is unclear, especially since the European Commission, in its 2012 annual report on Bosnia, devoted one short paragraph out of 60 pages to the issue of religious discrimination — and offered a high-level interfaith meeting as a remedy.
Were U.S. policymakers at some point to contemplate a mission involving U.S. forces, they would need to factor in the increased danger from Islamism…. IFOR/SFOR enjoyed only limited success in combating terrorism — unsurprisingly, as it was tasked primarily with maintaining a safe and secure environment. The list of high-profile international plots hatched during and after SFOR’s tenure (see Box 1) shows the difficulty a military force with only limited counterterrorist capabilities has in deterring such activity, especially when local officials shield the terrorists from outside pressure.
Today’s NATO presence is no better equipped to deal with a terrorist threat. Counterterrorism is not even among the top three missions of the current NATO headquarters in Sarajevo. Nor would preparing Bosnia for NATO membership help, as the accession requirements revolve primarily around issues of democratic legitimacy and defense-sector capabilities.
In addition, Islamist anti-Americanism has now had a chance to put down roots. How deep those roots are is hard to determine, but the possibility of jihadist violence against U.S. or Western troops is probably greater than it was previously. Some terrorists would likely be homegrown and able to blend more easily into the native population…
Shortly before the Dayton Peace Accords and the start of IFOR, General Charles G. Boyd, USAF (Ret.), former deputy commander of the European Command, argued that the United States should give equal weight to the fears and aspirations of Serbs as well as to those of Muslims and Croats [Imagine that!] …Eighteen years later, his analysis remains relevant. Political disputes are at the base of Bosnia’s problems, some of which reflect the destabilizing and deleterious impact of Islamism…
Balkan expert Edward P. Joseph wants the United States to refocus on achieving Bosnian membership in NATO rather than the EU, as it is more obtainable. He predicts that accelerated NATO membership would transform the political climate in Bosnia, ending any debate over changes to its territorial integrity. In a similar vein, military expert Steven Oluic writes that “Bosnia’s ability to resist extremism and radical Islam depends on continued Western engagement in the region and the recent phenomena of moderate Bosniaks challenging the radical Islamists and their ideologies.” Unfortunately, if the West pushes Bosnian Serbs to transfer military facilities to the central state without acknowledging or countering their concerns about Islamism or Muslim dominance, this move is unlikely to succeed and may only increase opposition to NATO.
Bosnia’s eventual NATO membership would raise other issues, not only because part of the Bosniak political elite has ties to Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, but also because Bosnia is openly cultivating closer ties with Iran at a time when the Western world is united in applying sanctions to that country. It is also difficult to predict how Bosnia and other Balkan countries with large Muslim populations and growing Islamist influence will react to future NATO crisis operations in Muslim countries. […]