A Crime in Bosnia
by Stephen Schwartz
THE WORD Konjic, pronounced "Konyitz," means "the little horse" in Bosnian, and the Bosnian town of Konjic, set among green mountains and virgin forests in the valley of the river Neretva, was one of the loveliest I had ever seen, when I first visited it in 1991. I was riding a bus from Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian coast to Sarajevo, when three teenaged girls came aboard, heading a little way up the road. They were beautiful, wearing headscarves, and one of them sat next to me. I asked her, in my halting Slavic (more Russian than anything else, then), the name of the place, and her voice was divine as she said, "Konjic." I spoke no more, and, of course, never saw her again. Later I supposed they must have been Muslim girls, and I mourned when I heard that terrible massacres had taken place in the town at the onset of the Bosnian war, the following year.
After the war, I began traveling regularly through Konjic, by car and bus as well as by train; the Bosnian rail system switches coaches there, and as an old railroader myself I was impressed, if negatively, to see the macho way the Bosnians worked coupling cars together, standing between the tracks in total disregard of their personal safety. Communism -- protector of the workers, I thought bitterly. But there were other sources of sadness as well. Passing through so many times, I couldn't miss the broken minaret on one of the mosques, ruined by shell-fire. It's been a long time rebuilding, but that is another story.
The Konjic countryside is still gorgeous. But on Christmas eve, less than a month ago, the horrors of the Bosnian war returned there. Three Croat Catholics, Andjelko Andjelić, 65, and his daughters Mara, 46, and Zorica, 27, were slaughtered in the nearby village of Kostajnica. A son, 30-year old Marinko, was seriously wounded. The family had been attacked by gunfire while putting up Christmas decorations.
The victims were former refugees, who had returned to their homes, among many urged to do so by the international authorities in Bosnia-Hersegovina. The perpetrator was caught and confessed without remorse. He was Muamar Topalović, a 25-year-old Muslim from the region.
Unfortunately, the atrocities visited on the Andjelić family have proven unworthy of major attention by global media. Foreign observers will predictably fall into two groups: those who say all Bosnians are savages incapable of living together, and those who say all Muslims are monsters unwilling to live with non-Muslims. Both would be wrong. The blood of the victims cries out for justice. But the finger of guilt points away from poor, suffering, martyred Bosnia--straight to Saudi Arabia and its worldwide network of extremists, adherents of the Wahhabi sect of Islam.
Topalović, the killer, himself admitted membership in two Islamic extremist groups, both of them funded by Riyadh. They are the Active Muslim Youth, known by its Bosnian initials as AIO, and Jamaat al-Furqan, or the Community of Selection. In traditional Bosnian communities, Muslims join their Christian neighbors in celebrating Christmas and Christians and Jews join the Muslims in festivities at the end of Ramadan. But the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance has another vision for Muslims in Europe, America, and around the world. The three Croats slain in an obscure Bosnian village join the dead of September 11, of the Bali and Kenya bombings, and of all the other criminal acts carried out as a central element of Saudi international policy.
Dr. Ante Čuvalo, an outstanding historian and advocate for Bosnian Croats, has accurately identified the problem. In recent attacks by Muslims on Croat Catholics, he writes, "in every case there is a Middle Eastern, mainly Saudi Arabian, connection. Under the cover of 'humanitarianism' the local Muslims are being 'converted' to the Saudi version of Islam, that teaches them that Bosnia is the land of Islam and for the Muslims only."
Islamophobes in the West may disagree, and wish to argue that all Muslims think this way, but Dr. Čuvalo knows better, since he has lived the Bosnian experience himself. He is also unafraid to say that some blame must be assigned to the United States, which has hesitated to "offend the Saudi rulers" by pressing a cleanup of Saudi charities and similar operations throughout the world. Furthermore, while Dr. Čuvalo notes that the Islamic leadership in Bosnia-Herzegovina has protested against the intrusion of Wahhabism into the country, it has not done enough to root it out and to defend an Islam that respects other faiths.
Similarly, John Kraljić, president of the National Federation of Croatian Americans, sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell two weeks ago. He pointed out that "Saudi Arabia has been spending large sums of money to promote its brand of Islam and culture which is alien to Bosnia and Herzegovina." He warned that this is "detrimental to the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a mainstream European state."
To their considerable credit, Bosnian Muslim journalists have taken the lead in exposing the Saudi hand in such terrorist acts. Mirsad Fazlić, writing in the weekly Slobodna Bosna (Free Bosnia), traced the history of the Active Islamic Youth (AIO), to which the murderer was affiliated. AIO has a single goal: spreading Wahhabism, in such a way that its members oppose not only the laws and constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but the established Islamic community structure. I personally witnessed AIO's intrusion into Bosnian solidarity activities for Chechnya, in 2000.
Financing of AIO has involved the Saudi High Commission for Relief to Bosnia-Herzegovina, the al-Haramain Foundation, and the al-Taiba Foundation, which came to Bosnia-Herzegovina promising to rebuild minarets and mosques like that in Konjic, but which have been identified with terrorist funding and cover. The Saudi High Commission office in Sarajevo was raided by the Bosnian authorities in early 2002, and a rich trove of evidence against Wahhabi-Saudi agents, taken in that action, has been turned over to Attorney General John Ashcroft. Bosnian police also raided seven al-Haramain offices, seizing evidence of major involvement in the funding of al Qaeda. On March 11, 2002, then-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, with the acquiescence of the Saudis themselves, froze financial operations by al-Haramain's branches in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia. Al-Haramain's Sarajevo office had come under the control of the terrorist Gamaa al-Islamiyya, or Egyptian Islamic Group, which spawned the "mad doctor" Ayman al-Zawahiri, chief assistant of Osama bin Laden, and murdered 62 people, 58 of them foreign tourists, at Luxor in 1997.
Saudi-based al-Haramain reportedly gave AIO some $55,000 from January 1999 to September 2001, but $400,000 more was funneled to the organization through Kuwait. Its ally, Jamaat al-Furqan, received $60,000 of al-Haramain's largesse between 1998 and 2002. When Bosnian financial authorities demanded to review AIO and al-Furqan's account books, they were told none existed. The groups were given seven days to produce authentic accounts, and claimed to have done so, although there are indications the books were cooked, or, rather cooked up quickly.
No state action, whether by Bosnia-Herzegovina, the United States, or Saudi Arabia, can return the three dead from the Andjelic family to life. But for the real friends of the Bosnian Muslims, among whom I cede position to nobody, these incidents must be a summons to action. The U.S. government must be pressed on these issues: We must compel the Saudis not only to cut off funding for the international spread of Wahhabism, but to identify, arrest, and punish, or hand over to foreign courts, active agents of this pernicious ideology. The dead of Kostajnica remind us of our own American dead; we cannot leave a hole in our history involving Saudi involvement in September 11. Saudi Arabia still owes us a full and transparent accounting of the involvement of their subjects, however high in the monarchy, in the terror inflicted on New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania 16 months ago. We cannot escape this responsibility, nor can they.