A chain is as strong as its weakest link. In President Bush’s “War on Terror,” that weak link is not in the Middle East or North Africa or the Subcontinent but in Europe. For years, Chronicles has been warning that flawed pro-Muslim Western policies would turn the Balkans from a “protectorate of the New World Order into an Islamic threat to Western interests” (see, for example, “Osama bin Laden: The Balkan Connection,” Chronicles Intelligence Assessment, December 2001). Such warnings were routinely ignored or discounted by the media and politicians alike. This attitude is rapidly changing, however. A spate of media reports and statements by Western officials over the past two months indicates that the threat is finally being taken seriously.
“US to build Balkan anti-terrorism center in Bulgaria,” news agencies reported on January 6, to monitor and detect terrorist threats to the United States and other countries. In addition to the CIA-staffed center, Bulgarian media reported, the FBI also plans to set up an office in Sofia. U.S. intelligence experts were quoted as saying that Al Qaeda has a training base in the Balkans and uses the region as a terror route to the West.
That same week, an Associated Press report warned that terrorists could use the Balkan route to sneak a nuclear weapon into Europe by land. Tom Sanderson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Chris Wright of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London claimed that smuggling routes through Southeastern Europe were well established and that there was “a lot of scope” for collusion between terrorist groups and criminal gangs. Both criminals and terrorists benefit from heroin trafficking, most of it of Afghan origin. The trade is largely controlled by Albanian Muslims, with the mujahideen providing the logistics.
Der Spiegel reported on December 8, 2003, that the “monstrous” King Fahd mosque in Sarajevo—the largest in Europe, on which the Saudis spent a total of $20 million—is a breeding ground for Islamic extremism in Bosnia, with some preachers openly inciting the faithful. Western security experts have said that Bosnia could become “a hotbed of extremists ready to . . . carry the fight of the Islamic terror syndicates against the ‘godless West’ to the southeast of Europe.” This gives cause for “extreme concern” to a German intelligence chief, August Hanning. The magazine goes on to quote a French expert as saying that, of some 5,000 foreign mujahideen who had fought on behalf of Izetbegovic, many remained behind. The number is unknown, but there are “too many to be safe,” according to George Friedman, director of Stratfor. The Balkans are “of strategic importance” to Al Qaeda, he says, and it can use the region for its goals at any time.
Western officials reflect such concerns with increasing frequency. The U.S. ambassador in Sarajevo, Clifford Bond, thus declared on December 17 that there is a terrorist threat in Bosnia because of “foreign elements” who arrived there during the war and stayed on. In the same week, the cabinet of Greece’s Prime Minister Costas Simitis expressed concern over the threat from Bosnia to the Olympic Games in August 2004.
“UN Adds Bosnian Charity Director to Al Qaeda List,” Reuters reported only days later. Safet Durguti, an Albanian born in Kosovo, was added to the list of 300 individuals whose assets should be frozen because of suspected ties to Osama bin Laden or his Al Qaeda network. Durguti—apparently the key link between Islamic fundamentalists in Kosovo and Bosnia—is the director of Vazir, a charity based in the Bosnian city of Travnik. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Vazir was simply another name for the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Saudi charity that was placed on the U.N. list in March 2002.
Dozens of similar statements and articles appeared in different Western sources last January alone. Policy analysts and government officials alike freely admit that the problem exists. It has acquired massive proportions and may not be easily managed any longer. Whether it can be resolved short of a major restructuring of the current Balkan architecture is unclear.
The threat is not limited to a few elusive extremists: The ruling establishment in Sarajevo has had a symbiotic relationship with the sources of Islamic radicalism for over a decade. “Iran, Bosnia to Expand Ties,” reported Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting on December 21, regarding a meeting of the Bosnian ambassador to Tehran, Ibrahim Efendic, and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The latter said that “the Jihad of the Bosnian and Palestinian nations is praiseworthy and a source of honor for Muslims”:
The resistance and faith of these nations will be registered in the history of Islam, he added . . . Highlighting the geographical status of the Balkans, Rafsanjani said Iran attaches great importance to Bosnia and Herzegovina and expressed the hope to witness further expansion of bilateral ties between the two countries. The outgoing Bosnian ambassador lauded the humanitarian aid rendered by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The significance of this overlooked story is that Bosnian Muslim government officials are received and treated in Tehran as allies in a jihad and that Muslims see Bosnia as no less important than Palestine to their strategic design. As for Iran’s “humanitarian aid,” this is a euphemism for illegal arms shipments from Tehran to Sarajevo in 1994. They were carried out with the active connivance of the Clinton administration and in violation of the arms embargo initially demanded by Clinton. Along with the weapons, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and VEVAK intelligence agents entered Bosnia in large numbers.
The problem of collusion between U.S. administrations and Islamic radicals antedates the wars of Yugoslav succession. Its roots go back to the support Osama bin Laden and others received from the United States following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Mistaken and shortsighted as this strategy turned out to be, it may have been justified by the dictates of the Cold War. The underlying assumption was that militant Muslims could be used and discarded—like Diem, Noriega, the shah, and the Contras. For the ensuing two decades, Washington almost invariably supported the Muslims—most notably in Bosnia and Kosovo. By January 1996, Jacob Heilbrunn and Michael Lind of the New Republic approvingly wrote of the U.S. role as the leader of Muslim nations from the Persian Gulf to the Balkans, with the Ottoman lands becoming “the heart of a third American empire.”
