NEWS

Osama bin Laden’s adventure in the region

Since the terrorist strikes on the USA, people have been discovering Osama bin Laden in the Balkans. The phantom of the most wanted person on earth has been hovering above a region where everyone is suspected of having links to him. The notorious terrorist has proved to be an unexpected propaganda weapon which warring sides are using to exploit the justifiably heightened emotions of world public opinion. The Slav-Macedonians have suddenly discovered connections between bin Laden and the ethnic Albanians’ armed struggle. The Serbs have remembered that Muslim mujahedin fought in Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now identifying them with bin Laden. The Albanians have implicated him in the political vendetta between the Socialists and Berisha, at the same time discovering a Greek-Serbian connection. Rauf Denktash has jumped at the opportunity to strike at the Greek Cypriots who are countering his allegations. The propaganda war is in full swing. No one can be sure whether bin Laden’s terrorist network has been active in the Balkans, whether it has been involved in the conflicts there and to what extent. Albania is where bin Laden’s men are supposed to have been active after the country opened wide its doors to Arabs in the 1990s, after a 1992 decision by then Albanian President Sali Berisha to join the Islamic Conference in the hope of getting at the sheiks’ petro-dollars. Western secret service agencies discovered that Muslim fundamentalists, suspected of involvement in terrorist organizations, were among those who flooded into Tirana and other Albanian towns disguised as businessmen and teachers of the Koran. In 1998, in fact, after a tip-off from the CIA and the FBI, four Egyptians were arrested, one of whom, who went by the name of Al Nagar, was hanged in Cairo for his involvement in an attempt on the life of President Hosni Mubarak attributed to the Jihad organization supposedly directed by bin Laden. The Saudi terrorist threatened to take revenge for the arrests and execution. Shortly afterward there were terrorist attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Since then Albania has been under the watchful eye of the CIA and the FBI as well as Britain’s MI6; all have set up large teams in Tirana to monitor the every move of Arabs and/or Albanians suspected of having links to international terrorism, as well as their banking and business activities. However, they discovered nothing of any consequence, at least nothing was made public. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and the suspected involvement of Osama bin Laden has fired scenarios and press reports of visits by the Saudi terrorist to Tirana as early as 1993, even of National Liberation Army (NLA) training camps on the outskirts of Tirana run by bin Laden’s Afghans. However, these allegations have not been backed up by any real proof. The Albanian press was full of these revelations, but attributed them, like everything else that happens in the country, to the conflict between Berisha and Fatos Nano. When the press became aware of the damage these reports were doing to Albania’s image abroad, the reports were then ascribed to a satanical Greek-Serbian plot. Developments A Western official in Tirana who has been following events in Albania closely for several years spoke of titillating rumors that have found fertile ground because of recent events. He said it would be completely illogical for bin Laden’s people to be giving lessons in war in Tirana and to go unnoticed by the hundreds of foreign secret service agents who are watching everything. Moreover, bin Laden himself, dressed as a Saudi, was rumored to have been seen traveling through several countries at a time when he was wanted by every secret service agency around the world, including that of his own country. How did bin Laden’s people get to the Balkans and why would they have a preference for Albania? The fall of Enver Hoxha’s regime and the dissolution of Yugoslavia opened the floodgates of Muslim fundamentalism. Fanatical Islamists poured in from Arab countries that wanted to revive hard-core Islam among their co-religionists in Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, who although Muslims, had never practiced any fanatical adherence to the teachings of the Koran. Islamic infiltration was attempted – although without much success – chiefly through religious organizations, philanthropic foundations, religious institutions and dozens of nebulous businesses. Fanatic mujahedin hastened to fight at the side of Bosnian Muslims. The movements of Arabs observed in the western Balkans between 1992-1997 were probably exploited by members of Islamic terrorist organizations to set up bridgeheads, particularly in Albania where there was no organized state and the Berisha regime was particularly tolerant of Arabs, even if the purpose of their activities was not always clear. Even the most cautious analysts agree that the goal of Arab fundamentalist organizations casting their nets in Albania was to bring its people into the fold of hard-core Islam and not so much to make the country a springboard for terrorism. Yugoslav Interior Minister Dusan Mihailovic, in statements after the tragedy in the USA, claimed that Belgrade had information to the effect that Osama bin Laden had been involved in the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, fighting alongside the Muslims and the ethnic Albanians, naturally. Mihailovic had not let the opportunity pass him by, and his linking of Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians with international terrorism was for obvious reasons. Muslim mujahedin did indeed fight in Bosnia, and if that is what the Serb minister meant, then it is nothing new. Fanatic Muslims – a few hundred Iranians, Afghans, Sudanese and Egyptians – fought in Bosnia, some in the name of Allah, others as mercenaries fighting with their co-religionists, just as some Greeks fought with the Bosnian Serbs under the banner Greece-Serbia-Orthodoxy, and as Russian and Ukrainian veterans fought in the war in Afghanistan. Alliances It is considered highly likely that among the fighters for Allah in Bosnia were groups of Muslim extremists led by bin Laden, who had not yet reached his later prominence in international terrorism. It is equally certain that hard-core Muslim regimes and organizations gave financial support and weaponry to the army of Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic. Nevertheless, the Foreign Ministry in Bosnia-Herzegovina categorically denied the Serbian allegations that Muslim terrorists were still active in Sarajevo, having acquired Bosnian citizenship, and that bin Laden himself had a Bosnian passport. The No. 1 suspect for the terrorist attacks in the USA, Osama bin Laden, does not have a passport issued by Bosnia-Herzegovina; there are no terrorist training camps in Bosnia-Herzegovina. People involved in international crimes were arrested a long time ago and extradited to countries investigating these crimes, said a Bosnian ministry statement. Then there is the NLA. Kosovo’s moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova has agreed with those who insist that armed groups of Albanians in Kosovo and FYROM are linked to bin Laden’s terrorist network. He has said that international terrorists have bases in regions controlled by the NLA, and that the terrorists are ready to strike at any time in the war declared by bin Laden. The bin Laden weapon has also been used by the Slav-Macedonians to damage the public image of the ethnic Albanians in their own battle with the NLA, accusing its leader Ali Ahmeti of links with the Saudi terrorist. FYROM Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said recently in Thessaloniki that he had information to the effect that Arab mujahedin are fighting at the side of ethnic Albanians in his country. In an interview with Kathimerini, Ahmeti categorically denied these claims, invoking deep-rooted differences with the Islamists. Those who are now claiming that bin Laden is behind the ethnic Albanians’ insurgency in Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should explain how the Islamic leader’s terrorist network could be involved in the NLA’s organization, training and action without the West realizing anything. S.T.