BBC Monitoring International Reports - April 25, 2005

Text of report by Madeline Zapeezda in the Topic of the Day column entitled "Militant Islamist training camps in Bosnia and Kosmet [Kosovo-Metohija]" published by the Serbian newspaper Borba on 21 April

Austin[, ?Texas]: Europe faces potential attack threats from European-looking Islamist militants. Sources in German intelligence and the Israeli government say the militants in question, Muslim Albanians from Kosovo's Orahovac region, are getting advanced training in Kosovo.

The information, if correct, suggests that a certain group of international militant Islamists have developed an intricate global network, operating basic training camps on the Afghan-Pakistani border and advanced training programmes in the Balkans - where they are relying on the advanced skills of combat-tested veterans from the Chechen and Iraqi wars.

This particular network, according to the sources, aims to conduct operations in Europe and Israel, though other similar networks also probably exist in Germany and North America. It is unclear whether such networks are linked to each other - or to Al-Qa'idah.

Sources in German intelligence and in the Israeli government independently reported the same information on Islamist militant training camps in Kosovo that have sent their most recent "graduates" to Bosnia. Germany in particular, through its Federal Intelligence Service and other intelligence services, is keeping a keen eye on the Balkans - where Kosovo and Bosnia are located - as it tries to reclaim its interests there. Also, intelligence sources in Kfor [Kosovo Force], the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, say they are aware of Islamist training activities in Kosovo in general, but do not know about the militants sent to Bosnia. Reports of militant Islamist training in the Balkans date as far back as 2002.

The actual intelligence pertains to several dozen ethnic Kosovo Albanian militants discovered in Bosnia. No arrests have been made, however, perhaps because counter-terrorism authorities are tracking them. According to the intelligence, these militants, from Kosovo's Orahovac region, received basic training near the Afghan-Pakistani border and then returned to Kosovo for advanced training. They then relocated to Bosnia, where Imam Sulejman Bugari - an ethnic Albanian from Orahovac in Kosovo and head of the White Mosque in Vratnik, a Muslim-dominated part of Sarajevo - offered them religious support.

This is also where Bosnian-based Islamist commanders supposedly are to provide the militants with their instructions on where and how to attack. The advantage of sending white Islamists into Europe, of course, is that they blend in well with the local populations and would attract little attention during the planning phase of an operation. According to the Israeli sources, these Kosovo Albanian militants are trained to launch terrorist-style attacks - possibly including suicide bombings - in Europe and Israel.

The fact that the network's training programme includes basic and advanced levels - in different countries - indicates both a high level of organization and a system designed to turn out well-trained combatants. Instructors in charge of basic training on either side of the Afghan-Pakistani border are most likely regional veterans of the 1980s war in Afghanistan.

Training in this region is considered basic because the instructors have had only low-intensity, somewhat sporadic combat experience - meaning they have used machine guns or other basic firearms in guerrilla-type combat or perhaps have planted the simplest of road bombs.

Advanced training takes place in Kosovo for two main reasons: location and the quality of the instructors. As a result of ethnic wars in the early 1990s, Kosovo and Bosnia have very weak central authorities that cannot - or will not - monitor and combat terrorist-training activity. The authoritative bodies within the region, NATO and EU peacekeepers, are there to control ethnic uprisings and might not be looking for other potential security threats in the area.

Though some intelligence officers in Eufor, the EU-lead peacekeeping force in Bosnia, and Kfor in Kosovo sometimes report on Islamist activities in both regions, such leads are rarely investigated, sources in the Italian contingent said. For instance, militant Albanians practicing on firing ranges have been known to pose as police recruits, according to Albanian sources.

Counter-terrorism authorities in the area probably would not think twice about such activity, since they would assume nothing so sinister could be going on right under the peacekeepers' noses.

In addition to working in a secure area in Kosovo, the Albanians and perhaps other new jihadists are receiving advanced-level training from battle-hardened Iraqi and Chechen Islamists, German intelligence sources say, who have come up against two challenging and capable opponents: US and Russian troops. The intensity of the opposition faced by Iraqi and Chechen militants has forced them to develop and improve their tactics - lessons they can pass on to the Albanian Islamist militants.

The sources say this group of militants is now in Bosnia. It is unclear whether Bosnia is a target or merely a transit zone for these militants, although the latter seems the more plausible, as the sources have pinpointed Europe and Israel as the targets.

Also, considering that the Islamist militant commanders are in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, Bosnia probably serves as the command and control centre for this network, so staging attacks there could jeopardize their safe haven. EU peacekeepers in Bosnia, however, would offer a handy target should they want to stage an attack from their present position.

It should be noted that neither the German nor the Israeli source linked the Albanian Islamist militants to the Al-Qa'idah network. The failure to mention Al-Qa'idah could be another indication that Usamah Bin Ladin's network is losing influence over the transnational jihadist movement.

The recently-uncovered network, however, is not the only such group. Other international Islamist networks have also been established to train and distribute militants to target various areas. According to the 30 March Washington Post, an FBI affidavit, for example, has reported on a possible North American network of Islamist militants, in which militants are recruited to fight in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya and Somalia.

There also is a group of militants trained in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge and a group in Germany, where, media sources say, officials have acknowledged that Iraq's Abu-Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was planning chemical attacks against Europe. It is unclear whether these networks are connected to one another, or to Al-Qa'idah.

Whether the Albanian Islamist militants graduated from this training network pose a credible security threat depends on two primary factors. The first is how well security services react to the network. Judging by what Stratfor has learned, German intelligence and the Israeli government are aware of the networks' existence, which, of course, is the first step in thwarting an attack - though it is not a guarantee.

The second factor is the militants' capabilities. Albanians have cropped up among Islamist militants in the past, but no information suggests Albanians have played a major role - either in planning or executing major attacks - anywhere in the jihadist theatres of operations. This suggests the group's capabilities could be limited to small-scale guerrilla-style attacks and individual assassination attempts. On the other hand, the Albanians could still surprise.

Source: Borba, Belgrade, in Serbian 21 Apr 05 p 2

Copyright 2005 Financial Times Information
All rights reserved
Global News Wire - Asia Africa Intelligence Wire
Copyright 2005 BBC Monitoring/BBC

Posted for Fair Use only.