‘Al Qaeda men have been transiting Balkans for years’
* Report claims militants took advantage of Balkans’ porous borders to meet, train and possibly plot attacks in Europe
SARAJEVO: Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations have been crisscrossing the Balkans for more than 15 years, according to an intelligence report focusing on their activities in Bosnia.
The 252-page analysis, compiled jointly by US and Croatian intelligence and obtained by The Associated Press, said extremists financed in part with cash from narcotics smuggling operations were trying to infiltrate Western Europe from Afghanistan and points further east via a corridor running through Turkey, Kosovo and Albania.
The report offers new evidence to support what authorities long have suspected: that terrorists have taken advantage of the Balkans’ porous borders and relatively lax security to meet, train and possibly plot attacks elsewhere in Europe.
“Either they come here seeking logistical support, financial support or to contact certain individuals to get instructions, or to hide for a moment from those who are following them,” Dragan Lukac, deputy director of SIPA - Bosnia’s equivalent to the FBI - told the AP in an interview.
Thousands of militants came to Bosnia to fight on the Muslim side during the country’s 1992-95 war. But militants - including some with suspected ties to Al Qaeda - were active in the region even before it dissolved into ethnic conflict, the intelligence report says.
They included Kamrud Din Khirbani, a member of Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, who moved to Zagreb, Croatia, in 1991 to set up a humanitarian aid organisation at the direct request of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the report says.
It says Khirbani used the organisation, Al-Kifah, “to infiltrate GIA members into Bosnia”, and contends that Iran and other unnamed Arab countries bankrolled the operation through cash transfers. The GIA was behind a series of terrorist bombings that targeted the Paris subway system in 1995, killing eight people and wounding hundreds of others.
The report made no connection between those attacks and Khirbani, although it said he was sought by the CIA.
The Algerian connection is well-known to Bosnian authorities: Bensayah Belkacem, one of six Algerian-born Bosnians detained by the US military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, allegedly made several telephone calls to Abu Zubaydah, believed to be the operations chief of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and an aide to bin Laden.
But Bosnian and international officials stressed that the Balkan country should not be considered a hotbed of terrorist activity.
“What we’re concerned about here are the same things we’d be concerned about in the United States or Western Europe or anywhere else where terror has raised its head,” NATO’s top commander in Bosnia, US Brig Gen Louis Weber, said in an interview.
Weber, noting that the vast majority of Bosnian Muslims are moderate and secular, said the country’s terror threat was fairly low because “there isn’t a large community that would support that kind of activity here”. AP