International Islamic Jihad: The first global terrorist movement in history

By Ioannis Michaletos

1. The spread of Jihad

The past two decades a new form of terrorism has spread dynamically in a worldwide level. The USA was one of the first countries to alert itself since the late 80’s with this kind of asymmetrical warfare, but it wasn’t until 9/11 that the full strength of the Islamic-driven terrorism was shown. The 19 hijackers proved to be a peril for the security of the world, in greater respect that rogues states and third world dictatorships. The fanatics of Islam have engineered a new way of war through the Salafist Jihad, and without restrains concerning civilian casualties. The new terror is composed by networks of individuals spread throughout the globe that provide logistic support to the mercenaries and soldier of Islam that perform terrorist actions.

The global wave of violent extremism from its bases in Egypt and Saudi Arabia was matured in Afghanistan, Sudan and in parallel formed a network of cells in Eurasia. Moreover a part of the second and third generation Muslims in the Western world is being introduced in the Jihad so as to penetrate the societies from within, leaving less space for security and intelligence agencies to counterbalance the ongoing pressure of terrorism.  The Al Qaeda and the new terror are also cooperating with the Sunni organizations in Iraq that has gained combat experience in the fighting between Muslims and the USA-UK troops.  Actually Iraq has become a training field for thousands of Islamic extremists that will transfer their know-how in their homelands once they return. The older Al- Qaeda generation was war-hardened in the mountainous Afghanistan terrain, whilst the new generation gains its experience in the Mesopotamian plain. In the 90’s it was also the Balkans and Sudan that provided training for Islamists that fought Croatians and Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Pious Albanian Muslims in a public prayer to Allah (2008, Tirana, Albania)

Another phenomenon that greatly facilitates the spread of Jihad is the existence of internet and the expansion of telecommunications. It is possible to acquire an extensive geographical span, by using simple techniques and make use of the modern day technology.  The basic principles that characterize new terror are: Mass casualties, use of new technologies, international-multinational membership and of Islamic religious base. The basic aim of the Jihad is to establish a Caliphate by overthrowing moderate Muslim leaders and the final goal would be to evolutes a power unit equivalent to the West on a global scale. Al Qaeda is by itself an evolution of the “Mind of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the education by the Pakistani Madrassas, the capital of the Saudi Wahhabis and the fighting capabilities of Yemenis, Chechens and Algerians”.

2. Salafism

The worldwide Salafist Jihad is an extreme version of Sunni Muslims. The etymology of the word originates from “Salaf” that in Arabic means, ancient. It is basically a return to the archaic nature of Islam as it was developed before the Middle Ages. Al Qaeda in its turn is the basic pole on which ideologically and logistical the other organizations and networks strike the West.

Jihad means, “Fight”, but in daily life and the adhesion in keeping up with daily prayer, charity and Ramadan fasting by the Muslims. It also has the meaning of the fight against infidels, and it is a major theological controversy amongst Muslim theology scholars in our days.  Nowadays quite a few Islamic religious leaders issues Fatwa (Orders) against Westerners –Or moderate Muslims- thus energizing the populous against the other nations, in a battle resembling Manichaeism. During the 80’s the Palestinian born and Egyptian educate, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, issued numerous fatwa in order to recruit fighters for Afghanistan and pioneered the use of this orders to conduct global recruitment. Azzam was directing the use of Afghanistan as a purely Islamic state, whilst Bin Laden (That allegedly assassinated him in 1989), was eager to create an international Islamic front and attack several targets simultaneously. In reality Bin Laden was a radical and Azzam a conservative, and in the late 80’s the former was able to control the Islamic network for his own initiative.

Salafism originated from an 18th century Islamic sect in present day Saudi Arabia. Mohamed Ibn Abd Al Wouahab a religious leader of his time preached for a return in the original Islamic tradition and eschewed modernity in every mode.  He proceeded in cooperating with the forefather of the Saudi dynasty, Mohamed Ibn Saud and formed the actual basis for today’s puritanical version of Islam in that country.  In the 20th century Sayib Koutb, an Egyptian Islamic ideologist of the “Muslim Brotherhood”, elaborated the basics of Jihad and called for an abolition of secularism in the everyday life of all Muslim dominated societies, as well as, the overthrow of moderate administrations. The real difference with Al Qaeda and the older generations is the ability of Bin Laden and its followers to strike globally and not just in local level or a particular country.  In 1996 Bin Laden issued his infamous Fatwa for war against the Americans, where he also mentioned the ousting of the Saudi dynasty, reflecting thus a totalitarian view of the new terror that ensued. In 2001, his number 2, Ayman Al-Zawahiri named all the enemies of Islam that included the West, pro-Western Muslim states, multinational corporations, international media and charity funds. In a sense it aims to topple the world as it is known. The Salafism is not longer a movement towards stricter enforcement of Islamic principles, but a global anti-Western campaign, being conducted through the use of asymmetrical warfare.

