World Security Network reporting from Skopje, Macedonia, April 25, 2008
World Security Network
"There has actually been a sharp increase of planned attacks involving Balkan actors - as in Istanbul, Turkey, in November 2003"The March 20 arrest of five Wahhabi Muslim radicals in Bosnia indicates the continuing threat of terrorism in, and from, the Balkans. The men were reportedly planning to carry out attacks against Catholic churches on Easter in addition to the obvious religious significance here, the event is also important as all of the aspiring terrorists were homegrown. As with a similar arrest in late 2005, also involving native Bosnian extremists, it shows that the radicalizing effect of foreign mujahedin and preachers who came to the region in the 1990s has born fruit.
Compared to the Middle East or Southwest Asia, the Balkans have been relatively forgotten as a front in the West’s ‘war on terror.’ Nevertheless, an increasing number of incidents involving radical Islamists in and from the region – up to and including arrests of terrorist plotters – indicate that the threat, while underreported, exists and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
At the same time, wealthy fundamentalist Islamic movements such as Saudi Wahhabism continue to challenge the endemic, and more liberal brand of Islam associated with the region’s former rulers, the Ottoman Turks, in the battle to shape Muslim social and cultural practices. While strong resistance has emerged in the face of these attempts from Balkan Muslims themselves, there are no signs that the power of foreign-directed Islamist movements has been diminished to the level it was 17 years ago, when this trend first became noticeable; quite to the contrary, Muslim organizations preaching a variety of Islam far different from Balkan Islam in its historic sense have solidified their presence in several key sub-regions, with the repercussions being felt in ongoing political turbulence, social schisms, and a widening ‘safe zone’ for individuals linked with terrorism and organized crime.
The last of these developments should be a special cause of concern for Western countries, given that they and their assets are the ultimate targets for Islamic radicals based in, or transiting through the Balkans. At present, most news stories involving the region have been obsessed with political issues; these include the perceived struggle of Russia versus America and the EU over the future of an independent Kosovo, the furor over centralization of power in Bosnia-Hercegovina,