Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Balkans Late 2001: NATO launches anti-Muslim witch-hunt

The Balkans in the ‘War Against Terrorism’

By Michael Karadjis

November 14, 2001

Following the September 11 World Trade Centre atrocity, the US produced a list of countries which allegedly “harbour terrorists” or where “terrorists” have bases. In the Balkans the list consisted of Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia and Kosova. The fundamentally anti-Moslem nature of US intervention in the Balkans has come to the fore.

NATO has launched a witch-hunt, with all ‘Islamist’ forces declared suspect of links to Osama bin Laden. This has been given ideological backing by the Serbian-Yugoslav, Croatian and Macedonian governments, all raising their hands as front-line states in the “war against (Islamic) terrorism”.

In Bosnia NATO has swung into action in open violation of that country’s sovereignty.

According to the Sarajevo journalist Emir Habul, “in late September, using armoured vehicles and helicopters and blocking the approach roads to surrounding villages, American troops launched a spectacular operation, taking the unfinished airport near Visoko, north of Sarajevo, lasting one day and night.” Two guns and several shells left from the war were found.

“In Bihac, on September 22, SFOR (NATO) units and FBI members arrested a Jordanian, Abu Kharroub Majed, after ‘a prolonged surveillance’. When Majed was released two days later, it turned out that he had been living in Bosnia for twenty years, had normal citizenship papers and worked for the High Saudi Committee for Children Without Parental Care (VSK).”

“On that day the VSK was to pay financial aid for 519 orphans. A week earlier another such payment was stopped due to action by Italian troops. SFOR raided the VSK’s offices and arrested two local staff. A day earlier a Jordanian and an Egyptian were arrested in a Sarajevo hotel. The only thing SFOR discovered was a strong-box containing a large amount of money.”

The operations and the identity of those arrested were kept secret. Only foreign troops took part in these operations, local police and officials kept in the dark. Those arrested were kept in isolation at a military base and interrogated by the FBI. They were denied access to their legal counsels, in open violation of Bosnian law, and kept for periods which also violated Bosnian law, under which a suspect can be kept without charges laid for only 24 hours.

Adding to this anti-Islamic atmosphere, on October 17, US and British embassies and other agencies were suddenly closed in Sarajevo until further notice because of an alleged “credible threat” to their security. The US also shut down its consulates in Mostar and Banja Luka.

It’s clearly high time for anyone who thought NATO’s occupation of Bosnia was aimed at “aiding” the Bosnian Moslems rather than policing them to re-find their discarded political thinking caps.

While itself investigating all citizenships granted to Islamic “foreigners,” the Bosnian government of Prime Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija has been alarmed by SFOR’s violations of its sovereignty. Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Limov warned that we shouldn't see a terrorist in every foreigner coming from Islamic countries. The government managed to force the concession that suspicious citizens should be first brought to SFOR by the local police, but it remains to be seen whether NATO will take any notice.

Nevertheless, wanting to shake off the accusation of being “soft on terrorists” and not wanting the local anti-Moslem regimes to gain all the western credit, the Bosnian and Albanian governments have stepped up their own harassment of Islamist forces.

For example, five Pakistani citizens were banished from Bosnia before their residence visas expired, merely because they were religious activists, though not connected with terrorism. Two
Egyptians were deported on October 6, even though the detention of one of them, Arman Ahmed al Huseini, had been legally revoked. He was simply grabbed at the gates of Sarajevo prison as he walked out and was thrown out of the country.

The Active Islamic Youth has also been accused of having links to terrorism. Founding member Muris Cupic claims “there is no danger of militant Islam,” insisting that his group only want to preach and express their religious identity.

At the centre of this hysteria are some 3000 foreign Islamic fighters, the ‘mujahedeen’, who came to assist Bosnia against Serbo-Croatian aggression during the 1992-95 war. While their “Islamic” vision was at odds with that of Bosnia’s multi-ethnic government, in the Balkan context it was Serbo-Croatian anti-Islamic chauvinism and genocide, not Islamic fundamentalism, that was the leading danger. The government had little choice to accept aid from whoever was willing to give it, given that the country’s defence was crippled by a criminal UN-NATO arms embargo.

When the war ended, the US launched a hysterical campaign about the presence of these fighters, and made it a condition for western aid that they be expelled from the country. The Bosnian government was also pressured to drop government ministers considered too close to them. However, some remained, married Bosnians and applied for citizenship. Some 300 former mujahedeen families settled in Bocinja, an abandoned Serb village in central Bosnia. Many of these families have left their houses in the past year as Bosnian Serbs returned to their pre-war homes.

