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Islamic Radicalization Processes in South East Europe


Hundreds of Islamic Wahhabi fighters, who fought alongside Bosnian Muslim forces during the war, remained in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Many of them married local women and established Islamic organizations. Foreign Islamic fighters are important but not only one segment of Radical Islamist PUZLE in Bosnia. The key elements of an Islamic Radicalization process according to the Bosnian experience are as follows:

1. Presence of mujaheddin;
2. Presence of so-called “humanitarian organizations”;
3. Presence of state sponsors of terrorism;
4. Presence of terrorist organizations;
5. Manipulation of religion for terrorist purposes.

Fast Islamic radicalization transformed nature of the threat from external to internal, which entailed a shift in counter-terrorism practices from a military to a judicial response. Do we call today terrorism and terrorist by their real names? Well-trained military units and formations of Islamic Radicals we call today terrorists instead of, for example, “Army of Jihad” etc. Be it rapid or slow, Islamic Radicalization of the existing Muslim population results in “new motivation” and with “new goals” as it is described by notorious Al Qaeda 2010 Plan. The threats have become very visible within the state borders, even though the mainstream perception until now has been that “War is somewhere far away”. The Bosnian example shows the process and results of rapid radicalization. Wahhabis serve as a key factor of Islamic Radicalization in Bosnia. This ideology is relatively new in Europe and was brought to Bosnia by foreign Muslim fighters (or Mujaheddin) who fought on the side of local Muslims in the country’s bloody 1992-1995 war. Many Mujaheddin acquired Bosnian citizenship and remained in the country after the war, operating terrorist training camps in Bosnia and indoctrinating local youths. While the police has been fairly active in countering the threat, there seems to be no “political will to do more”. The Director of Bosnia’s State Security Agency (OSA), Almir Dzuvo, said that there are more than 3000 potentially dangerous individuals related to international terrorism and that most of the potential terrorists were local people known to police, while only three percent were foreigners; Dzuvo also mentioned that most potential terrorists were followers of the fundamentalist Salafite Islamic movement, also known as Wahabism, which originated in Saudi Arabia[1]. IN the last several years, Islamic Radicalization of existing Muslim population has progressed from mere ideological indoctrination to serial violent attacks throughout Bosnia. 

From light to heavy crimes

The process of radicalization was consolidated the creation of so-called Sharia (Wahabbi) Police. In 2009, members of Sharia Police were openly attacking couples in love and insisting on Bosnian Muslim girls and women being covered, according to Islamic rules and traditions. From crimes against public order and safety to the terrorism and murders, Sharia Police and other Wahhabi elements have been involved in a number of alarming incidents in Bosnia, some of which are presented below[2]:

1. “An operation codenamed “the Light” that involves all police forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia’s law enforcement and various other agencies officers launched on February 2010, a major raid on the village of Gornja Maoca which is claimed to be a home to followers of the “radical Wahabbi” branch of Islam, targeting people whom authorities “suspect of destabilizing the country”. The operation in northern Bosnia by 600 police officers is the largest since the end of the country’s 1992-95 war. The activities are carried out with an aim to locate and prosecute individuals suspected of undermining the territorial integrity and constitutional order and inciting ethnic, racial or religious hatred and intolerance. Some foreign Islamic fighters or Mujaheddin, who stayed on after fighting alongside Bosnian Muslims against Serbs and Croats in the war, formed their own community in the village. They were joined by some local followers of the “Wahabbi” branch. On the end of 2009 a Bosnian court indicted a group of radical Muslims on charges of “terrorism” and arms trafficking. The indictment stated they purchased and possessed weapons, explosives and various products suitable for making improvised explosive devices. Police also found video recordings of people being trained in the use of arms and combat activities to carry out an attack[3].

