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Bosnia Cracks Down on Wahhabism

12:00 AM, Feb 18, 2010 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Bosnian, Kosovar Albanian, and other Islamist extremists have recently turned up with unexpected frequency in jihadist conspiracies, even in the U.S., and represent a growing cause of concern for American military and law-enforcement agencies.  Although Bosnia may appear divided by Wahhabi radicals and their opponents, the weight of Bosnian Muslim opinion remains against the interlopers.  The widely-respected journalist Zija Dizdarevic, a prominent advocate for the Bosnian side in the Balkan fighting of the 1990s, reminded readers of Sarajevo’s most respected daily, Oslobodjenje (Liberation), that the Wahhabis had first appeared in the country during the war, and that their influence persisted thereafter at the highest level of the Muslim political elite.   These so-called mujahidin, numbering in the low thousands, who journeyed from Afghanistan and elsewhere to Bosnia, did not determine the outcome of any battles and caused much more harm than benefit for the Bosnian cause.   They refused to accept the common military discipline of the Bosnian army, and insisted in acting on their own – by committing atrocities against non-Muslim civilians.  After the war, their exploits resulted in, among other crimes, the murder of three members of a Bosnian Catholic family named Andjelic in 2003.  Dizdarevic identified two later phases in the attempted Wahhabization of Bosnia: Widespread construction of mosques with money from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, and establishment of Wahhabi enclaves, exemplified by the effort in Gornja Maoca.

The consequential action of the Bosnian authorities is overdue, and has been previously obstructed by fundamentalist accomplices among the top religious officials.  But it comes at a moment when Bosnia-Herzegovina faces many risks to its continued sovereignty.  Serbia and its patron, Russia, continue to look at the Balkan republics as an attractive region for intrigue.  Bosnian Serbs responded to the Kosovo declaration of independence, two years ago this week, by threatening to make the division of Bosnia, as created by Dayton, permanent.  A prominent Serbian human rights advocate, Sonja Biserko, has declared that a close alliance between Serb politicians inside Bosnia and those in Serbia is “the most serious obstacle to stability in the region.” 

Serbia, for its part, is caught between its chosen field of opportunity and its patron.  The Belgrade government has been treated with sympathy by NATO, but Russian Konstantin Kosachev has warned of a “negative effect” on relations between the giant Slav power and its ex-Yugoslav client if Serbia enters the Western military alliance.

Wahhabi agitators, openly supporting al Qaeda, continue to appear in those Balkan locations that are most vulnerable to renewed conflict: Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Sandzhak region bordering Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo, as well as Macedonia and Kosovo proper.  If Bosnia is to survive, it must first rid itself of the Wahhabi menace before it tackles the problems of international diplomacy and, especially, Russian meddling.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor.

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