According to Sarajevo journalist Sead Numanovic, the Bosnian government is now “conducting an investigation into all passports and citizenships issued to foreigners since 1992. Federal police have been checking and double-checking on the whereabouts of all remaining mujahedeen.”

After Bosnia's most well-known Islamic fighter, Abu Hamza, publicly condemned the atrocities in the US, he noted that “every time so much as a firecracker explodes anywhere in Bosnia, the police come knocking on my door.”

Rejecting the hysteria, Bosnian Foreign Minister Amer Kapetanovic said the former fighters remaining were now naturalized Bosnian citizens. "No one denies that there were fighters from Islamic countries in the Bosnian army, but this does not mean that they are all terrorists.”

The partners in Bosnia’s violent carve-up, Serbia-Yugoslavia and Croatia, have been having a field day with ridiculously inflated numbers of mujahedeen in Bosnia and claims that Bin Laden was given Bosnian citizenship.

Serbia’s deputy prime minister, Nebojsa Covic, told German MP Friedberg Fluger that “there were over ten thousand mujahedeen in Bosnia and many still remain - and there are over three thousand in Kosovo. They are all little Bin Ladens.” Voice of America reporter, Berry Wood, concurred that “some radical Islamic groups in Bosnia are closely linked to the terrorist web” including many Bin Laden followers.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica claimed that “Yugoslavia, as a victim of terrorism, has always expected the international community to be more forthcoming against any form of terrorism anywhere in the world.”

Kostunica was not referring to the US-NATO terror against his country in 1999. Rather, what he and others in the pro-western “post-Milosevic” regime mean is that Serbia-Yugoslavia’s anti-Moslem aggression in Bosnia and Kosova were part of the same fight against “Islamic terrorism” that western powers were also waging.

Sinisa Vucinic, who led the fight to prevent Milosevic being taken to the Hague, revealed the thinking of those around the entourage of the former “anti-imperialist” leader, declaring that “78 days of (NATO) bombing are easier to forgive than five centuries of (Ottoman) oppression.” Vucinic was dredging up the basic ideology of Milosevic’s neo-Chetnik movement: that the Serbs led the defence of “western Christian civilisation” against “Islamic barbarism” by fighting the Ottoman Empire and were continuing this role in Bosnia and Kosova.

Even Milosevic himself, at his second “status conference” at the Hague on October 29-30, declared his support for the Bush regime’s “war on terror”, claiming credit for trying to initiate this campaign during his government’s crackdown on the KLA, which he linked to Bin Laden, while denouncing Clinton as an "ally of Albanian terrorism."

The US-imposed Dayton Accord of 1995 partitioned Bosnia into Serbian and Croatian-dominated halves, but the Serbian-Yugoslav and Croatian regimes aim to totally dissolve Bosnia and annex their respective zones. While the Serbian half is a “Serb Republic” (due to the expulsion of the Moslem and Croat majority from these regions), the Croatian-dominated half is merely a “Croat-Moslem Federation”, as the US had nowhere else to shove the Moslems and aimed to avoid “Gaza in Europe.”

This left the Croatian nationalists dissatisfied. Early this year, they declared the “Croatian” zones (from where Moslems and Serbs had been expelled) to be a new republic, but the UN-NATO administration cracked down, banned the concerned leaders from public office, raided a Croat bank funding these forces and clashed with Croat militia.

For Croatian nationalists the emphasis is thus on showing that September 11 proves it is impossible to live together with Moslems. . “How can one build a multiethnic society with them, when they crash planes full of passengers into cities?” asks the rabidly nationalist Croatian media, according to Zagreb journalist Igor Lasic. President Stjepan Mesic called for a world anti-terrorist front, claiming “the only choice now is us or them”. The Zagreb daily Jutarnji List claimed “Moslems throughout the world are celebrating the terrorist attacks.” A regular columnist, influential Catholic priest Zivko Kustic, called on local Moslems to repent and to publicly state their views on terrorism.

Croatian TV aired a program entitled “A new war?” which suggested that Bosnia represents a terrorist threat to the stability of the whole region. It also featured Professor Uros Dujsin of the Zagreb Law School, who declared that Islam was a “religion of the sword” and the Koran was “a book propagating violence.”

