Ioannis Michaletos
(RIEAS Security Analyst)

Copyright:  (June 2, 2008)

The current period, a sequence of developments has as a result the increase of the alert regarding attacks by Islamists or other radical elements in the Balkan region. To a great extent the above are influenced directly by the declaration of independence of Kosovo that unleashes a circle of events that may lead to new regional conflicts or even a chain of terrorist attacks.

Albanian developments

In early May 2008 a new political party was formed in Kosovo, named “National Party for Greater Albania", that has as a main purpose the unification of the Albanian communities in one state centered on Kosovo.  According to estimations the finance of this party will come from American-Albanians in New York and New Jersey, whilst they are also willingly supported by radical elements in Tetovo and Albania. They are also planning to enact a series of referendums in the aforementioned regions in order to complete the creation of a “Grand Albanian” state and from what it seems their ultimate goal is to make Pristina the capital of this state.

Moreover troubles in FYROM during the 1st June elections took place and one Albanian from DUI party official shot dead in the Albanian populated Skopje municipality while tens of violent incidents with injured people were documented elsewhere. Moreover for the first time in recent history, an Albanian crowd gathered in the Slavic majority sector of Skopje chanting the acronyms "UCK-UCK" on the 30th of May.

Since late 2007, the Albanian press has reveled that the secret service of the country, named SHISH and its commander Bahri Shaqiri, have drafted plans for the recruitment of more HUMINT sources amongst the Albanian communities in the Balkans along with the upgrade of the capabilities of the service. In parallel the Albanian finance Ministry in late 2007 banned the presence of tens of Islamic radical groups and charities from operating in the country. There are also approximately 150 ex-SHISH agents that were fired by the Berisha government in the previous period and some of those have found employment in other countries such as Bulgaria working as security officers for legal and not-so-legal enterprises.

It would not be improbable as to assume that the terrible explosions in early March 2008 in the outskirts of Tirana are connected to the above. More specifically due to the explosions an unspecified amount of weaponry has been “Lost” and in parallel in case of a terrorist attack somewhere in the Balkans the disgruntled Islamists which were stripped of their protection; could be tempted to strike, provided they get a hold of this weaponry. In this hypothetical scenario a course of events similar to that of 1997 (Riots in Albania) to 1998 (Unrest in Kosovo) could be unraveled.

FYROM developments

In the former Yugoslavic Republic of Macedonia, the Albanian Imam Bekir Halimi, was arrested recently by the authorities in Skopje due to his involvement in illegal funding by pro-terrorist organization. The Albanian descent Halimi received 2,115 euros payments from the Kuwaiti Organization "Revival Islamic Heritage Society" – RIHS-.

The Revival Islamic Heritage Society has been blacklisted by the United Nations because of their close ties to terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda", said Interior Ministry's spokesperson, Ivo Kotevski. The money transfer through a swift account was done via Kuwaiti and two German banks eventually ending up on Halimi’s account.
RIHS has been accused of financing Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as well as extremist groups in Pakistan, under the pretext of humanitarian care and since the 11th of January 2002 it was classified in the UN’s black list of international organizations.

The organization operated over the previous years in Kosovo, Bosnia and Albania, whilst it seems that it aimed at penetrating FYROM through Bekir Halimi’s actions. According to reliable information himself was under supervision by the local security forces and he was also about to complete his work by importing into the country, radical Islamic figures from the Middle East.

It seems that he was a part of a larger plan of destabilization in the Southern Balkans and it would not be improbable as to assume that the revelations are related to the violent climate of the 1st June elections and the previous culminations in Albania.

Bosnia developments

According to information relayed in the international media, the Bosnian intelligence service is about to upgrade considerably it’s (Anti) espionage capabilities abroad with a special focus in the Balkans, due to “Islamic terrorism”.

Already in March 2008 a group of 5 radical Wahhabbis were arrested near Sarajevo who had a large amount of armaments and were connected with extremist groups. In May 2008 another group of 10 people were arrested because of their connection with illegal arms contraband from Bosnia to Croatia and to Central Europe. Most of them were war veterans that fought with the Muslim federation in the mid-90’s and were also related with the Mujahedeens who ventured from the Middle East and North Africa. For the latter already 350 of those have been stripped of their Bosnian citizenship, although for most, their whereabouts are unknown, thus making them suitable for covert and subversive action.

Lastly, according to reliable information, certain extremist circles in Bosnia are trying to regroup the “Patriotic League”, which was a Muslim paramilitary force during the Bosnian war and was also responsible for the transportation of Jihad fighters from the M. East.

Other parameters

The Balkans were deemed as a safe territory for the Islamists for the past 15 years, and Albania was often named as “The safe hotel”, a place with lax control for the movements of these groups. The current developments bring to surface a wider campaign against the Islamic networks, although they have actually upgraded their capabilities since their former allies have reached positions of power, such as the case of Kosovo relates to. More importantly it has to be noted that terrorism and organized crime are closely interrelated in the Balkans therefore any sudden change in the balance of powers signals a round of conflict between the oppositional crime rings.

Moreover sources which are related with the Homeland Security in the USA, have already reported that the 2007 catastrophic wildfires in Greece were probably a form of “Pyro-terrorism” by Jihadists, whilst Greek press often reports that up to 2,000 Muslims are being monitored 24/7 for extremist behavior and connections , mostly in the Athens region. Bulgaria last year unraveled its own Jihadi network, which was composed by proselytes and Serbia has managed to break up a radical group in the Sanjak eparchy.

In addition to the above, the coming USA elections provide by definition an opportunity to Jihadists to strike against Western interests in order to create the psychological framework on which they seek to manipulate political events. The Russian-American antagonism in the Balkans is another factor that hinders international cooperation on security affairs and the increasing involvement of the Turkish intelligence; especially in FYROM is another x-factor in the wider picture.

In overall, it is important to stress the emergence of a deteriorating scene concerning Balkan security affairs and a fair estimation is that the 2008 summer period will have a high alert status and in particular in Kosovo, Albania and FYROM.

Sources: )

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