The strategists who had sought to turn militant Islam into a pliant tool had underestimated the danger of “blowback” at first, but, over the years, they have bound good men to bad policy and reinforced failure with gold. Their strategy of effective support for Islamic ambitions in pursuit of short-term political or military objectives has helped to turn Islamic radicalism into a truly global phenomenon.
The Bosnian chapter of this strategy dates back to the administration of President George H.W. Bush, whose Acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger made it clear in early 1992 that his goal was to support the Muslim side in Bosnia in order to mollify the Muslim world and to counter any perception of an anti-Muslim bias regarding American policies in the Middle East. President Clinton’s policy in the Balkans further strengthened an already aggressive Islamic base in the heart of Europe. The unspoken assumption of the architects of such policies—that generosity would be rewarded by loyalty—is mistaken: Loyalty to unbelievers is not a Muslim trait. As Yohanan Ramati has remarked, Muslim pragmatism “prescribes that when dealing with fools, one milks them for all one can get.”
The subsequent portrayal in the Western media of Muslims as innocent martyrs in the cause of multicultural tolerance concealed the fact that the Bosnian war was primarily religious in nature. “The small jihad is now finished . . . but now we have to fight a bigger, second jihad,” Mustafa Ceric, the Reis-ul-Ulema (supreme Muslim cleric) of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared when the November 1995 Dayton Accords were signed. They specifically called for the expulsion of all foreign fighters, but the Muslim-controlled Sarajevo government circumvented the rule by granting Bosnian citizenship and passports to unknown numbers of mujahideen. The result was over a dozen executed or planned outrages—from a shootout in Lille to a terrorist cell in Montreal, from the planned attack on Los Angeles International Airport to a series of explosions in Morocco and Istanbul in 2003. All were directly traced to the Bosnian connection.
That connection will not go away unless Western policies change. The first step for the Bush administration should be to scrutinize the activities of the high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Paddy Ashdown of Great Britain. This failed social-democratic politician spent the Bosnian war acting as an advocate for the Muslim side, which he glorified as a paragon of multiethnic tolerance, and, to this day, he continues to deny the Muslim terrorist threat in his Balkan fiefdom. His behavior is reprehensible but not surprising. Politicians hate admitting that they have been wrong; in addition, Ashdown’s acceptance of reality would make his current position untenable—which must be a cause of some anxiety to a 50-something man with no alternative employment, no independent means, and no prospects.
Ashdown’s motives in denying the Bosnian reality matter less than the consequences of his actions for the security of the Western world. Especially serious is his current effort to terminate the autonomous intelligence capability of the Serbian entity in Bosnia, Republika Srpska (RS), by integrating it with the secret service of the Muslim entity. Over the years, the RS security service has compiled a comprehensive database detailing the activities of Islamic terrorists and the identities of their sympathizers and active supporters in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including many high-ranking government officials. Forcing it into union with the Muslim security service would deny the Serb entity the capability to track terrorist-related activities and would help the Muslim side to cover up its involvement with terrorists.
Ashdown’s deputy and enthusiastic assistant in the piecemeal liquidation of the Republika Srpska is American diplomat Donald Hays, a Democrat who owed his rise to the Clinton administration—specifically, to Richard Holbrooke. In October 2003, Hays escorted his former boss Holbrooke around Bosnia, reportedly introducing him as “the next US Secretary of State.” According to a report by the International Strategic Studies Association, Hays’ motive for attempting to suppress the links between the Islamic establishment in Sarajevo and radical Muslims is partly domestic. He wants to avoid the embarrassment of having the Clinton administration’s links to the terrorists in Bosnia and Kosovo brought to light in an election year in which the Clinton camp has thrown its weight behind Wesley Clark, who led the NATO attack on Yugoslavia in 1999.
Recalling Hays and demanding Ashdown’s replacement would be a cost-free exercise in prudence by the Bush administration and a long-overdue major step toward countering the terrorist threat in the Balkans. To make that step meaningful, however, it would be necessary to understand the nature of past errors. A generation ago, it was understandable, even excusable, for policymakers in Washington to try to use Muslims in their fight against communism in just the way their predecessors tried to use the Church in Italy in the early 1950’s. By now, however, it should be evident that appeasement only breeds the contempt and arrogance of the radicals and fuels their ambition. The West is in a war of religion, whether she wants that or not, and the enemy sees the Balkans as a battlefield.
On the Islamic side, this war is being fought in the belief that the West is on her last legs, demographically and culturally. Some leaders—including President Bush—may have been hoping to domesticate Islam under the aegis of the nondenominational deism that they profess. That will fail, and an “internal reform” of Islam will remain as elusive as ever. Any potential for internal reform is only undermined by the appeasement of radical Islam in the Balkans. It enhances a downward spiral of hate and spite and breeds more terrorism.
Western policy in the Balkans should be reappraised, because to continue encouraging the Muslim sense of pure victimhood is to feed would-be suicide bombers with a political pap that nourishes their hate. If the War on Terror is to be meaningful, that appeasement must stop. Pandering to Islam’s geopolitical designs—in the Balkans or anywhere else—and sacrificing smaller Christian nations in the process is not only bad, it is counterproductive: The morsels will only whet the extremists’ appetite, paving the way to a major global confrontation well before this century is over.