by Vesna Peric Zimonjic
(IPS) BELGRADE -- The Balkans could be a "springboard" for terrorist attacks in Europe like those in London, a senior regional analyst says.
"This is not a region that could become a target for terrorists," analyst Zoran Dragisic told IPS. "It's rather that the spot might be used as the springboard for Europe."
There are strong reasons for such fears, he says. The U.S.-backed wars that led to the disintegration of former Yugoslavia brought in arms, drugs and people smugglers of all kinds from all over the world. The region was flooded with weapons and ammunition.
And with this abundance of arms there was a strong al-Qaeda presence.
"Al-Qaeda sent its followers to fight side by side with fellow Muslims in Bosnia in 1992-95," Dragisic said. "Later on, it helped ethnic Albanians in 1997-98. There is data showing that al-Qaeda invested up to $700 million in the Kosovo uprising."
CIA director Porter Goss quietly visited Bosnian capital Sarajevo earlier this month.
Serbian media have prominently reported a statement by leading British military and defense analyst Paul Beaver that "a part of the investigation dealing with the London blasts is aimed at links between radical Islamists in Bosnia and Kosovo with international terrorist groups."
In the war years the Liberation Army of Kosovo (KLA) and Muslim federations developed close links with the criminal mafias in Albania, he told Serbian media.
"These clans are involved in drugs and arms smuggling," he said. "The cooperation did not cease, and that is why the director of CIA Porter Goss recently visited both Sarajevo and the Albanian capital Tirana to express grave concerns of Washington because of their cooperation with radical Islamic groups."
The war ended ten years ago, but Dragisic and other experts say that illegal arms trade and training are continuing across the Balkans, particularly in Bosnia and Kosovo, which is run by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) but dominated by the Albanian mafia.
A U.S.-backed armed uprising by mostly Muslim Albanians in Kosovo against Serbian forces led to 70 days of NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, which was fatal to hundreds of civilians. Serb security forces left Kosovo and UNMIK took over, looking the other way as Albanians went on a vengeful rampage that killed hundred of Serbs and drove out 200,000.
Bosnia remains suspect in many ways over links with Islamic movements, a Western diplomat told IPS. "During the war Bosnia was used as a place for laundering of identities, a spot for Islamic militants to put a foot into the doors of Europe."
The business of laundering of identities was well known in Bosnia during the war. Islamic fighters came from the Middle East, northern Africa or Afghanistan, often giving fictitious names, a fact that the western media deliberately ignored.
A brigade named 'Al Mujahedin' made up from these fighters became a part of the Bosnian army. Many Islamic fighters married Bosnian women and got new papers after the war. Some of them still live in close-knit communities in central Bosnia, refusing contact with reporters.
The Bosnian ministry for civil affairs says at least 900 men acquired Bosnian passports in this way since 1995. Six of them were extradited to U.S. authorities and transferred to the Guantanamo Bay military base following the attacks on New York and Pentagon in 2001.
Dozens of humanitarian aid organizations funded by Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia have been banned from Bosnia after being identified as fronts for "suspicious organizations," a senior Bosnian official said.
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