2. Bugojno attack. Haris ?auševi? from Bugojno, commonly known as “Oks,” confessed to having detonated a bomb that damaged the Bugojno police station June 27, 2010. While attempting to escape, he also threw a grenade at police officers. The powerful bomb, hidden in a car parked just in front of the station, exploded at dawn, causing considerable destruction. Officer Tarik Ljubuški? (41) died at the scene, and Officer Edina Hindi? (26) was severely injured. Four other police sustained non-life threatening injuries. Local media speculated that the bombing was the work of organized crime, but subsequent investigation points toward the radical Wahhabi movement. Later that day, Federal police arrested six suspects and detained a seventh – Naser Palislamovic – two days later in Sarajevo. Police now believe Palislamovic organized the attack. All the suspects are members of the radical Wahhabi movement – a Saudi-based and financed order following a strict interpretation of Islam – while most of them are already known to security agencies for their militant and intolerant behavior[4].

3. Bosnia Shopping Centre Blast, One man was killed (mall’s security guard) and three people injured when an explosive device went off in a shopping centre in the central Bosnian town of Vitez, October 10, 2008. Explosive device was thrown or it was placed there before and then activated[5].

4. Funeral of former Wahhabi leader Jusuf Barcic[6]. Over 3000 followers of the radical Wahhabi current of Islam had come to the northeast Bosnian town of Tuzla (May, 2007) to bury their leader Jusuf Barcic, who had recently died in a traffic accident. The coffin in front of the mosque was draped in a green cloth. Men with long beards chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). As press photographers tried to photograph the scene, they were first cursed and then beaten.

Religious fundamentalism is on the rise in Bosnia-Herzegovina. There had not previously been any mass demonstration of this size. But the local media have for some time now noted a marked increase in the activities of the Wahhabi sect, which counts al-Qaida founder Osama Bin Laden among its adherents.

5. Careva (Emperor) mosque incident[7], Jusuf Barcic and a group of his followers wanted to enter the venerable Careva mosque in downtown Sarajevo (February, 2007), in order to perform the Wahhabi prayer rites. For the first time in the over 500 year history of the mosque, the Imam had to lock the doors. Only the arrival of the police could prevent clashes between Barcic’s followers and followers of the indigenous Bosnian form of Islam. Several months before Careve mosque incident another occurred. There had been a massive brawl in the town of Kalesija after the Wahhabis occupied the local mosque there and chased off the Imam. It appears, however, that Barcic was not the organizer of the incidents in Sarajevo and Kalesija. Instead, new information shows that a man always seen close to Barcic, Karray Kamel bin Ali, is the mastermind behind the recent incidents. Kamel bin Ali, alias Abu Hamza, is Tunisian born, but has Bosnian citizenship. He and Barcic shared prison time together, and he was released several months ago. Wartime commander of the mujahideen unit in Bosnia, Abu Hamza became known to the Bosnian public after he murdered Egyptian Hisham Diab, alias Abu Velid, in 1997 in the central Bosnian city of Zenica. After managing to evade arrest for three years, Abu Hamza was finally brought down in Germany in 2000 and deported to Bosnia, where he was sentenced to seven years in prison. An investigation into the case, however, showed that the real Hisham Diab was still alive and an active member of an organization called “New Jihad” and a former close associate of the radical Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The identity of the person Abu Hamza killed in Zenica remains unknown[8]. Physical conflicts between traditional Bosnian Muslims and Wahabbi have also become more common. The media have reported fights in mosques across Bosnia, in Banovici, Cazin, Kladanj, Kalesija, Sarajevo and other towns and cities[9].

6. RS police arrest suspected Wahhabi associates. Republika Srpska (RS) police has arrested five people suspected of ties to the radical Islam Wahhabi movement. The RS Interior Ministry confirmed the arrests (August 12th 2010) and said they were made based on illegal weapons possession. The suspects were detained in Kozarska Dubica and Novi Grad[10].