3. The beggining

In 1987 Al Zawahiri established in Peshawar-Afghanistan the Islamic Jihad organization and issued a monthly journal, named Conquest. The published was Al-Sharif and other editors included, Al Rashidi, Mohammed bu Sittah, Rifai Taha, Mustafa Hamza and Mohammed Al-Istanbul. These are known as the “Egyptian group”, that functioned as the ideological punch of the latter Al-Qaeda.  Osama Bin-Laden soon placed the aforementioned in key sections of his organization and both created the Masada training camp in the town of Khowst, from where a new breed of Mujahedin was trained.  The withdraw of the Soviet troops in 1989 was a major victory for Osama Bin Laden that saw his popularity rising in the Islamic world.  In the 24th of November Azzam (See part 2 above) was assassinated with his two sons because he objected the creation of a global Jihad. Afterwards Bin Laden capitalized the war between Iraq and the UN forces, along with the stationing of Western troops in Saudi Arabia and in parallel formed a pact with Al Turabi, an influential spiritual leader in Sudan. This state would become an integral hub for the coordination of attacks in the 90’s. Al Qaeda spread also in London where it issued a radical paper, named Al Ansar and recruited people from across the Arab world that facilitated greatly in dispersing its ideology and Mujahedin in all corners of the earth.

Al Qaeda evolution is similar to that of a multinational corporation with its peripheral offices, managers, sub-contractors and clients. It also created committees and project groups, while it continued its struggle in the new front of the Balkans, during the Bosnian war in 1991 to 1995.  This is where it first established presence in Sarajevo, Albania and in parallel the first cells appeared in Hamburg, Amsterdam, Paris and Milan.  During the Sudanese period, Al Qaeda was also formidable in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Philippines and Yemen.  In 1996 Bin Laden and 150 of his followers were forced to leave Khartoum under Western pressure and returned to Afghanistan. The leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar provided assistance and viewed Al Qaeda as a staunch ally.  Soon –In 1998- the first major terrorist hit in Kenya and Tanzania proved the peril that Al Qaeda is to the world, albeit no concrete action was taken apart from some sporadic missile attacks by the USN.

The American victory in Afghanistan in October 2001 didn’t result in the destruction of Al Qaeda. The labyrinth of cells across the world ensured for the continuation of their existence and managed to perform other spectacular attacks against targets in Istanbul, Casablanca, and Bali, Madrid. Riyadh and London. The difference with older attacks is the loose coordination that makes almost impossible for the security forces to identify the heads behind every action.  Moreover the bonds between Al Qaeda members and officials for the Pakistani ISI, still remain, as well as, contacts and cells in Saudi Arabia, Kashmir, Bosnia, Indonesia and Iraq. These are the regions where Al Qaeda is popular and rather strong despite prosecution.

islam_uk4.  Global Jihad

The worldwide Salafist Jihad is a formidable network of human resources and capital aimed at striking terror against the West. The main culprits and the organizers of the Jihad, are mostly of Saudi and Egyptian origin, and contain members from virtually any country that has a Muslim segment in it.  Also it is interesting to note that the majority of the Al Qaeda members are rather affluent and educated, and do not constitute a group of people of disadvantaged status. They are apt in the new technology and quite a few of them have completed numerous studies in technical schools that prove to be of an advantage when organizing terrorist attacks.

Moreover the terrorists do not exhibit in most respects the characteristics of paranoid personalities and they are able of keeping in pace with the rest of the society, adopt foreign costumes superficially and keep in tune with the wider developments in the world. They are also trained internationally by Al Qaeda and have the ability to travel easily (Before 2001) in foreign countries. In a nutshell they do not represent the majority of the Muslim world and are in terms of social-economic status some where in between the elite of the Arab world and the mainstream classes.  The main elements of Al Qaeda that conduct the strategic operation and the training are mostly Egyptians, Saudis and Pakistanis.

