Islamist infiltration of the Albanian-speaking areas in the Balkans began even before the U.S.-led Kosovo intervention of 1999. (The offensive by radical Islam continues in Kosovo has previously been chronicled here, here, here, and here, with attacks focused on moderate Muslim clerics.) The upsurge of armed struggle for Kosovo independence in 1998 was accompanied by the unexpected emergence of Saudi-financed radicalism in the Albanian-majority zone of western Macedonia. The syndrome is too widespread to be coincidental. Wherever local Muslim-majority communities resist post-Communist abuses – including Kosovo and Macedonia – Islamist radicals show up (beards, short pants, and all), allegedly in emulation of the Prophet Muhammad. The religious extremists assault moderate Muslims and Christians, dividing the forces of national freedom.
The worst example has been that of Chechnya, where Saudi agents diverted a legitimate movement for autonomy within the Russian Federation in a jihadist direction, associating the cause of the Caucasian Muslims with al Qaeda. Chechens have not consistently demanded complete separation. The same pattern is visible among another people who mainly ask for equal rights rather than secession: The Turkic-speaking Uighurs on Chinese territory. Numerous Kosovar and Macedonian Albanians are convinced that Wahhabi agitators are encouraged by Serbia, which seeks to lop off the north of Kosovo and annex it, or create a pseudo-republic. That should sound a familiar note: Such a land-grab would be comparable to those carried out by the fading Soviet rulers in “Transnistria,” a mini-state carved out of Moldova, as well as by the late Slobodan Milosevic in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and by Vladimir Putin in Georgia (the so called nation-states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia).
The latest ambush of a moderate Kosovar Muslim cleric occurred on January 21. Hamit Kamberi, imam at a mosque in Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, had just finished leading prayers, and his congregation had departed. He was abruptly shoved into the mosque and beaten. “I heard some people closing the door and then they attacked me physically,” he told the Kosovo daily Express, which has taken the lead in exposing local Islamist radicals. “I know who these people are and I know their families, too.” One asked to speak with him, and he was then jumped by four more. “I need medical attention, including the services of a neurologist. I have internal and external injuries, in my brain, head and neck,” he added.
One member of the gang of thugs sported a long Wahhabi beard, while the rest, according to the imam, wore the distinctive short trousers adopted by the fundamentalists. He emphasized that he had never had personal disagreements with the group. But they had been agitating for weeks for his replacement as mosque leader, based on their adherence to the doctrines of the official Saudi sect and the imam’s insistence that Albanians preferred to follow the traditional Islam they first learned from the Ottomans more than half a millennium ago.
The day after the incident, four men, named Vesat Imeri, Burim Ademi, Faruk Osmani and Isa Ibrahimi, presented themselves at a Kosovo police station and, although they claimed to be innocent of involvement in the Kamberi affair, were arrested. Jetish Berisha, chairman of the Islamic Community of Mitrovica, warned that aggression against moderate Kosovar Muslim leaders is continuing and becoming more brutal. All these conflicts, Berisha said, “Come from the same element, with the same ideology… Some people think that they can take over our religious institutions through violence. Those ideologies are not based on normal Islam and are inappropriate for us as Kosovar Albanian Muslims.”
In addition, the national Islamic religious officials in Kosovo, who have previously been lax in responding to Wahhabi incursions, issued a strong statement. “The leadership of the Kosovo Islamic Community considers the attack on the imam as a blow against the institutions of the Islamic Community, as a violation of our institutions and an offense against their duties… The Kosovo Muslim leadership is committed to order, calm, and the rule of law, as opposed to anarchy and banditry,” the top clerics said.