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By M. Bozinovich
FBI has recently announced that ethnic Albanian gangs, including immigrants from Kosovo, are replacing the Italian La Cosa Nostra mafia as the leading organized crime outfit in the US. According to a CNN report the FBI "Officials said ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro" make up the emerging American criminal cartel and "represent a major challenge to federal agents because of their propensity for violence and brutality." This statement comes several months after Amnesty International declared NATO-administered Kosovo province a hotbed of organized crime activity.
In Europe, the Albanian Mob is already the chief perpetrator of drug and people smuggling, passport theft and forgery, weapons and human body parts sales, sex-slavery, abductions, murders... The scope, ferocity and intensity of the Albanian criminal activity has prompted the Italian top prosecutor, Cataldo Motta, to declare Albanians most dangerous mobsters brandishing them in 2000 "a threat to Western society."
While the skimpiness of the FBI statement may be a subtle illustration of its lack of hard operational intelligence on the emerging Albanian criminal network in the US, the displacement of La Cosa Nostra by ethnic Albanians may be a seminole event in the American criminal underworld history for yet another reason: a predominantly Catholic Mafia is being replaced by a predominantly Muslim Albanian Fis.
Although no hard links with terrorists have been found yet, the FBI believes that the emerging Muslim Albanian Mafia in the US may be implicated in terrorist financing hence FBIs continuing surveillance "to see whether the militant Muslims in the emerging organized crime world demonstrate ties to organizations suspected of involvement in terrorist financing".
During the 1970s Albanian expatriates in the US were actively recruited as couriers, transporters or assassins for the Italian Mafia. The efficiency and brutality with which these members conducted these criminal affairs got them to advance within the Mafia network, so much so, that by 1996 the main assassins for the Gambino crime family were ethnic Albanians. Gambino's Sammy Bull Brovano's go-to "clipper", for example, was an ethnic Albanian, Zef Mustafa, whose notoriety for murder and racket was exceeded only by his love of alcohol: drunk from dawn, in a 1996-02 span this Albanian organized a $19 million internet heist, was let out on a $5 million bond and has since disappeared from the US.
While FBI concurs with the brutality assessment, the difficulty in obtaining operational intelligence on the Albanian mafia, and any convictions, may be multifold. Dusan Janjic, Coordinator of the Forum for Ethnic Relations in Serbia, cites three reasons for the success of the Albanian criminal gangs: "Firstly they speak a language that few people [sic] understand. Secondly, its internal organization is based on family ties, breeding solidarity and safety. Thirdly there is the code of silence and it is perfectly normal for somebody to die if he violates the code."
Culture of Violence
According to the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, "Honour killings are deeply rooted in Albanian society and were given formal recognition in the collection of medieval tribal laws known as the 'Canon of Lekë Dukagjini'" and still remains the organizing structure of the Albanian society. "...blood feuds were relatively rare among Albanians either in Kosovo or Albania. But after the turmoil of the 1990s, the ideas contained in Leke’s canon revived," writes Fatos Bytyci.
The fundamental rule of Canon law of Albanian clansman organization is Bessa - a concept that simultaneously converges loyalty, fidelity, dignity and honor of one's word. Although restrictive, the concept is such a prevalent force in the Albanian culture so that it got enshrined in many of Albanian folksongs:
"death happens because you betrayed a host,
Gjakmarria or taking of the blood is the vendetta killing done in order to restore the violated honor.
Loyalty to the family clan (fis) and vendettas appear to be mutually affectionate features of both the Italian and Albanian gangsters. Much like Sicilian social emphasis on family loyalty, writes the Italy's anti-mafia agency DIA, these mutually alike features are outgrowth of a general social construct and not necessarily criminal. "Albanian mafia is based on family groups... The division among clans or family groups in Albania was originally a social division, not a criminal one. Today, every activity in Albania still works in that way."
In the field of politics, however, the fear of the Canon's consequences is plunging Albania, an increasingly Kosovo, into a seismic convulsion of lawlessness.
