AP Investigation: U.S., European agencies use
rewards, informants in hunt for terrorists in Bosnia
The Associated Press - June 25, 2004
By GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - In mosques and storefront Muslim charities, U.S. and European intelligence agencies are engaged in a covert conflict in postwar Bosnia, tracking up to 300 suspected Islamic militants and shutting down those funding them.
Hundreds of CIA and military intelligence agents work out of a well-protected compound in the Sarajevo suburb of Butmir, leading the high-intensity effort to neutralize terrorists and their backers, European and Bosnian officials told The Associated Press.
Col. Stephan Thomas, commander of the German-Italian contingent of NATO-led peacekeepers describes Bosnia as a "transit country and possible refuge" for Islamic extremists. Lt. Col. Julian Bauer, also with NATO, told AP: "We are vigilant, because there is a (terrorist) potential here."
A senior European intelligence official stationed in Bosnia as part of the republic's war on terror described the international undercover effort as an "invisible but real struggle with the bad guys that could ultimately stop bombings elsewhere in Europe, or the U.S."
Almost a decade after a civil war in which hundreds of thousands of people died, Bosnia still lacks strong domestic law enforcement. But it has been spared the kind of terror that has hit Madrid and Istanbul. The reason may be the lack of attractive soft targets - U.S. and other troops here as part of a NATO-led peacekeeping force are heavily armed and on high alert, and foreign embassies are fortified.
According to an AP investigation, proven or suspected links between Bosnia and worldwide terrorism include:
-Osama bin Laden associates who learned military skills helping Bosnia's Muslims fight Serbs in the 1990s - among them Saudi al-Qaida leader Abdulaziz Issa Abdul-Mohsin al-Moqrin, killed June 18 after his group claimed responsibility for beheading American Paul M. Johnson Jr.
-About 300 Arabs or others from Islamic countries who are among 700 mujahedeen fighters in Bosnia. An intelligence official told AP the 300 had "suspicious" backgrounds and were under investigation, but didn't elaborate. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
-Evidence that Bosnia still figures in terrorist recruiting. A videotape seen by AP includes footage of mujahedeen training camps in Bosnia, scenes of urban combat, fields strewn with Serb bodies and a radical Muslim cleric recently extolling the virtues of suicide bombers.
-Bogus Muslim charities suspected of collecting millions of dollars to finance radical causes that operate despite efforts to shut them down. Government figures provided to AP showed three such charities banned last month collected nearly $20 million between 2001 and 2003.
Although most Bosnian Muslims are moderate or secular, the republic's links to Islamic radicalism precede the 2001 twin tower attacks.
Hundreds of mujahedeen fighters from Islamic countries moved on at the end of Bosnia's war of independence from Yugoslavia to other wars in Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. Testifying in May to the congressional Sept. 11 commission in Washington, outgoing CIA chief George Tenet said the Islamic fighters, funded by bin Laden, returned home as "a ready supply of manpower for terrorist operations."
Others stayed, mingling with locals who adopted the fundamentalist Wahhabi strain of Islam practiced by bin Laden and his associates. They are closely watched by peacekeepers, local and international police.
While much of the two-hour videotape seen by AP relies on old footage shot during the Bosnian war, there is a clear link to contemporary efforts to recruit Muslim radicals. The older images are mixed with recent footage of radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri praising suicide bombers and urging the devout to break all ties to Western civilization.
Glen Jenvey, a Briton who says he works on contract with foreign governments looking for intelligence, told AP he was given the tape by Hamza after befriending the one-eyed, hook-handed preacher, who is wanted in the United States on terrorism charges. Jenvey said he gave a deposition on Hamza to the anti-terror unit of Scotland Yard.
Bosnia is also fertile ground for those who exploit its still shaky police, intelligence and financial controls to bankroll terrorism.
While the government shut down the Al Furqan, Al Haramain & Al Masjed Al-Aqsa Charity Foundation and the Bosnia branch of Taibah International in May, authorities say there is no record of where the money - ostensibly collected to help poor Muslims - actually went.
And although more than a dozen such charities have been forced to close since 2001, there is no guarantee they will stay out of business.
"They invent new names and you have to constantly play catch-up to try and close them down," said Barisa Colak, minister in charge of Bosnia's new federal intelligence service and anti-terror units.
Officials won't discuss details of the U.S. undercover operation, including activities of CIA and military intelligence agents.
A senior European intelligence official in Bosnia said the Americans were planning to stay "in fairly large numbers" even past the official end of their role as peacekeepers, when the European Union replaces NATO in that role later this year. "This is an important country, so it makes sense for them to remain if they are serious about fighting terror," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another official confirmed that the intelligence agents pay informers to provide details on suspicious people or activities.
Abdurahman Khadr, a Pakistani-born Canadian national, claimed to have operated as a CIA mole, telling AP in a telephone interview from Toronto that he gave his handlers information on an important suspect during a five-week sting last year.
While much of Khadr's past is murky, Canadian and U.S. intelligence link some members of his family to international terrorism, including his father, a bin Laden associate reported killed fighting Pakistani troops near the Afghan border. Khadr's claim of providing the CIA detailed information about bin Laden stood up to lie detector tests paid for earlier this year by Canadian news media that broke his story.
More publicly, America trolls for suspects through the Department of Defense's Rewards Program that doles out cash or favors in exchange for information on the radical Muslim threat. Col. Austin Branch of the U.S. military's European command in Stuttgart, Germany, said the program has resulted in "fairly substantive" information, but wouldn't give details.
It's unclear how easily suspects can enter Bosnia. While postwar Bosnia was porous, spokesman Killian Wahl of the European Union mission now describes the border services as the "best developed police force" in the country.
But a senior international official disagrees, saying the border police can cover no more than a fifth of the country's entry points on any given day - not to speak of the long stretches of forest running along borders.
Although Wahl calls the force professional, there are lapses.
Up to a few weeks ago, the border police database showed bin Laden flying into Bosnia last August along with six top associates - until local news reports forced embarrassed officials to remove them from the list.
"It was a joke," said one official, who did not want to be identified. "Someone had a stupid sense of humor."
SECTION: International News- June 25, 2004,
Friday, BC cycle - 10:38 AM Eastern Time
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