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news 09 Jan 15

Paris Attack Stirs Tension in Divided Bosnia

The terrorist attack in Paris has triggered tensions and heated debate in Bosnia, which is struggling to cope with its own radical Islamists.

Elvira M. Jukic


A woman places a candle near a sign that reads, 'I Am Charlie' in French, in solidarity for the victims of the attack at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris, in front of the French embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia. | Photo by Amel Emric/AP

Security levels around French embassy and other diplomatic premises in Sarajevo have been raised to a higher level following the recent attack in Paris, Bosnian officials said on Thursday, declining to elaborate on the details of ongoing operations.

While the brutality of the Paris attack raised fears of further terrorist activities across the globe, it has fuelled additional tensions in Bosnia, which is struggling to control its own radical Islamic elements, as well as religious, ethnic and political divisions.

“This was hugely important event, one which will certainly have consequences like those of the 9-11 or the attacks in London and Madrid,” Mladen Ivanic, the Serbian chairman of  Bosnia's tripartite Presidency told Radio Free Europe on Thursday.  

“This incident inflicted the biggest damage on the very religion in whose name it was committed and I think that it opens up many questions here in Bosnia,” he added.

With some 50 per cent of its population following the Islamic faith, and with small but active community of radical Islamists, the Paris attack has raised questions and opened public debates in Bosnia.

“I am deeply convinced that this represents a serious challenge to [Bosnia’s] Islamic  Community which, within itself, has to clearly state what kind of Islam is to be practiced in Bosnia,” Ivanic said.

The President of Bosnia's mainly Serbian entity, Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, said that he feared the possible activation of radical Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovina, adding that he would work on strengthening the intelligence and security structures in the entity.

“We dread something eventually happening to us here because the records about people in Bosnia and Herzegovina who promote radical Islam show that there are more and more of them,” he said.

He claimed that the security structures in Bosnia were too weak, and suggested that around 3,000 potential Islamist warriors were present in this country.
The Islamic community has meanwhile condemned the killings in Paris in the strongest terms. Its leader, Grand Mufti Husein Kavazovic spoke out strongly against the violence in a telegram sent to the French ambassador in Bosnia, Claire Bodonyi, on Thursday.
“I express my full solidarity with France and its people in the fight against terrorist violence and the suffering of innocent people, and I condemn in the strongest terms those who plot and  carry out terror and spread fear,” Kavazovic wrote in his telegram.
“Although some individuals are misusing freedom to impose non-freedom, and use faith to justify their acts of faithlessness, these selfish manipulators cannot  destroy the value of freedom and the dignity of a true faith,” he added.
Kavazovic's predecessor, Mustafa Ceric, who was Bosnia’s Grand Mufti for two decades until two years ago, joined citizens, journalists and intellectuals in front of the French embassy on Thursday to pay respect to the victims of the Paris attack.
Ceric’s presence was significant in light of the fact that in the past he was sometimes accused of ignoring, if not supporting, radical Islamists in Bosnia.  
Local security agencies believe that at the moment some 160 Islamic militants from Bosnia  are fighting for the so-called Islamic State or Al-Qaeda in Syria or Iraq.
Meanwhile, deep ethnic and religious tensions among all three ethnic and religious groups  in Bosnia were visible on social networks, which simmer with heated, angry debates.
“The media [in Bosnia] should refrain... from statements and comments which could transfer this situation to Bosnia and Herzegovina and lead to some radical actions in our country,” Borka Rudic, head of the association of Bosnian journalists, advised.


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