5. Think global, act local

Since 9/11 Al Qaeda managed to muster popular support in the Islamic world for its actions, by being seen as the defender of the faith and the only power that challenged the West. The most important organizations of the Islamic Jihad against the West presently are: Al Qaeda, Al Jama’a Al Islamiya, Islamic Jihad, Armed Islamic Group (GIA), and the organization of Al Zarqawi in Iraq. GIA in Algeria is being gradually absorbed by the Group for Dawa and Combat. One of the leading Islamic figures that played a role in directing Jihad on a global scale is Al Zawahiri, who was very much influenced by the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.

The main reason why Jihad passed from the local theatres to the global one is the one way option it faced if it didn’t want to be annihilated by conventional forces. By using the globalizations process it could facilitate it s survival by following the flow of the international commerce, immigration and transport. Otherwise, a defeat in a locality would mean the end of their organizations. Despite the fact that Arab regimes such as Libya or Saudi Arabia, have cooperated spectacularly with the West; Islamic Jihad is far from being disrupted and continues to strike almost annually somewhere in the world. The war in Iraq is stimulation for an expansion of its global role, since it recruits Mujahedeen from different states, sends them and facilitates their return to be used as potential terrorists, of a trained nature.

6.  Al Qaeda’s future

One of the main questions surrounding the enigma of Al Qaeda is its potential ability to maintain its tempo after Bin Laden’s demise. There are speculations that Laden is already deceased and quite a few analysts expect this not to have any operational effect for Al Qaeda that functions as an ideological pole and not just as typical terrorist organization. Actually a dead Laden would serve as a martyr model.

From its part Bin Laden is more than certain that still holds a significant amount of capital, even though it is not certain yet, if his demise would constitute a financial blow for his organizations. Already the Islamic Jihadist organization throughout the world accumulate capital by dealing narcotics and by being involved in the illegal arms smuggling, therefore their source of income is not affected by Bin Laden or any other leading Islamic figure.

Also the use of new technologies and especially the internet proves to be a major advantage for Al Qaeda that has created a virtual recruiting-training space and multiplies its potential. In that case as well, the end of Bin Laden’s reign would not mean absolutely anything in the capabilities of the Jihad.

Al Qaeda already functions in an operational level for two decades and has accumulated vast experience of an international level. It seems that it has the ability to withstand a decapitation of its leadership and by using its “Flowing network” modus operandi; it will most certainly constitute a real threat after a possible Bin Laden’s end.

7.  “Hot” regions

The combat against the Islamic Jihad-Al Qaeda is an enormous task for the world community. The enemy is virtually invisible hiding itself in the masses of the global metropolis or the wilderness of the Northern African deserts, and can be found anywhere-anytime.  The 21st century terrorists are aiming in getting in hand WMD and they don’t seem hesitant in using them. Al Qaeda according to the “Khadahar papers” was experimenting in biological warfare and has tried to supply itself with nuclear technology.  The main threat for the Western policy makers is the possibility of a terrorist attack with WMD, and the recent autobiography by ex-CIA George Tennet revealed the worry of the American Administration in such a scenario.

Europe is more in danger that USA in case of WMD attack. The Muslim minorities are more radicalized and are in short geographical distance from the Islamic Jihad bases in the Middle East-North Africa and Central Asia. Moreover Europe is far more backward in intelligence & security apparatus and techniques than the USA, and its liberal Administrations seem as a “Softer target” than America or even Japan and Australia.

Al-Qaeda is “Feed up” by a global contraband network (Narcotics, weapons, blackmails etc). The globalization process is steadily increasing its ability to amass considerable capital and that is a problem hard to solve for the time being.  It is certain that Al Qaeda will continue for the foreseeable future to rely on the informal economy for its financial support.

Another possible line of events for the Islamic Jihad is to proceed with a long-term penetration of Western societies, even at the top level and within the security framework. It is the only possible way they would be able to maintain a concise intelligence for their opponents (The West) that is using similar techniques.

