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NEWS 06 Feb 17

Experts Scorn Claim that Bosnia is 'Terrorist Haven'

Bosnia-based experts have challenged the claim aired in a recent article that Bosnia is highly vulnerable to Islamist penetration, noting that the authorities have taken effective action against such threats.

Eleanor Rose BIRN Sarajevo
Claims of unchecked possibilities for terrorist financing and propaganda were put in context by an analyst. Photo: file

Bosnian analysts have dismissed sensational claims in the media that Bosnia is a haven for Muslim terrorists, and that Islamic State, ISIS, fighters could pour unchecked into the country.

"It is really absurd," Vlado Azinovic, an expert in terrorism in Bosnia and a member of the Atlantic Initiative, said.
"As if Daesh [ISIS] fighters would be teleported undetected over Turkey, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, or Montenegro, before being deployed in Bosnia," he added. 
An analyst Djevad Galijasevic told Sputnik Serbia, a news outlet owned by Russia, that Islamism was on the rise in Bosnia where about half the population is Muslim.
"Islamist infrastructure has been around in Bosnia for the last three decades. There are no obstacles preventing it from developing. Propaganda of [radical religious ideas] and financial assistance [to extremists] have continued unabated," he said.
The article calls Bosnia an “ideal refuge of last resort” for Islamist militants and contains claims that fighters from the so-called Islamic State, also called Daesh, would flood into Bosnia if a large-scale Russian-American crackdown were to take place in the Middle East.
"This seems like a continuing hybrid war that has been going on in the region for quite some time," Azinovic said dismissing the claims.
He said "the ultimate goal" of such claims was "to undermine Kosovo and Bosnia, typically by 'fake news' and 'analysis', or with claims about the alleged spotting of [Kosovo-Albanian Islamic State leader] Lavdrim Muhaxheri in Kosovo, or terrorist training camps in Bosnia.

Denis Hadzovic, from the Sarajevo-based Centre for Security Studies, said that contrary to such media claims, Bosnian authorities have actively tackled threats posed by extremist elements by pursuing terrorism-linked prosecutions, cooperating with other countries’ security forces and by holding regular conferences across the country to educate local authorities in fields such as border control. 

Hadzovic said while the threat posed by Islamist radicalism existed, it also applied to other parts of Europe. “It’s true there is a presence [of extremists], but not only in Bosnia,” he said.

He noted that Bosnia's authorities last year took steps to crack down on rogue mosques, known as paradzemati, for example. 

“Perhaps Bosnia is more affected [by threats of extremism] due to the duration of the war and remaining weapons," he conceded.

According to research by the Centre for Security Study, about 750,000 illegally-held weapons in Bosnia, many left over from the war of 1992 to 1995, do present a security risk. 

When it comes to terrorist propaganda, however, Hadzovic pointed out that authorities worldwide are struggling to control the spread of radical materials, and Bosnia was not alone.

Meanwhile, he said, the authorities had adopted new regulations against money laundering and in December Bosnia was taken off the "grey list" by financial-crimes watchdog Moneyval. 

Hadzovic also challenged the claim made in the Sputnik article that Bosnia could see a flood of Islamic State fighters.

“Everybody who comes to Bosnia needs a visa, and the border checks are quite effective," he said. 

“It is possible that tourist visas could be used to infiltrate us, but this is also the case for any country in Europe,” he added. 

Bosnia has struggled in recent years to stave off claims it is not doing enough to combat weapons smuggling, given that some of the ammunition used in the 2014 Islamist terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris was traced to Bosnia.

But official figures suggest the outflow of recruits from Bosnia to Syria, and the returning inflow of radicalised fighters, has almost ground to a halt.

Experts told BIRN that this was partly because Islamic State had lost significant territory in Syria and Iraq, but also because of the law against fighting for foreign paramilitary organisations, which was introduced in 2014, had been effective.

During the past year Bosnia’s state court has sentenced 14 people to a total of 25 years for terrorism-linked offences, including traveling to fight in Syria.

The head of Bosnia's prosecution for terrorism, Dubravko Campara, told BIRN that Bosnia had done a good job in halting travel to Middle Eastern battlefields.

"In 2016, there were no recorded departures to foreign battlefields," Campara said. He added that the job is not yet finished, with 15 investigations still ongoing and one trial pending.

According to intelligence agencies, 200 members of the extremist Salafi community have travelled to Syria and Iraq since 2012, where they fought with jihadist groups, including the Islamic State and al-Nusra, which is linked to Al-Qaeda.

At least 30 were reportedly killed in clashes and more than 50 of them have returned to Bosnia, however.

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Background

Western Balkans on Alert Over ISIS Threat

Countries in the region have raised security levels and introduced new precautions to counter the threat of terrorist attacks by Islamic State.

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