7. Foiled terror attack by Mirsad Bektasevic (Maximus) group. Swede Mirsad Bektasevic (born in Serbia, Bosnian Muslim with Swedish and Serbian citizenship -, Denmark based Turk Abdulkabir Cesur and Bosnian Bajro Ikanovic were arrested in Sarajevo for planning a terror attack on Western targets in Sarajevo or other European countries. Bektasevic and Cesur came to Bosnia in autumn 2005 to plan the attack and they, together with Ikanovic (who was Bektasevic’s supplier of explosives to be used in terror attack) were arrested in October and December 2005 in Sarajevo suburbs of Butmir and Hadzici. Police confiscated explosives, weapons, videos, an explosive belt and other military equipment. They also arrested Senad Hasanovic and Asim Bajric for possession of weapons and explosives. The videotape found in Baktasevic’s apartment showed masked men asking for God’s forgiveness for the sacrifice they are about to make. The investigation proved that Bektasevic and Abdulkabir were the ones on the video wearing face masks. All involved were Muslims. In their confessions they said that they wanted to “warn” Bosnian and Western European authorities about Muslims’ suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan and to warn Bosnian government to withdraw its soldiers from Iraq. The alleged network was most likely plotting an attack on the European Forces (EUFOR) base in Sarajevo, located just 100 m from the house where two main suspects were arrested. Bektasevic has been in phone contact with a man later arrested in Denmark on suspicion of terrorist activities. Bektasevic used a codename Maximus. Four young Muslims in Denmark were arrested shortly after the Sarajevo arrests in a case that was said to be connected. They have been released due to the lack of evidence. The Danish group was under surveillance for 2 years after they met with radical Islamist cleric in London. The cleric was Omar Bakri Muhammed the leader of now-disbanded radical Islamist group al-Mujahiroon. The four had ties to the men arrested in Sarajevo, and were charged with helping provide weapons and explosives to Bektasevic and Cesur for the planned attack. Another three people in England were arrested in connection with the case and released on bail. It was Bosnian first-ever Islamic terror case[11].

8.The murder of a Croatian familyIn December 2002, Muamer Topalovic murdered a family of Croatian returnees (a father and his two daughters; son was seriously injured during the attack) in Kostajnica near Konjic in BiH. They were gunned down in their home on the Christmas’ eve. Topalovic confessed that he committed the murder for religious reasons – that he was doing the will of Allah. The victims were members of a Catholic family who returned a few years ago to their home after living outside the country as war-refugees. In his confession Topalovic said that he belonged to AIO and Jamiet el-Furkan. Jamiet al-Furkan (which was closed down on December 31, 2002) is an Islamic charity organization that was directly sponsored by Saudi Arabia. Both organizations denied that Topalovic was their member, but they conceded that he might have attended few of their lectures or courses. Other incidents of verbal and physical attacks of Catholic Croats from Muslims were reported. Topalovic was allegedly under ideology of Wahabbi groups, which extends intolerance also to non-Muslims[12].

Saudi Arabia as major threat in Process of Radicalization of Bosnian Muslims

Saudi Arabia is a major threat in Process of Radicalization of Bosnian Muslims according to the Bosnian Muslim prominent journalist, Mr.Senad Pecanin. In his interview given to the World Tribune[13] following the Rand Corp. conference in Doha, Mr.Pecanin stated: “Saudis are helping to finance a Muslim presence in Bosnia with multiple links to Al Qaeda ideology and Saudi Arabia has helped form a Wahabi-style Islamic community in Bosnia. The Saudi effort has combined massive funding with the infiltration of thousands of operatives, most of whom have married Bosnian women. After the civil war, mujahideen fighters stayed and married Bosnian women. They started Wahabism. They have physically attacked people in mosques. They are trying to impose a ban on alcohol. All this is sponsored by Saudi Arabia. Saudis have distributed money and deployed operatives throughout Bosnia and Middle East. Most of the Saudi operatives married Bosnian women and merged into society. At the same time, Saudi Arabia has co-opted the Islamic clergy in the central European state. Wahabism, which began in the 18th Century in Saudi Arabia, has been termed the ideological basis for Al Qaeda’s offensive against the West. The Wahabi strain of Sunni Islam preaches intolerance and rejects the rights of women. Never before in Bosnia have we seen women moving about in the hijab [Islamic headdress]. Saudis pressured Bosnian widows of those killed in the civil war in the 1990s to convert to Wahabi Islam. He said anybody who converted received $50 per month. Al Qaeda agents have been operating in Bosnia. Bosnia embassy in Vienna has been selling passports to Al Qaeda operatives while senior officials were pocketing money from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim states. A lot of money provided by the Muslim countries ended up in the pockets of people like politicians,” Pecanin said.


