While Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and other Balkan countries have been plagued by radical Islamist incursions, Albanian prime minister Sali Berisha, who is Muslim, told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronoth at the end of November that he considers Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Iranian government “the new Nazis, and the world must learn from the Holocaust and stop them before it is too late.”
But some Albanian Muslims haven’t gotten the anti-extremist message. On January 7, a 25-year-old naturalized American named Sami Osmakac was arrested in Tampa, Fla., in a federal sting operation, while planning a terrorist attack on local nightclubs, as well as the county sheriff’s office. He was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against persons or property.
Osmakac is an Albanian Muslim born in Kosovo (where his relatives spell their name Osmankaj). He has lived in this country since about 2000, according to media interviews with his immediate family, who own the Balkan Food Store and Bakery in St. Petersburg.
The Department of Justice complaint states that Osmakac came to the attention of authorities when he went to a local business in September 2011 and asked if al Qaeda flags could be purchased. The proprietor, who had worked previously with law enforcement, informed them of Osmakac’s request.
Osmakac met with an undercover agent and handed over $500 as a down payment for an AK-47 machine gun, home-made grenades, and an explosive belt “with a multi-directional blast range of at least 15 yards.” Disarmed weapons and bombs, which he thought to be live, were provided to him, and he affirmed his desire to use them, in a video showing him with the AK-47 and a handgun. He loaded a non-functioning truck bomb into the trunk of his car, started the vehicle, and was arrested.
The case of Sami Osmakac is the latest in several involving Albanian Muslim radicals. Arid Uka, 21, also an Albanian born in Kosovo, is on trial in Frankfurt, Germany, for attacking a U.S. armed forces bus at Frankfurt airport last year, killing two servicemen, Senior Airman Nicholas J. Alden, 25, from South Carolina, and the bus driver, Airman 1st Class Zachary R. Cuddeback, 21, of Virginia, and injuring two more.
Uka pled guilty to murder and is expected to be sentenced shortly. The German government has honored two other Americans, Air Force Staff Sgt. Trevor Brewer and civilian airport employee Lamar Conner, with the Federal Cross of Merit for apprehending Uka at the scene of the assault.
Hysen Sherifi, a 27-year old legal immigrant from Kosovo living in North Carolina, was sentenced on Friday, January 13, to 45 years in prison for conspiring with Ziyad Yaghi, 23, and Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, 24, in a North Carolina jihadist plot taken down in 2009. The leader of that attempt, Daniel Boyd, 41, who became Muslim and claimed to have fought the Russians in Afghanistan, pled guilty in February 2010 to two counts of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to commit murder, maiming, and kidnapping overseas. Boyd is awaiting sentencing. His two sons, Dylan and Zakaria, also entered guilty pleas and received, respectively, eight and nine years’ imprisonment.
In July 2011, Betim Kaziu, a Brooklyn-born man of Kosovar Albanian ancestry, was convicted of attempting to join the Somali jihadist movement Al-Shabaab. He has yet to be sentenced.
Albanian Islamist terror recruits first showed up in the United States in 2007, when Agron Abdullahu, a Kosovar, and three brothers, Shain, Dritan, and Eljvir Duka, who were born in Macedonia, were nabbed with Mohammed Shnewer, the Palestinian brother-in-law of Dritan, and Serdar Tartar, of Turkish origin. They intended to attack Fort Dix, N.J. Abdullahu was sentenced to 20 months in jail for providing weapons training to the rest of the group. The Duka brothers were sentenced to life imprisonment, with an extra 30 years each for Dritan and Shain Duka.
In the Osmakac and Kaziu cases, Kosovo police assisted U.S. law enforcement in apprehending the men. According to the Washington Post, Kosovo authorities monitored Osmakac's contacts with Islamist extremists in his country of birth.
Osmakac was nothing if not bombastic in his terror fantasies. In talking to a federal undercover agent, he expressed a desire to blow up buildings, attack U.S. military installations, and destroy bridges in the Tampa Bay region. In November, Osmakac and an American Muslim convert were thrown out of the Islamic Society of Pinellas County, the mosque where Osmakac prayed, after the mosque vice president, Ahmed Batrawy, took offense at their insistent, aggressive rhetoric and called police. Osmakac was cited for trespassing.
As recounted by his relatives in Kosovo, Sami Osmankaj, as he was then known, was born in Lubizde, a village in the southern part of the republic. His kin are traditional Muslims and the area is a center for spiritual Sufi activities, in which they participated. It also has a significant Albanian Catholic population.
In the 1990s, the Osmakac branch of the family left Kosovo for Bosnia-Herzegovina, just in time to witness the war there. They came to the United States at the end of the decade, and the family began returning to Kosovo for summer visits in 2008. Sami Osmakac changed visibly in recent years, growing an ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabi-style untrimmed beard, and travelling to Kosovo in the company of two Bosnians and two people from Albania proper—all four “devout” in their religion, according to his aunt, Time Osmankaj.
She said that during his most recent trips to Kosovo he avoided his relatives, and that she only learned of his latest visit, in October 2011, from neighbors.
Avni Osmakac, the brother of the accused, said Sami Osmakac had attempted to go to Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism is the state sect, for a course of study as an imam. But he was unable to secure a visa and got no further than Turkey. In an interview soon after his arrest, Asslam Osmakac, the family patriarch in America, suggested his son had been radicalized in Turkey.
For Balkan Muslims and Kosovar Muslims in particular, the Osmakac affair and others enumerated here are deeply dismaying. Most Kosovar Albanians express heartfelt gratitude to the United States for rescuing them from Serbian aggression in 1999, and for recognizing the independence of their country in 2008. Statistically, the number of Balkan Muslims involved in terrorism on American soil is small, compared with Arabs, Somalis, and South Asians.
Ruben Avxhiu, editor of the New York-based Albanian-American bilingual semiweekly Illyria, wrote on the Osmakac case, analyzing radical Islamist recruitment via the Internet, which featured prominently in most of these cases, as similar to abuses by pedophiles. Avxhiu warned, “Albanian parents, friends and acquaintances should not remain indifferent to changes in young people they know, who should not be left alone to face the trials of life. They should not be afraid or ashamed to seek help of experts in the different areas of social, psychological, educational and local and national security. Condolences, apologies, and distancing one’s family from such traps are not enough.”