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A Balkan Base for Al Qaeda? By: Julia Gorin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, March 20, 2006


The War on Terror suffered a major blow three years before it was ever announced. It happened when the people of this democracy were misled into attacking the sovereign, emerging post-Communist democracy of Yugoslavia--over rumors of genocide and ethnic cleansing that proved false. In so doing, we put the final touch on delivering the Balkans to al Qaeda.

Today we are being asked to seal that historical blunder, whose repercussions seven years later are only escalating as those we “rescued” turn their weapons against UN and NATO forces. While NATO spends most of its time rooting out terror cells in Kosovo and Bosnia—which served as the logistics bases for the London and Madrid bombings--the 2006 deadline to complete our eagerly forgotten debacle and determine the province’s final status is fast approaching.  To persuade the international community that only one final status will be acceptable, our Albanian "rescuees" have been stepping up the violence, a message to the West that it has only one possible exit strategy: grant unconditional independence--without border compromises with Serbia and without protection guarantees for what’s left of the non-Albanian minorities. 

If we allow this to happen, the peacekeepers will have to leave, and with them our eyes and ears in this terror haven and thruway. Still, congressional, State Department and UN sentiment seems to be tilting toward self-determination and the logic that if you’ve dug yourself into a hole, keep digging.

 

Here is the size of that hole so far: In November, 2001, what should have been an explosive article appeared in the European edition of the Wall St. Journal. Headlined “Al Qaeda’s Balkan Links,” it read: “For the past 10 years…Ayman al-Zawahiri [bin Laden’s second in command] has operated terrorist training camps [and] weapons of mass destruction factories throughout Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Bosnia…Though the Clinton administration had been briefed extensively by the State Department in 1993 on the growing Islamist threat in former Yugoslavia, little was done to follow through….”

 

Nor did a December 2003 article in Britain’s Sunday Mirror register a blip: “Posing as members of the Real IRA, we…made our deal in Kosovo, a breeding ground for fanatics with al-Qaeda links. Our contact was the deputy commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army Niam Behljulji, known as Hulji…Hulji is said to supply terrorists across Europe and has been accused of massacring Serbian women and children during the war. He even posed grinning for a photograph, holding the severed head of one of his victims…Hulji said: ‘The plastics (Semtex) is the old type. No metal strips inside. It cannot be detected at airports.’”

 

Hulji, according to the December issue of the Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy journal, is the man who supplied the Semtex-like explosives used in the London and Madrid attacks.  

 

But to perpetuate the version of events we were sold from the beginning, all these connections have gone purposefully unmade by our nation’s “journalists,” who were gung-ho supporters of our 1999 offensive against a historical ally and the culmination of our pro-terror policies in 1990s Yugoslavia. How many Americans know that the terrorists who carried out a spate of suicide attacks in Iraq in August 2004 were trained in Bosnia, or that al Qaeda’s top Balkans operative, al-Zawahiri’s brother Mohammed, had a high position with our terrorist KLA "allies"? And who wants to bring up what former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia James Bissett has--that in Bosnia we'd fought alongside at least two of the 9/11 hijackers. The American public certainly won't hear that Bosnian charities have been raided for funding terrorism or that in 1992 Bosnia issued passports to Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. We’ll never know that Bosnia today is the European “one-stop shop” for all the terrorism needs--weapons, money, shelter, documents--of Chechen and Afghani fighters passing through Europe before heading to Iraq. Or that at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, troops recovered one Albanian Kosovar’s application, reading, “I have Kosovo Liberation Army combat experience against Serb and American forces. ...I recommend operations against parks like Disney.”   

 

Only Britain's Sky News has caught on, in December airing a segment entitled "The Hidden Army of Radical Islam," about Bosnia, where there is "growing radicalization" and a base for Al Qaeda:  "In the heart of Europe, thousands of Arab fighters. Zenica [Bosnia], 1995. They come to wage holy war in support of the Bosnian Army. [Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic shown welcoming the mujahadeen.] ...They committed many atrocities; the tapes Sky News has obtained include beheadings and signs of torture. …This isn’t just about history; it's about now. Western intelligence agencies are now pressing the Bosnians to look into exactly where these people are and what they are doing, and asking have any of these men been in contact with the three young Bosnian Muslims arrested last month on terrorism charges. ...In Sarajevo now the influence of Saudi ideas can be found all over the city. ...Radical Islam is attempting to plant deep roots in the community. …The seeds for change were planted back in 1995." 

