Arid Uka, 21, a German-Albanian Muslim who killed two U.S. servicemen and wounded two more at Frankfurt Airport on March 2 of this year, will go on trial in a German court beginning August 31, on two counts of murder and three of attempted murder. The dead Americans were Senior Airman Nicholas J. Alden, 25, from South Carolina, and the driver of a military personnel bus, Airman 1st Class Zachary R. Cuddeback, 21, of Virginia. After shooting them, Uka fired into the bus, injuring two more airmen, Staff Sgt. Kristoffer Schneider (who was left blinded in one eye) and Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla, and threatening another. Uka’s gun jammed and he fled but was caught quickly.
Uka has confessed to the attack. When he was charged formally last month, the New York Times and other Western media reported that German officials said they “had no evidence that Mr. Uka, a Kosovar who grew up in Frankfurt, had accomplices or that he was part of a terrorist group.” Western media have further described him as lacking a radical background, and as having been motivated in his homicidal action by viewing a film, only the day before, purportedly showing foreign soldiers raping Muslim women.
But in May 2011, Zymer Salihi, imam of a Kosovar Albanian mosque in London, issued a fiery, 7,500-plus word communiqué to the Albanian Muslim public. Salihi was a prominent figure in support for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the NATO intervention of 1998-99. In his recent declaration, he linked Uka, the Frankfurt shooter, with a shadowy “charity” called BMS Drita, or “Balkan Muslims Society ‘Light,’” set up in 2009 and headed by an Albanian named Mehdi Hoxha. Salihi charged Mehdi Hoxha with sowing radical discord by attacking the widespread influence of spiritual Sufism among the Albanian Muslims. Salihi denounced the fundamentalist Wahhabi school of Islam, which originates in Saudi Arabia and is now aimed at recruiting Balkan Muslims, as a doctrine “spreading hatred among Muslims in Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan,” while interfering in the Albanian Muslim community, including in Britain.
In the lands from which Kosovar Albanian and other Balkan Muslims have emigrated to Britain, Germany, and other Western European societies, a campaign for Wahhabization has taken place since the end of the Bosnian war in 1995, mainly through mosque construction financed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. In the countries with Muslim majorities or pluralities, including Kosovo (90 percent), Albania (70 percent), and Bosnia-Herzegovina (48 percent), extremist financing has “converted” a handful of prominent clerics to the radical outlook. But most believers and their resident leaders have remained immune to corrupting offers, while dissident clerics like Zymer Salihi have exposed Islamist incursions.
The situation is different in the poor, neglected country of Macedonia, where census figures and demographic estimates are unreliable but which possesses, out of its population of two million, at least a 40 percent minority of Albanian, Turkish, Roma (Gypsy) and Slavic Muslims. It is often designated the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM) because of Greek claims to the name “Macedonia,” and in 2001 it was the scene of a brief Slav-Albanian ethnic war.
Political conflicts in Macedonia between the Slav Orthodox Christian majority and Albanian Muslims and Catholics, as well as rivalries among Slav, Turkish, and Albanian Muslims, have created an opening for Arab money and ideology to capture the official Macedonian Muslim apparatus. New mosques constructed in a standard, unadorned Arab-modern style, rather than continuing the local Ottoman decorative genre, have been built around the country. Official Islam in Macedonia (in line with Wahhabism) is hostile to Sufism, although the latter is deeply rooted in the local religious culture.
As reported here, and noted in U.S. State Department Religious Freedom Reports for 2006 and 2009, the official Islamic Community of Macedonia has opposed legal recognition of the Harabati Baba Sufi community in Tetovo, an Albanian-majority city in western Macedonia. The Harabati Baba shrine complex has been besieged and diminished by Wahhabi occupation, including violent attacks. In December 2010, the Sufi compound was set afire in an apparent arson plot.
The Harabati Baba shrine is so closely associated with Tetovo that it appears on the municipal shield. Like the country’s capital, Skopje, Tetovo is run-down, yet it includes notable traditional mosques. But Arab-inspired fundamentalists are intent on extirpating the moderate and Sufi heritage from the collective memory of the local Muslims. As if to celebrate the partial burning of the Harabati Baba shrine, Tetovo was the site of a conference on August 3, held by another obscure organization, the Islamic Youth Forum (FRI by its Albanian initials), established in 2000 in Macedonia and granted government registration (which was denied to the Harabati Sufis). Titled “Islam in Europe (Danger or Salvation),” the event featured Hani Ramadan, brother of the internationally-known Islamist intellectual Tariq Ramadan. Hani and Tariq Ramadan are grandsons of Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In 2002, Hani Ramadan shocked European opinion of all faiths when he published an article in the Parisian daily Le Monde defending stoning as a punishment for adultery. Hani Ramadan was dismissed from employment as a high school instructor in Switzerland, on the grounds that his responsibilities as a schoolteacher were compromised by his advocacy of a human rights violation. He was also removed from his post as imam of the Islamic Centre—i.e. main mosque—of Geneva. But in the publicity for the conference in Macedonia, Hani Ramadan was described as still occupying a position as “director of the Geneva mosque.” His talk in Tetovo, dwelling on the difficulties he said are faced by Muslims in Western Europe, was followed by a well-attended iftar dinner, breaking the Ramadan fast, in Skopje.
Hani Ramadan’s “Muslim brother” (in both definitions) Tariq was a visitor to Macedonia two months before, in June, during a tour that included that country, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, and Croatia. Overlooked by the rest of Europe and the world, lagging in economic and social development, and atomized by ethnic and political rivalries, Macedonia and its Albanian-speaking Muslims have long been a logical target for Islamist ambitions. The fire at Tetovo’s Sufi shrine last year and lectures by the Ramadan brothers during the current summer are warnings that should no longer be disregarded.