All in all, many sources concerning the Bosnian Muslim radicalization show that the threat is not only present, but evolving to a great extent. More specifically, the Wahhabi groups seem to enjoy both domestic and international support in order to recruit new adherents and finance their existing campaigns and followers. Furthermore, the Bosnian Diaspora in neighboring regions such as the Sandzak in Serbia or in Vienna, Austria, correlates to a level of threat that endangers international stability. This raises serious questions as to whether international Islamist terrorism and organized crime networks are involved in the continuing spread of Wahhabi ideology with the purpose of destabilizing the region to their benefit.

The spread of strict and conservative version of Islam further expands the influence of certain Middle Eastern states in the Balkans, thus creating a “safe haven” in that region from where Europe as a whole can be affected. This is amplified by the ongoing radicalization of the Muslim youth in most EU countries.

Due to the fact that EU accession process for Bosnia is already underway, along with the visa liberalization regime, the current period poses considerable challenges for the European security architecture. Much research indicates that the many educational establishments in Bosnia are being directed by radicals, who are to blame for the expansion of radical ideals among the Bosnian youth, which in turn facilitates recruitment. The youngsters are more in tune with modern media outlets, such as the internet and are greatly involved with radical-minded NGO’s. Therefore the radicalization processes in Bosnia will continue to increase, unless steadfast proposals and actions are taken to prevent this from happening.

The peculiar and sensitive situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina that resulted from wars and ethnic frictions and the heavy involvement of international actors, has opened the gates for Radical Muslim influences from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. Since the volatile international political climate is prone to upheavals currently and already the involvement of Mujahedeens in the ;90’s is well documented and understood, it is very likely that these Muslim powers will use Bosnia through radicalism for their political aims and affect stability in the Balkan and in European as a whole. It is of great importance that the issue of Islamic radicalism in Bosnia, will be well-understood and presented in the international community. Bosnia plays a significant role in the evolving patterns of international Islamist terrorism and international organized crime.
Thorough understanding of this subject is sine qua non for any individual or organization responsible for analysis or policy making in the fields of counter-terrorism and security.


[1] Number of members of radical movements on increase: There are 3,000 potential terrorists in BiH,European Union Police Mission, PPIO Daily Media Summary, 13 July 2010 

[2]Nasilne Vehabije opet napadaju : Serijatska policija pucala na mladi par kod mostara, Blin Magazin, Srijeda | 14.07.2010. 

[3] Bosnian troops surrounded Gornja Maoca village proclaiming it as ‘Wahhabi’, Publication time: 2 February 2010, 

[4] ‘Terrorist Attack’ in Bosnia Kills One, Injures Six, Sarajevo | 27 June 2010 |, BalkanInsight, 

[5] One Dead in Bosnia Shopping Centre Blast, 10 October 2008 |, BalkanInsight, 

[6] Balkans: Wahabis seen as growing regional threat, 

[7] Radical Islam versus the moderates, Update No: 118 – (29/03/07), 

[8] The Ringleaders of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Wahhabi Movement, Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 4 Issue: 6, by Anes Alic ([tt_news]=1048) 

[9] Emissaries of Militant Islam Make Headway in Bosnia, 22 March 2007 | Source: BIRN
Nidžara Ahmetaševi?, 

[10] Uhapseno pet Vehabija, Banjaluka 13. 08. 2010!.html 

[11] Mirsad Bektasevic indictment by Court of Bosnia, NEFA Foundation. 

[12] Suspicious Islamic Missionaries: Active Islamic Youth, By Ena Latin, Southeast European Times in Sarajevo, 30 June 2003. 

[13]Saudis tied to domineering Wahabi presence in Bosnia, Special To World Tribune.Com, Tueday, March 27, 2007,