Albanian Parliament in Tirana has recently addressed the close connection between the criminal and political. According to the Albanian Daily News, in July of 2004, the Albanian government has adopted a package of anti-mafia legislation and among the provisions is a prohibition of officials convicted of corruption from holding public office for a specified period of time.
However, according to an Albanian writer Faruk Myrtaj: "Not a single trial of a criminal gang has successfully been completed in Albania. According to the data of the Albanian Centre for Studying Organized Crime and Mafia in Tirana, trials of groups linked to politics are usually held behind closed doors by decision of the courts, and the judges usually resign and emigrate from the country", presumably out of fear of being killed acording to the Canon law that grips the Albanian society.
So much for Albania's efforts to curb organized crime.
The political-criminal hybrid structure based on the frightening Canon structures of clan membership is defining the Albanian political landscape in the Balkans as well.
For example, the leader of the Albanians in Macedonia, Ali Ahmeti, is a nephew of Fazli Veliu, former chief of an Albanian language newspaper in Kosovo and a cofounder of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Both are from the same village near Kicevo, Macedonia, and both belong to the Zajas clan. Before leading a military insurgency in Macedonia, Ahmeti was employed as a KLA operative out of Switzerland, from where he was moved to Macedonia when times were ripe to lead the Albanian violence there.
Allegations of an al-Qaeda presence in Albanian inhabited areas have also been made. For example, 24 Wahabi mosques and 14 orphanages have been built in Kosovo since 1999, along with 98 primary and secondary Wahabi funded schools. The chief Albanian Imam in Kosovo has been schooled in the Wahabi doctrine in Saudi Arabia and is of vital political importance to the party of the Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova.
Wahabism is the chief spiritual source of the al-Qaeda terrorists.
More distressing for the West is the existing Albanian criminal infrastructure that has been exported out of Kosovo into Europe, and given clan connections, may infiltrate the US.
In Brussells, for example, two Islamic city quarters - one specializing in terrorism and the other in false and stolen passports - complement one another. In the terrorist part is the Dar Salaam hotel where the accused "shoe bomber" Richard Reid stayed in for 10 days plotting to blow up American Airlines jet, while just across from the hotel is a shadowy Brussels strip of bars and hotels controlled by the Albanian mob specializing in stolen passports. According to the Global Policy, the quarter is a hotbed for "human trafficking, sex trafficking and false documents."
Although Richard Reed did not carry any of the Albanian doctored false passports, the al-Qaeda assassins of the Ahmed Shah Massoud did. The killers of the leader of Afghan's Northern Alliance traveled from London to Karachi using these Albanian doctored false passports before they murdered him.
More ominously still, an al-Qaeda operative, Djamel Beghala, was arrested in Dubai after the customs agent recognized one of these Albanian mafia's manufactured false passports. Under interrogation, Beghala identified a major European al-Qaeda cell that was planning to blow up the United States Embassy in Paris.
Recently, FBI conducted a statistical study on effectiveness of false passports and concluded that at least 10% of the falsified passports have effectively been used to enter the US. Given that 30 million people enter US, Albanian Mafia's monopoly on false documentation may indeed justify FBIs continuing surveillance of the emerging Albanian criminal cartel.
In fact, in 2002 the government of Macedonia submitted to the CIA a 79-page report on al-Qaeda-Albanian activity in the Balkans, including an al-Qaeda recruitment video aimed at Albanian conscripts touting hate for Christians, Jews, and the West. The video was hosted by an ethnic Turk, Ramzi Adem, who was demonstrating Balkan activities of an elite 120-man foreign fighters unit led by Selimi Ferit, an Albanian born in the Macedonian capital of Skopje.
Perhaps out of tactical, short-term reasons, the Bush administration duly ignored this report. Yet one ought to be mindful that it may be for the tactical advantages, to the terrorists, to present all of these criminal machinations as a haphazard event.
The seeming disconnect in the activities of terrorists is the insidiousness
for which they are known.