Europe, Headlines, Human Rights, Religion

BALKANS: Fearing the ‘White al-Qaeda’

Vesna Peric Zimonjic

BELGRADE, Nov 29 2011 (IPS) - Mevludin Jasarevic (23) is in police custody in Sarajevo, scarcely revealing how he came to the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina and went on a shooting spree in front of the United States embassy last month.

His lawyer Senad Dupovac says Jasarevic wanted to be killed and be proclaimed “a shaheed (martyr), who died honourably in the fight for Islam.”

But he was shot in the knee by a police sharpshooter in the incident Oct. 28, arrested, treated in a hospital and taken to prison. A Bosnian policemen suffered minor injuries through one of 105 bullets fired from Jasarevic’s automatic rifle.

Sarajevo prosecutor Dubravko Campara told local media that Jasarevic had said “the only court he recognised was the court of Allah. His statements were confused, but he mentioned Afghanistan and help to Muslims worldwide.”

Media in Bosnia and neighbouring Serbia were feeding the public with amateur videos taken of the incident. Experts warned that what was being described as “a terrorist act” by Bosniak authorities should be taken seriously, because Jasarevic belonged to the radical Wahhabi group within Islam that has taken roots in the Balkans.

“It’s still a problem to speak about Wahhabis in Bosnia,” Belgrade oriental studies professor Darko Tanaskovic told IPS. “This (the Sarajevo incident) might be a tip of the iceberg for things that are wrong in a society; the movement also represents a security and political problem in Bosnia.”

Bosnian security services put the number of Wahhabis in the country around 3,000 now, most of them living in remote central areas near the towns Tuzla and Zenica. They live according to Sharia law, and send their children to separate schools. The women are covered from head to toe.

They are remnants of thousands of mujahideen who came during the 1992-95 war to help Bosniak Muslims against Serbs. They were veterans from different war zones such as Algeria, Afghanistan, or the Caucasus. Most left when the war ended, but many stayed, married local women and took Bosnian citizenship.

Wahhabism is a conservative branch of Sunni Islam, rooted in Saudi Arabia and linked to religious militants in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia has a prominent stamp in Bosnia, it has invested more than 600 million dollars in building more than 150 mosques. The focal point of Saudi activity is the King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo built at a cost of 30 million dollars.

Sarajevo academic Muhamed Filipovic told daily “Dnevni Avaz” in an interview that the responsibility for importing radical Islam lies with “those who wanted to claim sympathies in order to get financial aid; on the other hand, there were people who wanted the war in Bosnia not to be the war for the country, but for Islam.

“So much evil, hatred and separation has arisen in this country, which provided a fertile ground for the evil activities of people who stand against peace, negotiation, joint life and creation of a world of tolerance.”

More than 100,000 people were killed in the three years of war, most of them Bosniak Muslims. The internationally sponsored Dayton Agreement that brought peace to Bosnia did little for reconciliation among Muslims, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. They remain deeply divided, living in two separate entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina the Republic of Srpska for the Serbs and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

Bosnian terrorism expert Vlado Azinovic told Belgrade media that the “dysfunctional” state of Bosnia does not have enough capacity to deal decisively with militant groups. “If you talk to law enforcement officials, they would tell you that they could deal with this problem decisively if there was political will, but unfortunately we have not seen that political will for way too long,” Azinovic said.

Zoran Dragisic, a security expert in Belgrade, tells IPS there should be a clear boundary between “the legitimate right to express one’s religious beliefs and the political manipulation of individuals. This time it was the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo, but it could be anywhere else, including Belgrade.”

Bosko Jaksic, a Serbian journalist with extensive Middle East experience says “things should be carefully watched after Sarajevo. The list of targets may expand; extreme Wahhabis have aims to establish bases and to last.”

In recent years there have been warnings that some areas in the Balkans serve as training ground for a “white al-Qaeda” whose members are believed to blend in more easily in Western countries.

Mevludin Jasarevic came from the southern Serbian region Sanjak, shared by Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro. The area has been populated by Muslims since the days of the Ottoman Empire.

Its largest town is Novi Pazar in Serbia, where Jasarevic lived. He was arrested there last year for wielding a large knife during a visit by the U.S. ambassador and other ambassadors.

Serbian police claimed they found and broke up a group of Wahhabi extremists in a deep forest near Novi Pazar in 2007. Fifteen of them were given prison sentences ranging from several months to 13 years. Large numbers of their supporters are believed to have fled since then to Bosnia or Kosovo.

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