Thursday, May 10, 2007

SERBIA: Wahhabi activism in Sandzak

Date: Thursday 10 May 2007
Subj: Serbia: Wahhabi activism in Sandzak
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


Sandzak (Raska) region in southwestern Serbia is for Islamic imperialists and jihadists highly desirable and enormously strategic territory. Wahhabi infiltration, radicalisation and agitation have escalated over the past decade. On several occasions during 2006 Wahhabi activism and aggression targeting the region's local non-Wahhabi Muslims culminated in violent clashes. Newfound evidence that Wahhabi jihadists in Sandzak's capital, Novi Pazar, have been preparing for acts of terrorism, has raised tensions in Serbia and especially in Sandzak and Kosovo.

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SERBIAN POLICE RAID WAHHABI JIHADISTS

On 17 March Serbian police raided an Islamic militant training camp 30km from Novi Pazar, Sandzak region, southwest Serbia. While one militant escaped, four were arrested and a huge cache of weapons uncovered.

According to ISSA (International Strategic Studies Association) Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis (3 April 2007) the weapons cache included: "plastic explosives equipped with trigger mechanisms, various caliber bullet rounds, protective masks, several kinds of military uniforms and hand grenades. . . printed terrorist propaganda, military survival manuals, medical supplies, a sabre, compasses, binoculars and maps."

ISSA also reported: "The four arrested by Serbian Police on March 17, 2007, were identified as Mirsad Prenti, Fuad Hodi, Vahid Vejselovi and Senad Vejselovi, all members of the Muslim Wahhabi movement from Novi Pazar. All but one of the arrested men were bearded in the fashion of jihadis, but all were white Europeans. Their campsite, with a Wahhabist flag (similar to a Saudi Arabian flag, only black), was jury-rigged [assembled in a makeshift manner] with plastic sheeting."

On 20 April, Serbian police clashed with Islamic militants in Novi Pazar, killing militant leader Ismail Prentic (picture: link 1), and arresting two others, Safet Becovic and Senad Ramovic.

As the Serbian police approached Prentic's safe-house, the militants inside the house released attack dogs, threw grenades, and eventually opened fire at the police. The police shot back, killing Prentic and injuring Ramovic. A Serbian police officer also was wounded.

Igor Jovanovic, reporting from Belgrade for Southeast European Times (SET), writes: "The Wahhabis began to emerge in Novi Pazar in 2006. In one widely reported incident, they broke up a concert by Balkanika, a popular ethno band, smashing instruments and accusing the musicians of 'Satan's work'. In November they tried to take over the Arab mosque in Novi Pazar, fighting with moderate Muslims. Three people were wounded." (Link 2)

Amela Bajrovic, reporting from Novi Pazar for Balkan Insight writes (22 March 2007): "This latest incident comes after years of simmering conflict between the majority of local Sunni Muslims represented by the Islamic Community and the new followers of the Wahhabi movement. The Islamic Community's clergy and faithful have repeatedly complained of
harassment by the increasing number of the Wahhabi followers, whom they say want to impose their belief as the only true one.

"Shortly after the arrests, Serbia's interior minister, Dragan Jocic, described the men as enemies of the official Islamic Community and said the police action demonstrated the government's determination to crush all forms of violence and terrorism.

"The justice minister, Zoran Stojkovic, sought to defuse potential religious tensions, saying the men were apprehended not 'because they belong to a religious group but because. . . they were involved in alleged terrorist activities'." (Link 3)

Serbian authorities believe the Wahhabis operating the jihadist camp were recruiting potential terrorists and planning attacks on members of the local Muslim community. According to a recent report by the US Department of State, Serbian authorities are also "significantly
concerned about the potential for an increase of Middle Eastern terrorist transit through Serbia". (Link 4)

LINKED TO JIHADISTS AND SEPARATISTS IN KOSOVO

The police raid in Novi Pazar was carried out in co-operation with Kosovo police, marking the first time the two law enforcement agencies have worked together officially since the UN and NATO took control of the province. According to Igor Jovanovic (SET), "Prentic had been under
an arrest warrant in Kosovo [for illegal firearms possession and trafficking weapons]. He and a number of followers are said to have infiltrated the northern, mainly Serb-populated part of the province, bringing weapons with them." (Link 2)

This claim, that jihadists in Novi Pazar have links with Islamic jihadists and Albanian separatists in Kosovo, has been confirmed by a Slovenian intelligence source which confirmed for Balkanalysis.com: "the Wahhabis arrested at a training camp broken up near Novi Pazar on St.
Patrick's Day had connections with Kosovo militants, the final status process there and potential violence against Serbs in the North Mitrovica enclaves." (Link 5)

According to Balkananalysis.com, "The arrests in Sandzak had the immediate result of increasing distrust and fear, particularly for the minority Christian Serbs. But the arrests also prompted Pristina's Wahhabis to lay low. According to one source near the [Kosovo] capital, 'on that day, the muj [mujahedin, ie, Wahhabis] vanished. You couldn't see one of them on the streets'.

