Al Qaeda Forming New Army In Balkans

by DEBKAfile

24 June 2002

"The next radical Islamic terror attack in America could well originate in a corner of the Balkans, where a new jihad force is taking shape quietly and unhindered. In its last issue, published on Friday, June 21, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources reported that close to 20,000 fighters, battled-hardened veterans and eager young recruits, are already under arms, with more joining up all the time.

An Islamist bloc of nations (whose formation has been reported in the past by DEBKAfile) - made up of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, al Qaeda and Hizballah, with active Palestinian support - is behind the new Muslim Balkan army. Saudi, Iranian and Iraqi intelligence services and al Qaeda operations officers in Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Albania are tasked with recruitment, training and organization. The units are armed with modern weaponry, including missiles and artillery, while handpicked young Muslim recruits have been sent to sign up at private flying schools, especially in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, as the nucleus of an air force.

Having learned the lessons of the war in Afghanistan, planners and commanders keep their heads well down, their training bases and facilities well hidden.

Recruitment is brisk among the ethnic Albanian Muslim populations of Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia, as well as Albania proper. Hundreds of mosques are sprouting in these countries, funded from deep Saudi pockets. The mosques open cultural societies to attract boys aged 15 to 16 and enroll them at medressaswhich, like their Pakistani prototypes, integrate military training in their curricula. The result is an expanding recruiting pool for terrorists, the same as Pakistan’s medressas, before the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Because Balkan Muslim families tend to be large, the percentage of teenagers in the general population is among the highest in the world, close to half, providing a potential recruiting reservoir of three quarters of a million youngsters.

Each mosque has its Saudi imam, who takes orders from Saudi intelligence. The military instructors are Iranian and Iraqi officers, as well as al Qaeda commanders who fought the Americans in Afghanistan. They mark out the best and brightest students for long-term careers. At the age of 17, these youths are promoted to a secret quasi-military organization and given three training sessions a week in urban warfare, weapons systems, the manufacture of explosive devices, bombs and mines, ways of demolishing tanks and aircraft, as well as night combat. After two months, they receive a fixed salary of roughly $500 to $700 a month, an irresistible draw in a society where employment is scarce. A month later, they are given uniforms and personal weapons, which they take home and hide. Drilled into them is the consciousness that their wages depend on perfect obedience to their instructors and religious mentors.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Pazdaran) have set up a logistical command center in the Iranian embassy in Skopje to coordinate the swelling movements of Iranian, Iraqi and Saudi instructors, organizers, couriers and bagmen in and out of the Balkans, usually from the Middle East. Most of the Saudis are al Qaeda operatives who fought in Afghanistan.
Until recently, they all traveled to the Balkans by indirect routes, careful not to draw attention to themselves, especially from agents of the US intelligence services attached to US Special Force contingents based in Kosovo and Bosnia. When they saw that no US intelligence service appeared interested in their activities, the travelers began to throw caution to the winds, freely using Skopje’s international airport for their comings and goings.

Our sources have failed to turn up any hand obstructing the emergence of the Balkan Muslim terrorist force, although fundamentalist governments of the Middle East and al Qaeda have fathered it for the aim of injecting young blood into the Islamic terror movement and invigorate the movement dedicated to violent assault against the West, primarily the United States.
The government of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, headed by its president Boris Trajkovski, is painfully aware of the threat. But, 11 months after concluding a ceasefire with Albanian insurgents, its army (see picture) can scarcely stand up alone to the youthful terrorist force, led by professional Saudi, Iranian and Iraqi military instructors as well as al-Qaeda terror experts.
As a provisional containment measure, the Macedonian government has secretly closed the country’s borders to the passage of goods to and from Kosovo, Bosnia and Albania, hoping to block the flow of weapons and ammunition supplies to the Muslim army. But it is probably too late to have much effect. Nevertheless, Macedonian forces are believed to be preparing to go into the regions taken over by the Jihadist force for the urgent but hopeless task of flushing them out.

If this action goes ahead, it will most likely trigger an upsurge of violence on the tiny Balkan republic’s borders."