Dr. Darko Trifunovic
(Former diplomat and now lecturer at the Faculty of Security Studies at the University of Belgrade, Serbia, and RIEAS Senior Advisor)
Japanese government and counter-terrorism officials met behind closed doors this week with Dr. Darko Trifunovic, international expert on Islamic terrorism. In well-attended sessions, Dr. Trifunovic presented lectures on the following topics:
1. "White Al-Qaeda and the Bosnian jihad"
2. Bosnia and the al-Qaeda network: Modus Operandi
3. Bosnian experiences and Al-Qaeda's new training tactics
4. How terrorism is funded: the Bosnian model
5. Bosnia-Herzegovina and international terrorism
6. G-7 summit and terrorist threats
Generally speaking, when one is assessing the threat to a country or region coming from militant Islamic terrorists, (e.g. Al-Qaeda, and other similarly inclined groups), there are certain indicators to watch for. Among them are the following:
1. Presence of mujahedin;
2. Presence of so-called "humanitarian organizations"
3. Presence of state sponsors of terrorism
4. Presence of terrorist organizations
5. Manipulation of religion to terrorist purposes.
Surprisingly, all the above-mentioned elements apply to Japan. Osama bin Laden even personally declared Japan a target.
The message of Al-Qaeda's leader, broadcast on Al-Jazeera on October 18, 2003, declares: "We reserve the right to retaliate, at an appropriate time and place, against all countries that take part in this unjust war, specifically Britain, Spain, Australia, Poland, Japan and Italy."
Of great concern to Japanese authorities is the already recorded presence of mujahedin in Japanese territory. One notable case is the notorious terrorist Lionel Dumont. Having bloodied his hands in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dumont managed to flee the country in 1999 just one day before he was to be extradited to France. He subsequently traveled to Malaysia multiple times, before entering Japan in 2002, under an assumed name (Tinet Gerald Camille Armand). While in Malaysia, he spent time at the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM), avoiding suspicion of the local authorities. It is suspected that Dumont arrived in Japan with the intent of establishing a terrorist network, with the aid of Hamid Aich, a fellow ex-mujahedin from Bosnia, who is currently in Ireland.
Following their practice in Bosnia, mujahedin have married Japanese women, so as to legalize their Japanese residency. Aich's Japanese wife now wears a full chador, and works for the "humanitarian" organization Mercy International Relief Agency in Ireland. By remarkable coincidence, a few years ago the agency was visited by Saudi millionaire Yassin al-Qadi, suspected of developing a network of banks in Bosnia dedicated to financing Islamic militants. Al-Qadi was implicated in scandals involving the Vakufska and Depozitna banks, which alongside with 19 other banks in Bosnia finance credit and debit card company BamCard. BamCard's management was by and large educated in Malaysia -- at IIUM.
Japanese officials have ample reasons for concern. Lionel Dumont is a member of the so-called "Algerian group," suspected of planning an attack at the G-7 summit in 1996. On that occasion, counter-terrorist police killed one of the group members, Christophe Caze, who was a close associate of Dumont. Another group member, Bendaoui Hocine, is suspected of a terrorist attack on the Turkish Prime Minister in 1996, as well as connections with the terrorist group led by Fateh Kamel, also a Bosnian and Afghan mujahedin, and reportedly a member of Al-Qaeda. Another dangerous terrorist belongs to this group: Bouguelane Mouloud, who goes under many names, but prefers to use his Italian alias Carlo Manzzoni. His French ID is in the name of Kamel Khodri.
Dumont and other members of this group who operate in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Japan belong to a branch of Al-Qaeda known as Taqfir Wa'al Hijra, which once operated it Italy. There are suspicions it is still active on Italian soil.
After arriving to Japan, Dumont was hired as a driver by Himu Islam Mohamed. He was also a driver in Bosnia, following the end of the war and his career as a mujahedin. How can a French convert to Islam, who speaks several languages and has been a terrorist instructor, be a humble driver? The job, of course, is a cover -- as a driver, he can travel freely while maintaining a low profile. When he was arrested in Germany, large sums of money were found in his Japanese bank accounts.
Al-Qaeda has its tentacles all over the world, including the "White Al-Qaeda" and its Bosnian connections. Instead of solving the problem, certain officials in Sarajevo make it worse. Convicted terrorist Karim Said Atmani, close associate of Lionel Dumont, Bosnian mujahedin and member of the so-called "Montreal group," is suspected of involvement in the 1996 terrorist attack in Paris and the "millennium plot." The French court that convicted Atmani stated that he was a member of GIA, a major organization operating within Al-Qaeda. Even though he was released for "good conduct," Atmani vowed he would "fight the Jihad till the end." His arrival in Bosnia and cooperation with Abu al-Ma'ali (known in counter-terrorist circles as "Osama Junior") is considered a serious terrorist threat. Abu al-Ma'ali is wanted by the French law enforcement for smuggling explosives into Egypt in 1998, as well as an attempt to attack U.S. military installations in Germany. He is also accused of operating terrorist cells in Bosnia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to French intelligence, this terrorist enjoyed personal protection of war crimes suspect Alija Izetbegovic (who had multiple convictions for fomenting hatred and religious intolerance, prior to becoming the political leader of Bosnian Muslims).
Here is just one example of how fertile Bosnian soil is for Al-Qaeda operations. The Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation (AHF), ordered closed due to its connections with Al-Qaeda, reopened several months later in Bosnia, under the name "Vazir." This new organization was registered as a charity sponsoring "sport, culture and education." There are similar organizations in Japan.
As for Lionel Dumont and his fellow mujahedin, the greatest concern is over their recent cooperation with Tunisian Mohamed Shaffik Ayadi, a naturalized Bosnian citizen designated by Yassin Al-Qadi Khaddi as co-owned of Depozitna Bank.
Of the so-called "humanitarian organizations," the largest and most dangerous one is Tabligh-i-Jamaat, which operates worldwide. This organization's main goal is to convert to Islam as many citizens of the host country as possible. Also, its hidden mission is to radicalize the existing Muslims. Organizations like this cannot be directly accused of terrorism, even though individual members can and have been members of various Al-Qaeda subgroups. However, this and other similar organizations share the same goal as Al-Qaeda, which is the creation of the Ummah, a global Islamic state. One particular danger these organizations represent is the motivation of radical groups through militant Islamic ideology of intolerance and hatred of "infidels." By spreading Islam and making the existing Muslims more militant, organizations like this create fertile soil for Al-Qaeda operatives and their allies.
It is estimated that there are 17,000 Muslims in Japan, 8,000 of which are converts (this includes the second- and third-generation children born of Japanese mothers and non-Japanese fathers). In some countries of Western Europe, notably France and Germany, it is precisely these second and third-generation youths that are targeted for influence by radical groups. Most Muslims in Japan are Pakistani and Malaysian, so one cannot rule out potential influences of terrorist groups from those two countries, including Al-Qaeda.
Osama bin Laden was serious when he mentioned Japan as a target. Based on the facts presented here, Japan is already under attack from within, and in due time, it may be possible for terrorists to strike at its very heart. However, since the network of Islamic fundamentalists is still being developed, the likelihood of direct action (i.e. attack) is still very low. Any violence at this stage risks exposing and endangering the still-developing networks.