Our Allies in the Balkans
by Stephen Schwartz
IF YOU'VE BEEN WONDERING where to find wholehearted Muslim support for the war on terrorism, consider the Balkans.
Last week, the authorities in predominantly Muslim Bosnia-Herzegovina took further steps to assist the U.S.-led campaign. On June 3, Bosnian police raided seven offices of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, including two in Sarajevo and one in the old Turkish town of Travnik. Based in Saudi Arabia, Al-Haramain is deeply implicated in the transfer of funds to al Qaeda. On March 11, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill--acting jointly with the Saudi government--froze transactions with Al-Haramain in Bosnia and Somalia. The foundation's offices in Sarajevo had fallen under the control of the Egyptian Islamic Group, the terrorist outfit that spawned Osama bin Laden's lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri and carried out the Luxor massacre of 62 people, 58 of them foreign tourists, in 1997.
Despite O'Neill's acknowledgment of Saudi cooperation, the Saudis' response to the problem of Islamic charities' role in terrorism has been ambivalent. Thus, the Saudi embassy in Washington finally issued a press release on February 5 declaring that the Saudi government would "take every measure possible to prevent use of these charitable efforts for any unlawful activities"--only to turn around the very next day and issue another statement bound to stir up doubts. This time, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) denied it was monitoring the bank accounts of any individuals and stated that, although the United Nations Security Council had provided the names of 150 suspected terrorists, only 53 had had dealings with Saudi banks, and only 4 accounts had been frozen. As recently as May 14, SAMA went further when its vice governor, Muhammad al-Jasser, declared that "not even a single bank account has been frozen in Saudi Arabia" in connection with terror funding. SAMA added to this admission the impudent charge that Israel, rather than "most Arab states," had refused to comply with international recommendations to prevent money laundering.
The Bosnians, by contrast, are being genuinely helpful. On March 19, for example, Bosnian officials executed raids in Sarajevo and the central Bosnian town of Zenica, seizing evidence that formed the basis for perjury charges filed on April 30 in Chicago against one Enaam Arnaout, a Syrian confederate of bin Laden and the head of the Benevolence International Foundation, a fake Islamic charity used as a front for terrorist funding.
The Bosnians, however, like the predominantly Muslim Kosovars, face a surprising obstacle in their efforts to assist the United States. Both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo remain under the political control of a dismally inept United Nations. After seven years of U.N. administration, Bosnia-Herzegovina still has no real economy or legal system in place, nor is the end of foreign occupation in sight. Paradoxically, the situation is better in Kosovo, where the U.N. has been on the scene for only three years, and where the Kosovars are determined to build a new and modern society, even if they have to work around the foreigners to do it.
Strange as it may seem to Americans, U.N. officials in Sarajevo have tried to bar U.N. war crimes investigators from cooperating with the United States in the campaign against Saudi-backed terrorists and their funders. Last October, for example, when Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, turned over to U.S. authorities some information found in Bosnia relating to one of the September 11 hijackers, U.N. representatives were displeased. They complained that the United States was throwing its weight around in the Balkans. U.N. functionaries clearly want the world to forget that the U.N. presided over atrocities in the Balkans, including the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, without even attempting to prevent them, and that the bloodshed ended only when the United States intervened militarily, resulting in the Dayton Accords.
Similarly, in late May, Madeline Rees, boss of the U.N. human rights office in Sarajevo, renewed her denunciations of the Bosnian authorities' "unlawful handover" of six Algerian terror suspects to the United States back in January. Repeating her call for the extradition to be investigated, she asserted that the removal had "damaged" the Bosnian legal system. The deportation of the Algerian suspects was carried out in defiance of a U.N. human rights body staffed by foreigners--but at the order of the elected government in Sarajevo.
On May 1, Bosnian foreign minister Zlatko Lagumdzija reiterated his country's bold stand on these issues. "The world has split into a modern civilization and one of barbarism and terrorism," he said. "Bosnia-Herzegovina has chosen to ally itself with the civilized world. It has decided to be part of the solution, not part of the problem." He added, "For our own sake, we have done the best we could in the past seven months" to locate and arrest terror suspects. On September 11, he declared, "we chose sides."
A Bosnian official who recently visited Washington emphasized the commitment felt by Muslims like him. "This is not negotiable," he said. "Sometimes we Bosnians are slow to engage with a cause. We did not want to admit the inevitability of war in the 1990s, and we were unprepared when the Serbs attacked us. But this time, we knew exactly where we stood and we will see this through. We are stubborn, and we will be stubborn in our friendship with America."
This friendship should continue to bear fruit in the war on terrorism. After the Dayton Accords brought peace to Bosnia in 1995, money and operatives pushing the Wahhabi extremist brand of Islam flooded into Sarajevo from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. For this reason, investigations in the Balkans are expected to continue yielding documents as well as suspects. Late last month, reputable sources in Sarajevo reported that Bosnian secret service chief Munir Alibabic has proof that $800 million had recently been moved to al Qaeda from Saudi Arabia.
The eagerness of Muslim leaders in the Balkans to support the war on terrorism--in the face of opposition from U.N. and other foreign meddlers--is the biggest unreported story from the European front. This journalistic failure is not surprising, considering the propaganda that continues to be spread against Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims, as well as Western European coolness toward the U.S.-led campaign.
The ethnic Albanians of Kosovo are, if anything, even more avid than the Bosnians to be counted in the anti-terror coalition. "Every Albanian in Kosovo knows that without the help of the United States we would have been devastated by Serbian imperialism," says Daut Dauti, a Kosovar journalist completing a fellowship in the United States. "Muslim Albanians are no less pro-American than others. Our Islamic traditions are pluralist and antiextremist. We will never turn against the United States." A veteran of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) recently suggested that he and his troops would be thrilled to join in a U.S.-led campaign against Saddam Hussein. "We're ready to go in with the first battalion," he said.
This zeal was discernible as soon as the NATO bombing of Serbia stopped and Albanians returned to Kosovo in 1999. In late March 2000, a KLA commander discovered a group of Saudi "aid workers" spying on American diplomats in Pristina, capital of Kosovo, presumably as part of their planning for a terrorist attack. Word that the KLA was preparing to kill the Saudis reached U.N. officials, who warned the Saudis as well as U.S. diplomats. The U.N. and the Americans seemed more outraged at "Albanian lawlessness" than Saudi terror plotting.
By mid-2002, however, the Saudi troublemakers had failed in their elaborate attempt to impose Wahhabism on the Albanians, and they seemed to have had enough of dealing with the Kosovars. "The Muslims here behave like Christians," said Hadi, leader of the Saudi workers involved in the Pristina episode, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "They have accepted living like in Europe. I think in 10 years it will be worse. . . . We will not stay." This was an admission that in Kosovo, the Wahhabi-Saudi jihad has failed.
American leaders seem to agree that the anti-terror cause needs Muslim supporters. Balkan Muslims--like Iraqi Kurds, Turks, and recently liberated Afghans, to name a few--are ready to join in.