The region of the Balkans is a potential hot-spot for Jihad action. For the time being it is being used as trespassing point and logistic base, and their aim assumingly would be to further expand their role by increasing their local influence. Already the Kosovo-Albanian mafia that controls some 70-80% of the heroin sold in Europe cooperates strongly with Jihadist networks in order to ensure the flow of drugs to the Continent from Central Asia. Further empowerment in a political level of Jihadists in the Balkans seems as a possible outcome, taking into account the geopolitical placement of the region, close enough to Europe, Russia and the Middle East-North Africa.

Afganistan and Iraq are also  focal points for Al-Qaeda. Jihadists want to inflict great casualties on the American side in order to force a withdraw of the forces there, and then claim victory similar to the Afghanistan in 1989, against the then USSR.

Another possible trend over the coming years is the “Darwin-like” evolution of terrorist networks. That means that their form could become far more complicated in nature and more in tune with the necessities of the contemporary unconventional warfare. It should be noted that Al Qaeda was first formed an organization of a few tens of people and in less than 15 years it became a global loose networks from which an unknown number of sub-networks emerged.

The only certainty for the years ahead is the Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Jihad, would perform their outmost for spectacular attacks and there is no sign of retreating from their original goals and aspirations. The 9/11 attack might prove to be as a stage for another far more vicious attacks with the use of WMD, that are the nightmare for every society in the world.

8.  Proposals that have been brought to light against international terrorism

The following proposals have been presented in various occasions by experts, politicians and operatives of many nations fighting international terrorism and are present in short and consise form.

• The West should formulate a “War on ideas” platform to counterbalance the teaching of hate and present at the same time the virtues of the Western civilization
• The moderate Muslim governments should be assisted with every means possible
• Psychological operations should expand and used extensively in order to penetrate and disintegrate terrorist organizations
• Any country supporting terrorism (With tangible proofs) should be excluded by the international community and face a multitude of severe sanctions
• Protection witness programs for ex-terrorists that want to assist the Law
• Great attention should be taken in the analysis of media, internet and any means of information, so as to foresee potential dynamics and action by the terrorists.
• The countries of Egypt, Pakistan And Saudi Arabia should be closely monitored by the intelligence agencies and plans for action should be aimed in case the extremists gain great power in the future
• The renewable energy sources should by more encouraged by the West regardless of the cost
• International financial assistance in great numbers is needed for Afghanistan in order to present a tangible alternative against the Taliban regime
• The Koran should be analyzed by the West and be presented in the Islamic world as a spiritual book of peace. Any details mentioning peaceful means in the Koran should be propagated in the Islamic world
• Media corporations that act as channels for the broadcast of terrorist briefs-news should be banned of conducting business in the West. Terrorism feeds itself from media exposure
• Task-forces exclusively dealing with cyber war against Jihad websites should be used 24/7
• Working groups of people with either practical or theoretical knowledge (Scholars, academics, analysts, journalists, operatives etc) should be adjoined on a regular and rotating basis and consult the Administrative authorities of every state.
• Information warfare in the Islamic media should be the core of every Western trial
• Special Forces should acquire more prestige in our age especially through he use of educational material
• The expansion of Human Intelligence is also another core strategy for the future of the war against the “New terror”
• The Hawala financial transfer system of the Muslim world should be on constant monitoring along with greater attention in research by the academic community and institutes
• All infrastructure of critical importance for the society should be guarded and monitored heavily
• Organized crime networks should be thoroughly infiltrated-pressed and propagated against in order to become cooperators in the war against Jihad terrorism. The links between the both should be broken to any extent possible
• In Iraq the use of the Kurdish population should be of a highly elevated level, since they could assist the Coalition forces thoroughly
• North Africa & the Balkans should be the regions of interest and the total disbandment of any terrorist networks (Feasible for the latter, uncertain for the former). The use of local allies is crucial
• Nationwide systems for protection against WMD attacks. Involvement of the civilian population in the preparation and training modules.
• American-Russian cooperation for the counterbalance of the Islamic Jihad
• International Intelligence clearing house
• Strong cooperation between Western & Muslim intelligence-security agencies
• “Lessons learned” & “Best practices” frameworks to be used extensively in the training of security forces. Inclusion of the research in the academic environment
• Quota and restriction of immigration from Muslim countries
• Western Naval deployment 24/7 in all important sea routes-lines-points across the world
• Large reconstruction programs to developing states that confront terrorism
• Assistance in the production and publication of security, anti-terrorist related media products (Of all political leanings) throughout the world
• Cooperation with the academic society in the formation of degrees, research programs and seminars aimed for the intelligence, security and military community.