The Zagreb mosque is now constantly under police guard, while in other parts of the country police are harassing Moslem citizens. The two thousand Bosniacs living in villages scattered along the Croat-Bosnian border have the local police pay them daily visits, monitor their comings and goings, and constantly ask questions about the whereabouts of villagers, reports Lasic.

Similarly, Skopje journalist Gordana Iceska reports that the Macedonian media are also finding bin Laden among the Albanian guerilla forces of the National Liberation Army (NLA), with headlines such as “Mujahedeen among the NLA” and “Bin Laden's Fighters With the Albanians.” Aleksandar Damovski, the editor of the mass circulation Dnevnik, claimed “we have a lot of testimonies from people on the front line. They all say the mujahedeen are active in the fighting in Macedonia.” The main evidence appears to be fighters with beards.

Meanwhile, Serbia-Yugoslavia aims to turn the anti-Moslem environment against former Albanian guerillas in south-east Serbia, who had been fighting to defend the local Albanian population from state repression. Covic claimed on September 20 that these guerrillas had “a direct link ...with the recent events in the US”.

US ambassador to Yugoslavia, William Montgomery, shared Covic’s concerns, claiming “militant extremists who were defeated are very unhappy and would like to come back.”

Covic, the former Milosevic-era mayor of Belgrade, who like most from that era are now staffing the state apparatus of the “post-Milosevic” regime, is widely credited with bringing that conflict to an end early this year. Serbian troops, backed by NATO, moved into a “buffer zone” between Serbia and Kosova, to drive out the guerillas. As a result, he has become the West’s favourite leader in Belgrade.

“The entry into the village of Oraovica was the crowning event,” a Yugoslav Army officer said. “The action was jointly planned by Yugoslav and NATO officers. Everything was done as agreed. The operation laid the foundations of today's military cooperation with the (NATO) alliance.”

Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic demanded the Hague Tribunal arrest former Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) leaders Hashim Thaci, Ramush Haradinaj, and Agim Ceku because “after the events in America you are even more obliged to do so, because what is at stake is the future of the international struggle against terrorism.” The three are now civilian leaders in Kosova, have not been accused of war crimes and have vigorously condemned terror against the Kosovar Serb minority by vengeful returning Albanian refugees or criminal gangs.

Yugoslavia’s attempt to be promoted regional “anti-terrorist” bulwark is paying off. In his note of congratulations to Kostunica on the anniversary of Milosevic's overthrow, President Bush expressed expectations of Yugoslav cooperation against terrorism. Ambassador Montgomery stated that “We are very satisfied” as Yugoslavia had given its “full support and cooperation.”

KFOR (NATO) commander in Kosova, General Thorsten Skiaker, said “the international community will not see Kosovo as it saw it in 1999.” After September 11, “No longer is anyone willing to consider extremists as people whose grievances should be understood.”

French intelligence agents in their northern sector of Kosova have reportedly asked Yugoslav authorities to provide them with information on the activities of mujahedeen units allegedly operating in parts of northern Kosova. The fabulously mineral-rich northern region has been partitioned off by French NATO troops as a Serbian sector since NATO entered Kosova in 1999.
Even with this partition, the West continues to deny the rest of Kosova the right to self-determination. On September 4, following requests by Covic for further guarantees, NATO secretary general George Robertson repeated that Kosova's independence was “out of question”. The same “out of the question” was repeated by the UN Security Council on October 6.

When President Bush visited Kosova in July, he refused to meet local Albanian leaders, and lashed out at them for allegedly aiding the NLA. The US drew up a list of officers in the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) whose assets were frozen and were banned from entering the United States. The head of the UN administration in Kosova, Hans Haekkerup, struck these Albanians off the ballot in the forthcoming Kosova elections. The European Union also drew up a list of 38 Albanians from Kosova and Macedonia to be banned from travelling to EU states.

Announcing a change in US policy in the region, the London Sunday Times interviewed the new US ambassador to London, William Farris, who said that the US is planning a long-term increase in its military presence in the Balkans, viewing it as a buffer zone to the “terrorist threat” from the East, a training ground and an operational zone in the “anti-terrorist” war. This reverses the Bush administration’s earlier desire for US forces to quit the Balkans. Farris announced he would soon visit Belgrade to discuss putting this zone into practice.

Yugoslav military delegations, headed by Covic, have visited NATO headquarters three times this year to discuss joining NATO's ‘Partnership for Peace’ programme. They also visited the US Army Command in Europe, in Stuttgart, to discuss organising training courses for Yugoslav officers in US military academies.

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