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A Crime in Bosnia

The problem isn't local savagery or Islamic intolerance, it's Saudi money and Wahhabism.

11:00 PM, Jan 15, 2003 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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THE WORD Konjic, pronounced "Konyitz," means "the little horse" in Bosnian, and the Bosnian town of Konjic, set among green mountains and virgin forests in the valley of the river Neretva, was one of the loveliest I had ever seen, when I first visited it in 1991. I was riding a bus from Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian coast to Sarajevo, when three teenaged girls came aboard, heading a little way up the road. They were beautiful, wearing headscarves, and one of them sat next to me. I asked her, in my halting Slavic (more Russian than anything else, then), the name of the place, and her voice was divine as she said, "Konjic." I spoke no more, and, of course, never saw her again. Later I supposed they must have been Muslim girls, and I mourned when I heard that terrible massacres had taken place in the town at the onset of the Bosnian war, the following year.

After the war, I began traveling regularly through Konjic, by car and bus as well as by train; the Bosnian rail system switches coaches there, and as an old railroader myself I was impressed, if negatively, to see the macho way the Bosnians worked coupling cars together, standing between the tracks in total disregard of their personal safety. Communism--protector of the workers, I thought bitterly. But there were other sources of sadness as well. Passing through so many times, I couldn't miss the broken minaret on one of the mosques, ruined by shell-fire. It's been a long time rebuilding, but that is another story.

The Konjic countryside is still gorgeous. But on Christmas eve, less than a month ago, the horrors of the Bosnian war returned there. Three Croat Catholics, Andjelko Andjelic, 65, and his daughters Mara, 46, and Zorica, 27, were slaughtered in the nearby village of Kostajnica. A son, 30-year old Marinko, was seriously wounded. The family had been attacked by gunfire while putting up Christmas decorations.

The victims were former refugees, who had returned to their homes, among many urged to do so by the international authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The perpetrator was caught and confessed without remorse. He was Muamar Topalovic, a 25-year-old Muslim from the region.

Unfortunately, the atrocities visited on the Andjelic family have proven unworthy of major attention by global media. Foreign observers will predictably fall into two groups: those who say all Bosnians are savages incapable of living together, and those who say all Muslims are monsters unwilling to live with non-Muslims. Both would be wrong. The blood of the victims cries out for justice. But the finger of guilt points away from poor, suffering, martyred Bosnia--straight to Saudi Arabia and its worldwide network of extremists, adherents of the Wahhabi sect of Islam.

Topalovic, the killer, himself admitted membership in two Islamic extremist groups, both of them funded by Riyadh. They are the Active Muslim Youth, known by its Bosnian initials as AIO, and Jamaat al-Furqan, or the Community of Selection. In traditional Bosnian communities, Muslims join their Christian neighbors in celebrating Christmas and Christians and Jews join the Muslims in festivities at the end of Ramadan. But the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance has another vision for Muslims in Europe, America, and around the world. The three Croats slain in an obscure Bosnian village join the dead of September 11, of the Bali and Kenya bombings, and of all the other criminal acts carried out as a central element of Saudi international policy.

Dr. Ante Cuvalo, an outstanding historian and advocate for Bosnian Croats, has accurately identified the problem. In recent attacks by Muslims on Croat Catholics, he writes, "in every case there is a Middle Eastern, mainly Saudi Arabian, connection. Under the cover of 'humanitarianism' the local Muslims are being 'converted' to the Saudi version of Islam, that teaches them that Bosnia is the land of Islam and for the Muslims only."

Islamophobes in the West may disagree, and wish to argue that all Muslims think this way, but Dr. Cuvalo knows better, since he has lived the Bosnian experience himself. He is also unafraid to say that some blame must be assigned to the United States, which has hesitated to "offend the Saudi rulers" by pressing a cleanup of Saudi charities and similar operations throughout the world. Furthermore, while Dr. Cuvalo notes that the Islamic leadership in Bosnia-Herzegovina has protested against the intrusion of Wahhabism into the country, it has not done enough to root it out and to defend an Islam that respects other faiths.