 

We see footage of Bosnian Muslim forces destroying an Orthodox Christian church; of a Bosnian Serb being brutalized (we're spared the skull crushing that follows); and a mujahadeen persuading his Bosnian colleagues to let him kill Serb prisoners, who are soon led off and executed. Though there is ample supply of tortured-Serb footage, it doesn’t enjoy the wide circulation that the video of a Bosnian-Serb paramilitary unit killing six Bosnian Muslims got last summer. The narration continues: "There were some serious players sent to Bosnia, among them the man who planned 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohamed...The mujahadeen video shows their flag planted in Bosnia and speaks of spreading their jihad. ...Bosnia is a useful place to hide, plan and move. It's why some stay on." The segment opens with the sentence, "Hundreds of radical Islamic holy warriors [are] hiding in Bosnia, a decade after the end of the war." That statement underscores the West's big miscalculaton in the Balkans--that Bosnia was a self-contained war that had an end, rather than an early front in a war that was just unfolding. 

 

A similar picture began to emerge in Kosovo, where the late Wall St. Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was uncovering that "Ethnic-Albanian militants, humanitarian organizations, NATO and the news media fed off each other to give genocide rumors credibility." The anti-Serb propaganda which misled Americans throughout  the 90s and which Daniel Pearl was debunking continues to guide our perceptions and foreign policy in the Balkans today. But despite the media’s blackout on the subject of Balkans terror--including by Pearl's own Wall St. Journal--more and more Americans have been scratching their heads, wondering why we forcibly precluded the Serbs from doing in their own backyard what we’ve gone halfway around the globe to do.

 

Our Balkans interventions are not like our unholy alliances of the past, wherein we strategically chose the lesser of two evils (e.g. allying ourselves with mujahideen against a clear and present Soviet enemy). By 1999, our government knew that the KLA was supported by Islamic nations and bin Laden, against whom the U.S. already had issued two indictments.

 

The Islamists were by then a known entity, specifically as our main post-Cold War threat, and Serbia wasn't an enemy.

 

For the past four years, the Hague's International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has been finding what multiple international forensic teams have found--that claims of Serb “atrocities” were exaggerated and often invented. It turns out we confused an attempt to create an Islamic "Greater Albania" with one to create a “Greater Serbia.” Surely if the latter were Slobodan Milosevic’s goal, he would have started by ethnically cleansing the nearly 300,000 Muslims of Serbia. Though he built his career in whatever dirty ways Tito's Yugoslavia allowed, he was the least of the Balkans' villains. For most Serbs, he was not a hero until he was called upon to defend an entire nation at the Hague.

 

Now that Milosevic is dead, we are spared the worldwide riots that would have ensued had the tribunal mustered the courage to issue a verdict based on the evidence. And we can all sleep comfortably as the disproved charges are accepted as history. 

 

“If you break it, you fix it.” We’ve heard much of that refrain throughout our Iraq debates—including from the selfsame architects of the Kosovo offensive: Bill and Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Wesley Clark. Their prescription for fixing what they broke? Bury it.

 

Clark warned that “a violent collision may occur by year-end” if we don’t do what the Albanians want—and this four-star general advocated doing just that. After all, “unrest” in the region shines an unwelcome spotlight on his “successful war.” Clark even suggested pummeling the Serbs again if Belgrade got in the way; it’s easier than fighting his terrorist Albanian campaign donors.

 

So far this year we are not witnessing the Albanian pogroms against Kosovo's remaining Serbs, which marked the March madness of 2004. For these tribal and holy warriors know that Kosovo is almost theirs, as the exasperated UN mission is ready to hand the reins over to local Albanian authorities--who are of course controlled by and include the KLA.

 

As UN human rights observer Jiri Dienstbier notes, "If NATO and the UN can't defeat terrorism in an area the size of one-eighth of the Czech Republic, how do they expect to confront global terrorism?" Balkans author Vojin Joksimovich seconds the question: "Although the intelligence community is fully aware of the threat, political leaders are denying it and the media are silent. Given this cover-up, it's fair to ask whether we are able to prevent yet another major terrorist act." Indeed, can you fight terror with one hand while abetting it with the other?

In early 2001, German TV broadcast a report titled "It Began with a Lie," which publicized the findings of the observer force Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)  that no genocide had taken place in Kosovo. The revelations set off a huge public debate in Germany, a member of the NATO coalition,  after the public realized their country had been party to a hoax, and they held the responsible politicians’ feet to the fire.

It’s long past time that we also set the record straight on what we "achieved" in the Balkans -- and change course. As the world closes in on the Serbs again this year, we must stop bin Laden from establishing a terror state in Europe. We know from Madrid and London that we’ll pay for it with our own blood. In fact, we already have.

 

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