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M. Bozinovich | Columns | Serbianna.com The New Islamic Mafia

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".

Albanian teenager Valentina Bicaku vanished from her home in Albania. More than 30,000 Albanian girls and young women are kidnapped and auctioned off into a world of prostitution in Europe.
Evolution of the Criminal Network

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.

A 1996 murder of a waiter, Jonathon Segal, and a bouncer, Michael Greco, in New York's Scores restaurant illustrates the indifference and haste with which Albanian assassins kill: two ethnic Albanians employed as Gambino family assassins opened fire on the waiter and bouncer after instigating an argument over quality of service they got in the restaurant.

Ismail Lika, pictured on the right with long sleeves, in Florida jail posing with convicted ethnic Serb, Nikola Kavaja. Dubbed the king of the New York drug underworld, Ismail Lika issued a contract on Guiliani's prosecutors in 1985. Kavaja was serving a sentence for attempted assassination of Yugoslav communist dictator Tito.
While employment with Italian Mafia gave these ethnic Albanians valuable experience in the art of a criminal heist, 1980s was also a decade of clandestine criminal initiatives that are to lead into bigger and more spectacular ones later. In 1985, for example, a now-famous Rudolph Guiliani led a persecution team of the Balkan Connection - an ethnic Albanian criminal outfit involved in trafficking heroin from Afghanistan and Turkey, via Kosovo into US. Caught with at least $125 million in heroin, members of this Albanian smuggling outfit issued a $400,000 contract on the prosecutor Alan Cohen and the detective Jack Delemore, both placed under protective custody as the result.

Even fellow mobsters are afraid to do business with the Albanian gangs. Speaking anonymously for Philadelphia's City Paper a member of the "Kielbasa Posse", an ethnic Polish mob group, declared in 2002 that Poles are willing to do business with "just about anybody. Dominicans. Blacks. Italians. Asian street gangs. Russians. But they won't go near the Albanian mob. The Albanians are too violent and too unpredictable."

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,
when bread is missing to serve the host,
death happens for the faith renounced."

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.

Dangerous Hybrid
- Kosovo Albanian Dobrosi was serving 14 year sentence in Norway and in 1997 bribed the guard with 150,000 Norwegian crowns, fled to Croatia, where he underwent plastic surgery to change his appearance, then moved to Prague where, according to the Czech daily Lidove Noviny met the President of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, during his visit of Prague in December 1998. In 1999 Czech Police arrested Dobrosi, along with another Kosovo Albanian gangster for drug trafficking and trafficking with light-infantry weapons and rocket systems.
Political-Criminal Hybrid

According to research by a leading criminologist in France, Xavier Raufer, "In the Albanian world - in Albania and in Kosovo and in the Albanian-populated part of Macedonia - you have clans and in those clans you have a mix of young men fighting for the cause of national liberation, young men belonging to the mafia, young men driving their cousins or other girls from the village into prostitution. It's absolutely impossible to distinguish between them.... The guys are liberation fighters by day and sell heroin by night or vice versa".

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.

Albright giving a friendly hug to the KLA leader Hasim Taci
In turn, Veliu is close to the Albanian Jashari clan from Kosovo, known to be the first to start the armed uprising against Milosevic's repression. Main victims in the disputed Racak massacre were members from the Jashari clan as is Hasim Taci, a youthful political spokesman for an Albanian para-military (KLA) group with suspicious criminal biography yet befriended by Clinton's foreign policy team, most notably Madeline Albright, Richard Holbrooke and Wesley Clark.

Many, including the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee in 1999, have accentuated widespread allegations of KLAs criminal connections. Citing that a "major portion of the KLA finances are derived from [criminal] network, mainly proceeds from drug trafficking" the report goes on to say that Clinton's befriending of the shady Albanian political men is "consistent Clinton policy of cultivating relationships with groups known for terrorist violence... in what may be a strategy of attempting to wean away a group from its penchant for violence by adopting its cause as an element of U.S. policy."

Unofficial taxation of Albanians
- Allegations are made that the Albanian Mafia in America is acting as a collection arm for the war aims of the Albanian political groups. Christian Science Monitor, for example, cited a case of Agim Jusufi, a building superintendent on Manhattan's West Side. Mr. Jusufi gets a weekly paycheck. He describes himself as an ordinary 'working man.'" yet he wrote a $5,000 check for the KLA. "We have canceled checks to prove it,' he told the Monitor.
While the Republican Report cites New York Times' version of the origins of the KLA to be a "radical fringe of Kosovar Albanian politics, originally made up of diehard Marxist" the clan structure indicates that this may be a deliberate fabrication. Claims are made that 15 leading family clans in Albania (15 fis) have been controlling a clandestine smuggling operations even during the dark communist days of dictator Enver Hoxa. When Albania got rid of the communist, these fis increased their criminal control of Albania and, during the collapse of the Albanian state into anarchy in 1997, the 15 fis established complete control over the criminal activity in Albania including arms smuggling. Motivated by fear of inter-fis blood feuds over a limited Balkan criminal turf, the 15 fis allegedly made a deal to make a common para-military enforcement unit, the KLA, in order to incite violence in Kosovo with dual objectives, to make money financing the war as well as conquer Albanian-inhabited areas of the Balkans.

Daut Kadriovski
The most prominent criminal out of the 15 fis is Daut Kadriovski, a drug kingpin that managed to escape German prison in 1993, and is believed to be in the US where sources say he is operating through several types of businesses in New York and Philadelphia.

Albanian Mafia and al-Qaeda?

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.

Entrance-level job for al-Qaeda
-Before becoming kingpins of the American underworld, many ethnic Albanian mobsters got their organized crime initiation as couriers for the Italian Mafia. Fox News analyst, Manossor Ijaz, claims that ethnic Albanians now hold an entry-level courier position for al-Qaeda as well:

"... President Bush said in October of last year when he identified a senior al Qaeda leader [Abu Masab al-Zawkawi] who had gone to Iraq, received medical treatment to have a leg amputated that was blown up in the Afghan bombing campaign and then proceeded to a northern Iraqi terrorist outfit. What we have not yet heard and this is what my sources are telling me over the past two or three days, is that that leader was in fact, transported through southern Turkey using Albanian mercenaries to transport him into..."

The New Islamic Mafia

Yossef Bodansky, director of the House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, believes that Albanian Mob itself will not commit acts of terrorism but that their criminal infrastructure will aid al-Qaeda. "The role of the Albanian Mafia, which is tightly connected to the KLA, is laundering money, providing technology, safe houses, and other support to terrorists within this country," Bodansky explained to The New American. "This isn’t to say that the Albanians themselves would carry out the actual terrorist operations. But there are undoubtedly ‘sleeper’ agents within the Albanian networks, and they can rely upon those networks to provide them with support. In any case, a serious investigation of the Albanian mob isn’t going to happen, because they’re ‘our boys’ - they’re protected."

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.

M. Bozinovich 
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