- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2001

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America, numerous incidents of alleged "ethnic profiling" and intense scrutiny of "Middle East-looking persons" have been reported published. This should not be a surprise to anyone, given the fact that the 19 terrorists who caused havoc in the lives of thousands fit a particular ethnic mold.

However, Osama bin Laden's terror network has Balkan branches that could render ethnic profiling irrelevant. Evidence in the public domain suggests his organization appeared in the Balkans as early as 1993 in search of blond Muslims.

Warnings about the appearance of a fundamentalist strain of Islam in this volatile region went unheeded by Bill Clinton's simplistic policy of "one victim, one aggressor." Prominent U.S. legislators, among them Republican Sens. Larry E. Craig of Idaho and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma repeatedly warned about the existence of bin Laden operatives in Bosnia and Kosovo. Moreover, major news organizations (among them the Los Angeles Times, Corriere Della Serra of Milan and New York Times) reported on the influx of Iranian arms, bin Laden operatives and assorted terrorists into Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo. Concerns about the implications of this brand of Islam for European security were also expressed by Archbishop Anastasios of Albania in April 1994 to no avail. "I ring the bell of alarm: Religious fundamentalism has made its appearance in Albania," said His Eminence. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Bosnia and Kosovo should acquire new relevance; they are reminders of well-intentioned schemes that produced monsters in Afghanistan and gangsters in the Balkans.

Saudi and Egyptian "Islamic clergymen" appeared in Albania in 1993 at the invitation of then President Sali Berisha. They brought along thousands of Korans printed in Arabic, even though few Albanians could read them. Mr. Berisha, who had a keen nose for Arab money, seemed eager to please the Islamic missionaries and shared their zeal in Islamizing his multireligious country. He introduced a law in Parliament that required the head of the autocephalus Orthodox Church of Albania to be an "Albanian citizen for 20 years," but the hordes of Islamic clergymen of dubious religiosity were exempted from this law under the pretext of "separation of church and state." Under pretenses of philanthropy, Saudi and Egyptian clerics were granted permission to manage orphanages that were literally left "orphan" when the communist regime collapsed. Like in Pakistan, orphanages become ideal recruitment fronts.

So far the public debate about a proper response against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 tragedy has hardly focused on the Balkan version of fundamentalism or bin Laden's role in fostering it. However, European news organizations have been more attentive to this branch than their U.S. counterparts.

Six years ago ANTENNA TV (Athens) aired a series of documentaries that confirmed the appearance of fundamentalism in the region and at last two visits by bin Laden to Tirana. The series were augmented and re-aired in the week of Sept. 17. The ANTENNA revelations were hardly news; they just reported ignored facts.

In 1997 Yossef Bodansky (author of "Osama Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America") had documented the presence of fundamentalists in the Bosnian military and their links to the Albanian mafia that bankrolled the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The latter is an organization that Robert Gelbard (Mr. Clinton's Balkan envoy) called "terrorist" in February 1998 and the president declared "allies" only a few months later. Ironically, the architects of the Balkan wars still don't get it; they persist in tooting our Balkan follies as "success" when debacle would have been a better term.

Richard Holbrooke and Gen. Wesley Clark, in pious pontifications via CNN, interpret their Balkan wars as evidence of U.S. willingness to defend Muslim "victims." Predictably, Bush spokesmen also point to the Balkans as evidence of Western benevolence toward Islam. But the unintended consequences of U.S. policies conceived in a historical vacuum are obvious in the Balkans as they were in Afghanistan. In the Balkans, these policies made gangsters and terrorists our bedfellows and in Afghanistan paved the way for misogynists to parade as government.

Under the Albright-Clark-Holbrooke watch, thousands of mujaheedins flocked to the Balkans in support of Alija Izetbegovic's dream of a "fundamentalist Islamic Republic." At the same time, half a million of dollars worth of Iranian arms entered Bosnia through Croatian ports even though a U.N. weapons embargo was in effect, supposedly enforced by the 6th Fleet. Warnings by the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee and Mr. Craig that "Iranian arms transfer [would] help turn the Bosnian military into a militant Islamic base" went unheeded.

Indeed, an unknown number of "Afghan Islamic fighters" joined the Bosnian military and many would eventually blend into the Bosnian society under NATO's nose. In due course, they could provide blond-looking recruits and sleeper agents. In a brazen display of things to come, mujaheedins with local wives have even attempted to create a version of a mini-theocracy in Bosnia. At the outskirts of Bocinja Donja, a sign warns all infidels to be "afraid of Allah." In prewar times this village was Serbian-inhabited, but its new owners prudently cleansed it of its rightful owners, according to the Toronto-based Center for Peace in the Balkans.

The threat from the Balkan branches of bin Laden's sinister enterprise have been exacerbated by the casual granting of Bosnian passports to "mujaheedin fighters" and the theft of Albanian passports during the 1997 pyramid-caused meltdown of the Berisha regime. The evidence is disturbing.

On Sept. 24, 1999, the Bosnian Muslim weekly Dani reported that Bin Laden, himself was issued a Bosnian passport in Vienna in 1993. This publication also revealed that the Bosnian Foreign Ministry was "seized by panic" when a Bosnian passport surfaced in the hands of Mehrez Aodouni, an Arab terrorist arrested in Istanbul. Aodouni had obtained Bosnian citizenship and a passport "because he was a member of the Bosnian-Herzegovina army," the ministry explained.

But the question is how many more "members of the Bosnian army" crisscross the world with similar documents. Further south, Albanian authorities have yet to account for 100,000 blank passports that vanished, along with thousands of weapons, in the 1997 implosion of the country.

Nikolaos A. Stavrou is a professor of international affairs at Howard University.

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