9.  Bin Laden’s essential demise

First of all in order to examine a terrorist organization that by its nature it operates in a secretive mode, the most illuminating arguments should be based on its modus operative and the complexity of its attacks. Thus demonstrations of its command& control system could be revealed and the role of Bin Laden on them. Since the attack on the twin towers on 9/11 a series of attacks, albeit outside the USA, occurred coupled with appearances of Bin Laden who congratulated the terrorist acts and gave at times guidelines for more. On a first glances his role as the main culprit and organizer can be of a safe assumption.

Nevertheless the complexity of 9/11 has not been achieved and the following attacks demonstrated a local, loose and much less centralized method of execution. For instance the last large scale attack-successful- was in London at 7/7/2005 that was planned and performed by a group of young Brits of Pakistani descent mostly, that were obviously not well trained and they didn’t have a specific target at mind but rather a mass murderous attack anywhere was in their plans. In comparison the 9/11 was a special operations plan par excellence that required years of rigid preparations, an iron discipline to its executors and of course enough resources that only a well formed leadership with a wide spectrum of international connections and a commanding-respectful personality like Bin Laden’s could have dominated.

Actually after the Attacks in the USA no other operation by Al Qaeda has showed the previous elements of a centralized and highly specialized operation that would require long term planning by the authorization of Bin Laden. It is fair to speculate that after the “Triumph” for Bin Laden in his major battle against the USA he has withdrawn and all the other attacks are planned and executed by individual and autonomous Al Qaeda cells and possibly aspiring new Bin Laden’s.
A second assumption that ultimately leads to the diminishing role of Bin Laden in Al Qaeda’s

operations is the existence of “The war against terror” campaign launched by the USA and many other nations all over the world. Secret services and law enforcement authorities have as their main target the capture of Bin Laden, who is presumably hiding in the intractable mountainous areas of North Western Pakistan.

To the aforementioned the increased SIGINT surveillance in any electronic signals that could be send or received by Bin Laden, severely handicaps his ability to form comprehensible attack strategies and most importantly being able to communicate effectively with his followers that are spread throughout the world. Therefore there could not be any leadership without the vital tool of communication and the ability to overview the cells of the terrorist organization.

The followers of Al Qaeda are mostly of Middle Eastern origins and people coming from these cultural environments have the tendency of closely adhering to centralized directions (1) and pyramid like leadership with kinship & blood-related relationships as an integral element. In simple words Bin Laden given the fact that he is retreated in an isolated area and lacking the capability of directing his organization has lost his leadership posture, at least as in the Western notion leadership can be acknowledged.

Another detail that adds to the assumption that Bin Laden is no longer the “Capo di tuti Capi” of Al Qaeda is the current nature of attacks by the terrorist network. They resemble a kind of world – wide urban guerilla warfare, a clear Eastern view of the way a war should be conducted vs the Western way of war (2).

The guerilla warfare when conducted in such a wide geographical terrain from Madrid to Amman and to Bali, does not require a centralized structure with an all-encompassing leader like Bin Laden, because that would impair the ability to be flexible, adaptive and in general become an asymmetric threat to the well organized and heavily prepared state infrastructures of the Western states.

Therefore Bin Laden’s control and command posture would simply be useless in this kind of war and instead his spiritual guidance is of importance especially when considering the nature of this 21st century war.

All the above bring to consideration the hypothesis that Bin Laden is not a leader of Al Qaeda, but he is a figurehead that acts as a sentimental leverage for a variety of terrorist group-Al Qaeda included of course- and is steadily becoming in a frightening-distorted way a kind of a modern age “Prophet”, alluring for the hopeless masses of the Muslim world.

Historically this is not a unique development. During the Middle Ages (3) the Ismael sect of the “Assassinos” culminated terror with its continuous terrorist acts all over the Middle East and with the terror laden figure of the “Old man in the mountain” as its leader. Modern historical research hasn’t revealed the identity of that leader, but that little mattered since various groups in the then world claimed to represent him and exercised a series of attacks against their enemies.

Apart from all these it is a well known fact that the Prophet image is still a strong collective archetype in the Muslim world and in that sense Bin Laden’s leadership in the Al Qaeda maybe of a more subtle, intriguing and perhaps of more solid nature, rather than just being the operative head of the terrorist network.

