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FROM THE PRESS
Al-Qaeda in Kosovo
By Milovan Drecun
Translation: Bojan Ratkovic
November 27, 2007
A reliable analysis carried out by NATO and KFOR marks the southern Serbian province as a transitional route for extremists from Islamic countries into Europe.
Since the arrival of international forces in Kosovo two parallel worlds have emerged there. The first is the official world. It has its so called institutions, political parties, judiciary, media, crime, terrorism, etc…. The second does not officially exist, but it can be sensed in the hundreds of newly built mosques, whose creation is being financed by Arab countries, and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia in particular. To peer into that parallel world of Islamic extremism, Wahhabism, the Mujahedeen, and terrorists is very difficult and extremely dangerous. Members of KFOR and UNMIK don’t peer into it themselves, or do so quite rarely. The knowledge of its existence is gained mostly through the information they receive from whistleblowers and through spying on certain Islamic extremists. The main headquarters of these extremists are infiltrated only by sporadic helicopter flights high above. Instead of publicly exposing these realities, UNMIK, under the directive of Joachim Riker, is trying to conceal information about the activities of Islamic extremists and terrorists and about their increasing strength so as not to upset the international community. News that Kosovo has become a strong base for Islamic jihad and terrorism can, after all, be a quite strong argument against independence for the southern Serbian province.
The first step in exposing and understanding this parallel jihad universe in Kosovo is the reliable NATO and KFOR analysis entitled “Kosovo in focus of interest for Islamic extremists”, in which the southern Serbian province was, on the one hand, marked as a route for extremists who come from Islamic Gulf states into Europe using the weak border control in Kosovo as well as the virtually non-existent rule of law in the province. On the other hand, Kosovo was also marked as a potential recruiting ground for Islamic extremists. The large numbers of young Muslims living in abject poverty in Kosovo plays ideally into the hands of terrorist recruiters. The city of Prizren was identified as the primary center of Islamic extremism in Kosovo, and Ekrem Avdiju, from the southern part of Kosovksa Mitrovica, was identified as one of the main propagandists of extremist Islam in the province. The analysis also identified Islamic NGOs that are linked with extremism and that are operating in Kosovo.
Of particular importance was information provided by retired U.S. marine Thomas Gimble, top expert in the field of national security and former chief of the OSCE intelligence agency in Kosovo, where he resided from 1999 until 2004. In December of 2006, Gimble claimed that Kosovo has become the largest reservoir of potential jihadi terrorists in the world, and that al-Qaeda is investing massive amounts of money in the region. According to Gimble’s sources, Saudi Arabia, Iran, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah are jointly working on establishing an Islamist army in Europe made up of as many as 750.000 soldiers. The army is quickly arming itself with modern weaponry, and a select few recruits are being sent to private flight schools, particularly in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Recruiting centers are located in hundreds of newly-erect mosques throughout Kosovo, Bosnia, FYR of Macedonia and Albania, whose building expenses are covered by numerous Arab countries. ‘In Kosovo I came to the conclusion,’ Gimble says, ‘that initiatives for the spreading of radical Islam are much larger and more complicated than I could have possibly imagined.’
According to the OSCE intelligence sources that Gimble revealed, the Islamic terrorist web in Kosovo has attained an enormous operating capacity. Al-Qaeda is extremely interested in the region because the Muslim families are large and teenagers make up half of Kosovo’s population, making Kosovo a prime reservoir for the recruitment of young Mujahedeen. The Pakistani method of indoctrinating and training terrorists in mosques and religious schools has been exported into Albania, Kosovo, south-central Serbia, FYR of Macedonia, and Montenegro. In Kosovo, Arab humanitarian organizations provide help to the residents of a particular village only if the villagers consent to build a new mosque there. The mosque’s Imam then receives direct orders from the Saudi intelligence agency and the preachers there often double as military instructors. These instructors are Iranian and Iraqi military figures as well as members of al-Qaeda that fought in Afghanistan against the US. The mosques attract young men of 15 or 16 who later enroll into religious madrasas where combat is an integral part of the curriculum. The best students, once they turn 17 years of age, are recruited into a secret quasi-military organization. Along with religious schooling, they are provided with military training for urban warfare and for using sophisticated weaponry and explosives.
