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Sunday, March 26, 2017
- This holy month of Ramadan comes with a difference for some families in the Balkans. It is the first without their young sons, husbands or brothers who died far away from home fighting in Syria.
Muaz Sabic (41) died near Aleppo two months ago. The family from the tiny village Puhovac near the central Bosnian town Zenica only recently learnt of his death.
From what they know, Muaz was member of a unit of young Muslims from different countries who went into Syria to fight the regime of President Basher Al-Assad.
“It was his choice,” Muaz’s brother Ilijas Sabic told IPS over the phone. “He was a farmer, lived in the village with our mother, and made honey. I don’t want to talk about him any more…Everything I ever told journalists was abused.”
In earlier interviews with Bosnian media, Ilijas said his brother left Sarajevo for Istanbul in March. Muaz travelled with a couple of young men from Zenica and nearby Kakanj.
According to the local reports, Muaz is one of 52 Bosniak Salafis who left for Syria. Volunteers from Bosnia reportedly gather in the Turkish town Antakya and cross into Syria illegally at the Bab el Hawa crossing.
There are believed to be more than 300 Muslims from the Balkans fighting in Syria. They come from Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Volunteers gather again in the Syrian town Sarmada, where they are trained to join the Free Syrian Army. Most join the Al-Nusra unit, labelled by the U.S., the United Nations and Britain a terrorist organisation “with links to Al-Qaeda.”
The fighters are Salafis. Salafism is a movement within Sunni Islam calling for a return to the original values of the faith. It aims to clear modern Muslim life of any influence of Western models and principles.
Bosnian Muslims are Sunnis. Many have re-invented their religion after the 1992 – 1995 war in which more than 100,000 people died, most of them Muslims. This return to Islam was strongly backed by humanitarian aid organisations from Arab countries and particularly Saudi Arabia where Wahhabism which is closely linked to Salafism is the dominant form of Islam.
According to a former top official of the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bajro Ikanovic (37) is among those taking Bosniak Muslims to Syria. In 2007, he was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Sarajevo court on charges of terrorism. His home in Hadzici near Sarajevo was found to be a storage for explosives.
At the time of his trial, Caucasian looking Muslim extremists engaged in terrorism were dubbed “the white Al-Qaeda”.
Ikanovic was freed after four years, and began to organise volunteers for Syria.
Ikanovic told the religious site www.putvjernika.com in an interview that “the difference between us and other revolutionaries is that we are firmly convinced of the righteousness of Islam as the only real way, and the only way for man to return to normal. I absolutely don’t care what becomes of my children, we leave them to the law of Allah and we’ll be proud of our deeds and our lives the way we lived them.”
Muaz Sabic was not the only victim from the Balkans in Syria. Two young men from the southern Serbian town Novi Pazar died in Syria in May. Their deaths were praised on the local www.sandzakhaber.net site. Known under their battle names Abu Bera and Abu Merdia, Eldar Kundakovic and Adis Salihovic died in an effort to free prisoners from the Al-Safira jail near Aleppo.
The SIPA official told IPS that “the war in Bosnia opened the doors for re-invention of Islam; jihad fighters who came here to fight along their Muslim brethren against Serbs or Croats brought their ideology, customs and enthusiasm. For some young men that was a revelation, a kind of missing link being revealed. However, there was never enough evidence that this led to mass scale.”
But some Sarajevans see the more fundamental change.
“It is no secret that people are being paid to go to Syria or other fronts for that matter,” a local resident told IPS. “Mosques are places where people gather more than ever in the past…they hear their imams calling for solidarity, explaining the sufferings of fellow Muslims in Syria and all over the world.
“For those who are barely earning any money, as unemployment reaches almost 45 percent here, this is an opportunity to get something.”
The monthly income for jihadis paid through organisations disguised as ‘humanitarian agencies’, can be about 600 dollars. “Isn’t that a lot under the circumstances?” the resident said.