"New information received by Balkanalysis.com from a Slovenian intelligence source confirms Serbian media allegations that at least some of the weaponry found in the Wahhabi training camp had arrived from Kosovo – and for a reason: according to our information, extremist
Albanians in Kosovo opposed to negotiation with Serbs are collaborating with the Wahhabis [in Sandzak]. . . in the case of new violence, the goal would be a show of force against Serbs from both sides.'

"Adding that both groups have different ideologies and purposes, both the ex-KLA militants and Islamic extremists have similar needs. 'Both use weapons, and both reply to varying extents on organised crime to fund their movements,' said the Slovenian source, adding that his country had recently taken a more active role in Kosovo/Serbia intelligence-gathering."

LINKED TO WAHHABIS IN BOSNIA

The ISSA Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis (3 April 2007) reported that the Sandzak militants are also linked to Bosnian jihadist groups. ISSA notes: "During and after the [17 March] police action, there were a numbers of Wahhabists in the location where the camp was discovered and in the larger region. Most of them escaped into nearby Bosnia, across the so-called 'Gorazde Corridor' [which cuts through Rep. Srpska]. The location of the camp was carefully selected to be near three borders (Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia)."

The ISSA Special Analysis listed several Bosnian Wahhabist groups that are known to be co-operating with militants in Sandzak. Many of the jihadists in these groups have degrees from Universities in Sarajevo or the Middle East (mostly Medina), and some have served time in jail for criminal activities. ISSA notes that much of the terrorist training in the region is "directly linked to funding by criminal activities, largely narco-trafficking".

SANDZAK: THE MISSING LINK

Sandzak (Raska) region straddles the Serbia Monetnegro border and stretches from Kosovo to Bosnia. During Ottoman times Sandzak formed part of the trade route that ran between the northern Balkans and the Adriatic Sea. The Ottomans Islamised Sandzak for trade security
purposes. Only Muslims were permitted to live in the towns and Christians, who where were relegated to dhimmi (second class) and serf status, farmed the countryside. Still today in Sandzak Muslims live almost exclusively in the towns.

According to an April 2005 report by International Crisis Group report http://www.crisisgroup.org, Sandzak is 60 percent Muslim. Most of eastern Sandzak is majority Muslim – the regional capital, Novi Pazar (Turkish for "new bazaar") is 78 percent Muslim – while most of northwestern Sandzak is majority Christian Serb.

According to the ICG report, "Serbia's Sandzak: Still Forgotten" of 8 April 2005, Wahhabis control several mosques in Sandzak over which the local mufti has little influence. ICG notes that over recent years Muslim men and women have both become increasingly observant of
conservative Islamic dress codes. According to ICG, some observers believe that, as in Bosnia, Wahhabis are actually paying local Muslims to dress Wahhabi-style. ICG also reports" Numerous interlocuters told Crisis Group that the Wahhabis receive funding from Sarajevo, which in turn appears to come from Saudi charities that operate out of Vienna."

For Islamic imperialists and jihadists, Sandzak is the vital missing link. It has enormous strategic potential as a land-bridge between Bosnia and Kosovo. As such, Sandzak is yet another place where Islamists are eager to support, partner with, or even drive a separatist movement. Such a movement would initially lobby for autonomy as a stepping-stone to independence.

Islamic imperialists and jihadists have long desired to bring Sandzak under Islamic control so that jihadists (particularly white European ones), weapons and narco-traffick would have safe passage from the Adriatic Sea to Bosnia, through Albania, Kosovo, Sandzak, and into Muslim Bosnia via the Gorazde Corridor, which, as part of the Dayton Accords, is part of the Muslim-Croat Federation. This enables safe passage through Rep. Srpksa from the Muslim-held town of Gorazde which is on the Drina River close to where the borders of Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, i.e. Sandzak, converge.

Elizabeth Kendal
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links

1) Militant Wahhabi dead after attacking Serb police, 20 April 2007
http://www.serbianna.com/news/2007/01557.shtml

2) Wahhabi leader slain in gunfight; arrests made. 26 April 2007
http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/features/setimes/features/2007/04/26/feature-03

3) Raid on Wahhabi 'Camp' Raises Tensions in Sandzak
Most locals welcome police swoop on group seen as troublemakers.
By Amela Bajrovic in Novi Pazar (Balkan Insight, 22 March 2007)
http://www.birn.eu.com/en/75/10/2496/

4) Country Reports on Terrorism
Released by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
30 April 2007 http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2006/82732.htm

5) BALKAN ANALYSIS 19 April 2007
Slovenian Intelligence Confirms Kosovo Link to Sandzak Arrests
http://www.balkanalysis.com/2007/04/19/slovenian-intelligence-confirms-kosovo-link-to-sandzak-arrests/