After two months, young Mujahedeen recruits begin to receive a standard wage that ranges from $500 to $700 US dollars, and after three months they are given a uniform and a weapon which they take home and keep hidden until they are given the order to mobilize. The main channels for establishing Islamic terrorist cells in the Balkans were Arab humanitarian organizations which were only a cover for various terrorist movements. Radical Islamists have cleverly made use of the documents and official vehicles of these humanitarian organizations, organizations that besides “humanitarian aid” are also categorically engaged in religious indoctrination. They paid from $300 to $500 to the local populace for the permission to turn the locals into “good Muslims”. Albanians gradually adopted new customs, starting with the obligation to pray five times a day. With new mosques came new preachers who differed in both behavior and physical appearance from the old mullahs and imams. The Saudis attempted to promote their faith, Wahhabism, in all possible venues, especially through religious schools. The OSCE has covered up all of this information and has refused to allow it to come into the public light.
The so-called Islamic “humanitarian organizations” that build mosques, hospitals, give scholarships to young Albanians, and help orphans, have documented connections with extremist and terrorist organizations, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaeda, as well as terrorists in Lebanon and Iran. Islamic NGOs are actively trying to radicalize the local populace, and they are being very successful in their work with the younger Albanians. It is estimated that Islamic NGOs in Kosovo, despite barriers presented by KFOR and UNMIK, were able to recruit around 1000 extremists thus far.
Islamic extremists that came from the Middle East and Central Asia through various humanitarian NGOs have been carefully coordinating the creation of their terrorist web in FYR of Macedonia and in Kosovo. Studies have shown that it was all planned ahead of time in religious schools in which young Albanians from Kosovo and the FYR of Macedonia were sent to attain religious education. The Islamic university in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is the most active place for the extremist recruitment of students. When Islamic NGOs came to the Balkans they easily attached themselves to the many graduates of Islamic schools. In Kosovo they were most active in Prizren and Pec, because that is where the most students who had completed their education in the Middle East were residing. The Pec terrorist cell is extremely radical and it adopted its interpretation of Islam from the most fanatical Islamist groups. One of those groups gave rise to Osama bin Laden himself. In the beginning, the goal of those Islamic organizations was to implement a new method of practicing Islam in the Balkans. New preachers claimed that the way Muslims have been practicing Islam in Kosovo was unclean and inaccurate. In the beginning that didn’t seem too dangerous, but when the new preachers began to question the authority of Kosovo’s Islamic community and to incite the faithful to rebel against it, a problem arose. The new preachers began to teach that nationalist doctrines were false and that only religious doctrines were righteous. Kosovo’s Islamic community succeeded in establishing control over the situation in most of the older mosques. Nevertheless, the Islamic NGOs built new mosques in which Islamic extremists could freely operate and preach radical Islam, and Wahhabism in particular, without any interruption from Kosovo’s Islamic community. Islamic extremists have three centers of operations: 1. Skoplje, that is the north-western part of the FYR of Macedonia, 2. Tirana, and 3. Kosovo.
After their initial emergence in Kosovo, the Arab NGOs have since been forced to alter their operating methods in order to keep their true activities hidden. They have begun financing local sympathizers in Kosovo in order establish homegrown “humanitarian organizations” that can operate legally without reliance on foreign Arab groups. Another way the Islamist NGOs have attempted to mask their activities is by splitting up into various smaller organizations that are nevertheless coordinated from the same operations center. Through this web of countless NGOs, Islamic extremists are constantly recruiting new members. They organize numerous free courses, such as English language courses or courses in computer literacy. However, before the education can begin, the Arab instructors first preach to the attendees about fundamentalist Islam and the need for Muslims throughout the world to unify. Those in attendance who react positively to the rhetoric become prime targets for recruitment. There is a coordinated movement on part of the Arab countries and the NGOs operating in Kosovo to recruit new extremists, and every year around 200 young Albanians from Kosovo receive education in Saudi Arabia. The expenses of their education and their living costs are covered by the Saudi government.
To understand the entire story of the Islamic extremist and terrorist web in Kosovo, several registered and non-registered Islamic NGOs active in Kosovo are of particular importance. The most prominent among these are: 1. the Saudi Committee for United Aid to Kosovo, 2. the Islamic Humanitarian Foundation “El Haramein”, 3. Al Vakh Al Islami, 4. the Global Council of Muslim Youth, 5. the Islamic International Fund for Aid, 6. the Global Foundation for Aid, 7. the Society for the Revival of Islamic heritage, and 8. Kaliri il Merilis, or “higher goodness”.
