Sunday

21st Jan 2018

EU faces Balkan terror risk

  • Bosnia could be used by terrorists as a bridge to the EU, the study warns (Photo: EUPM)

The Western Balkans risks becoming a platform for anti-EU terrorist attacks a new study by US and Croat intelligence says, with three suspects indicted in Sarajevo on Tuesday (18 April).

"They [Al-Qaeda linked groups] judge that it is high time that their job on this territory should be taken over by new local forces," the classified 252-page text seen by Associated Press states.

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"People who are born here and live here have an advantage which would make their job easier. By their appearance, they are less obvious."

The report says the Bosniak community in Bosnia and Herzegovina - ethnic Slavs who follow Islam - is a key target for terror recruitment agents because Bosniaks can blend easily into European society.

"Bosnia has become a breeding ground for terrorists," Bosnian intelligence chief Dragan Lukac told Associated Press.

The indictment in Sarajevo on Tuesday of three men suspected of planning a suicide bombing against an EU embassy in the Balkans appears to back the claims.

Two of the suspects, Mirsad Bektasevic and Bajro Ikanovic, were of Bosnian origin.

A bomb-making video seized by police during their arrest in October said "This weapon will be used against Europe, against those whose forces are in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The October investigation led to five further arrests in Denmark and three in the UK, Reuters reports.

Young Balkan men vulnerable

Young Balkan muslims make vulnerable targets for recruiters due to massive unemployment, easy availability of weapons and porous borders on the Afghanistan-Turkey-Albania-Kosovo corridor.

Balkan terror recruitment intensified after 2001 but was already under way in 1999 with the roots of the phenomenon dating as far back as 1991, the US and Croat study alleges.

Post-Balkan War humanitarian aid from Middle East donors such as Saudi Arabia was used to build cultural centres that spread radical Islamist ideas.

The origin of the trend can be seen in 1991 when Algerian militant Kamr Ad Din Chirbani began using Islamic cultural organisations in Croatia to set up later attacks in France.

Thousands of mujahedeen also came in from Afghanistan to back ethnic Muslim fighters in the Balkan clashes of 1992 to 1995 with over 500 staying around after peace accords.

Bringing long-term stability to the region is the key rationale for the EU's ambitious Balkan enlargement scheme.

Guantanamo evidence used

The US and Croat report is partly-based on evidence obtained from six Algerian-born Bosnians held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Prague-based NGO Transitions Online and the US' own NATO commander in Bosnia, brigadier general Louis Weber, say the vast majority of Bosniaks are moderates who abhor violence however.

"There isn't a large community that would support that kind of activity here," Mr Weber told Associated Press.

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