SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina International peacekeeping forces here are increasingly concerned about the threat of an attack by al Qaeda terrorists, one of whom was caught spying on an American base in northern Bosnia.
NATO officials confirmed last week that a man, who was detained in October when peacekeepers caught him surveilling the American base outside Tuzla, has “strong ties to al Qaeda.”
Sabahudin Fijuljanin, a 32-year-old Muslim, has remained in custody in Bosnia since Oct. 26. After his arrest, troops found a rocket-propelled grenade launcher stashed in Fijuljanin’s apartment, in addition to numerous Bosnian and other passports, all in his name.
“Since the 11th of September 2001, terrorism has taken on a priority for deployed forces around the world, and it is certainly a concern for the Stabilization Forces here,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William E. Ward, the commander of NATO’s Stabilization Force (Sfor) in Bosnia.
The global war on terrorism “gives another dimension to our mission here,” Gen. Ward told The Washington Times.
“Our force-protection posture reflects it, our situational awareness reflects it, our contacts with local officials who are also involved in this process all reflect that,” he said.
While the general stressed that Sfor’s top priority in Bosnia remains “contributing to a safe and secure environment here, as well provide support to the international community that’s here,” he said peacekeepers must be aware of the al Qaeda threat.
NATO has trimmed Sfor substantially from the 60,000 troops that rolled into Bosnia in 1995 to stabilize the country at the end of a bloody three-year-long ethnic conflict.
Peacekeepers from more than two dozen countries are among the approximately 17,000 troops remaining. About 3,000 of them are Americans.
Gen. Ward said the troops “are not consumed” by the al Qaeda threat, “but we certainly pay attention to it.”
Bosnian authorities in Sarajevo recently announced a ban on three Islamic charities that were operating in the country and suspected of channeling funds for terrorism.
Published reports indicate that the charities in question include one Saudi-based organization, the U.S.-based Global Relief Foundation and one local organization.
“Bosnian authorities have frozen the assets” of the three charities “based on evidence developed by, among others, the United States,” a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.
“Pending the result of further investigation, the appropriate authorities have taken actions to close operations of those organizations,” the official said. “Local Bosnian authorities are committed to the fight against terrorism.”
Acting on a tip from U.S. forces here in October 2001, Bosnian police arrested six Algerian humanitarian workers on suspicion of making threats against the U.S. Embassy.
Despite a ruling in January by the Bosnian government’s Human Rights Chamber that authorities lacked enough evidence to justify their detention, the six Algerians were handed over to the United States and sent to U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they are being held as suspects in the war on terrorism.
A heavily fortified wall has since been completed around the U.S. Embassy, although embassy officials say its construction was well under way before the September 11 attacks.
Hundreds of Arab fighters migrated to Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 to fight alongside Bosnian Muslims during the war.
The Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war in 1995, stipulated the withdrawal of all foreign fighters. But some of the Arabs are believed to have settled in Bosnia, gaining citizenship for their wartime contributions or by marrying local women.
Sfor officials stressed the importance of not confusing Bosnian Muslims, who were victims of some of the worst war crimes in Europe since World War II, with Muslim fanatics from Saudi Arabia and other nations known for their terrorist expatriates.