These organizations represent the primary base of operations for al-Qaeda in Kosovo. The mother of all Arab NGOs that promote Islamic fundamentalism, extremism, and terrorism is the Saudi Committee for United Aid, whose headquarters are in Riad, Saudi Arabia. Their main Kosovo office is in Pristina, on the “Bill Clinton” boulevard, but they have offices in southern Kosovska Mitrovica and in Vucitrn as well. The director of the Kosovo branch is Jael Hamza Dzalaidan, a man linked to Osama bin Landen. Officially, the organization is involved in education and in providing medical aid to the people of Kosovo, but in reality the organization pays the Kosovo people to follow Islam. The Saudi Committee for United Aid is a so called “umbrella” organization in charge of coordinating the activities of all Islamic NGOs from Saudi Arabia. The bulk of its activities do not include humanitarian aid but in fact the promotion of Islamic fundamentalist beliefs and the financing of Islamic radicals by using humanitarian donations as a cover. The Committee finances numerous other organizations in Kosovo that are known for extremism, especially the “Prizren Youth”, the “Islamic Student Front”, and the “Albanian Youth in Kosovo”. Eleven members of these organizations have already been arrested by KFOR for having ties to al-Qaeda. The Committee, among other things, is arming members of the terrorist “Albanian National Army”. This most prominent Islamic NGO in Kosovo is financing the building of mosques, which like the one in Klina, are recognizable by their two minarets and the title “SJRC”.
The most important logistical bases of Islamic extremism are these newly constructed mosques and religious schools that are financed by Islamic humanitarian organizations, and in which Wahhabism is preached; in other words, the ideology of militant Islam. The fact that a Spanish Elite Legion noticed Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi working in one of these Islamic NGOs in Pec in 2001 speaks clearly of the importance of this Islamist web in Kosovo. He was brought to Kosovo by the current Prime Minister of Albania, Sali Berisha. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi left Kosovo to become leader of al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch. Through the establishment of this Islamic web in Kosovo, made possible by the so-called Islamic humanitarian NGOs, Islamic extremists, Wahhabis, Mujahedeen fighters and al-Qaeda members were able to enter the southern Serbian province and create a strong, active, prosperous and capable base for waging jihad in Europe.
It can easily be said that Islamic NGOs headed by the Saudi Committee represent a well thought-out strategy and an effective cover for al-Qaeda activities in Kosovo. Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda are using these organizations as ideal channels for the establishment of terrorist cells in particular areas, as a perfect cover for extremist and terrorist activities, and as venues for smuggling terrorists, weaponry and finances into Kosovo. Through this so-called humanitarian web, operatives of al-Qaeda are active in two ways. They are working with Albanian terrorist and criminal organizations, on one hand, and they are creating a strong base for jihad among the Albanian and other Muslim populations in Kosovo, on the other. The backbone of this strong base for jihad is the ideology of Wahhabism that is preached in newly built mosques and religious schools financed by al-Qaeda’s NGOs.
Religious schools are used for introducing young Muslim cadres to the ideology of militant Islam, and also as channels for smuggling terrorists and armaments into Kosovo. The primary objective of this web is the recruitment and training of new terrorists, kept hidden and made legal through humanitarian activities by which economic, educational, religious and medical aid is offered to the young Muslim populace in exchange for embracing this manipulated version of Islam. Teenagers and orphaned children are the prime targets for recruitment, especially in economically disadvantaged areas. Islamic places of worship in which al-Qaeda operates are outside of the control of Kosovo’s Islamic community. Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda are using their NGOs as an active web for spreading religious fundamentalism, for training local recruits, and for taking part in local conflicts throughout Kosovo. This local extremist and terrorist structure has become part of al-Qaeda’s global terrorist network. The primary objective of these local terrorist cells is the promotion of global jihad against non-Muslims around the world. Once the local web becomes able to operate on its own, al-Qaeda’s representatives can leave the region and move on elsewhere.
The above analyzed al-Qaeda web in Kosovo is very well organized, it is expanding and recruiting new members on a daily basis, it is a safe haven and transitional gateway for Islamic extremists and terrorists, and it is capable of planning and carrying out large-scale terrorist attacks not only in the Balkans, but also in Europe and in other parts of the world.