(1) Derived from Prof. Geert Hofstede theories & principles on intercultural communication. “Culture & Communication”, McGraw Hill International(UK),London, 1991. ISBN 0 00 637740 8

(2) “The Western Way of war”, by Victor Davis Hanson, Alfred A. Knopg inc, New York, 1989. ISBN 960-86839-7-1 and the “History of war fare”, by John Keegan, Livanis publ. Athens, 1997, Greek Ed. ISBN 960-236-788-1

(3) Derived from Bernarnd’s Luis “The Assassins: Aradical sect in Islam”, London, 1967. Greek edition by the Trohalias publ. Athens, 2000. ISBN 960-7809-67-

10.The “White Al-Qaeda” in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Information available to experts on international terrorism indicate that B-H is at this time one of the most dangerous countries in Europe, as it represents a nursery for potential Islamic terrorists – the so called “white” or “European” Al-Qaeda . Money from Islamic countries that is laundered through “humanitarian” organizations finances the religious education of at least 100,000 young Bosnian Muslims . In addition to such education, which follows the interpretations of Wahhabi Islam, there is another type of “training” in various officially registered camps throughout the B-H Federation . There, the young and carefully selected Wahhabis attend “additional courses” in marksmanship, explosives and martial arts.

Bosnian Muslim Wahhabis praying in Derventa.

Bosnian Muslim Wahhabis praying in Derventa.

Organizations such as “Furqan,” the “Active Islamic Youth,” the “Muslim Youth Council” and others – differing only in name and primary donors, but otherwise interchangeable – teach young Muslims computer and Internet skills, so they could establish contacts with their coreligionists worldwide. Knowing all this, the former head of UN Mission in Bosnia Jacques Paul Klein recently said that some 200 mujahid’din in Bosnia did not represent a danger, because they can be easily controlled. Klein knew it would be a lot more difficult to stop the spread of young Bosnian Wahhabis throughout Europe, youths who consider Osama Bin Laden and the mujahid’din role models . Nowadays there is still a strong presence of a variety of extremist Islamic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina, under the pretext of charity funds and related philanthropic establishments . Thus it is not of surprise that the U.K Foreign Office warranted concern safety for every British national traveling there, especially in relation to potential terrorist incidents .


Washington Post Newspaper (01/12/2005), By Rade Maroevic and Daniel Williams, “Terrorist Cells Find Foothold in Balkans”. Website:

The Jamestown Foundation; Terrorism Monitor Journal; Volume II; Issue 20, (21/10/2004), By Stephen Schwartz, “Wahhabism and al-Qaeda in Bosnia-Herzegovina”.
PfP Consortium; Study Group Crisis Management in South East Europe; Vienna and Sarajevo (12/2002), By Alfred C. Lugert, “Preventing and Combating Terrorism in Bosnia and Herzegovina”

University of Belgrade; Faculty of Security Studies Publications (2002), By Prof. Drako Trifunovic, “Terrorism and Bosnia and Herzegovina – Al-Qaeda’s Global Network and its influence on Western Balkans nations” P. 16-17.

Kokalis Foundation; Kennedy School of Government; Harvard University, Paper presentation by Teodora Popesku, “Tackling Terrorism in the Balkans. Website:
United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office (Current as of 13/05/2007), “Bosnia & Herzegovina travel advice”. Website:…/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029390590&a=KCountryAdvice&aid=1013618385675

11. The emergence of “Balkan Jihad” and its progress in the region

After the 9/11, a worldwide “War on terror” begun in order to disband and neutralize Islamic terrorist networks across the globe. The main focus of the largest anti-terrorist campaign in history is focused in the Middle East area, as well as in Afghanistan.

The Balkan Peninsula is the European area where this campaign has also taken place, with numerous arrests and a continuous effort into riding the fundamentalist out of the area. The question arising though, is how did the extremists gain a foothold in South Eastern Europe in the first place, and what was the reaction of the international community over the previous years.

The presence of Islam in the Balkans dates back in the 13th century.

In order to create the much needed mercenary armies, against the then archenemy, the Francs, Byzantine Emperors allowed Muslim Turks into modern day Bulgaria. They were used mainly as cavalry forces due to their excellent techniques in that kind of war. Over the coming decades the antagonism between the Francs and the Vatican from one side and the Byzantium from the other, led to the final conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Gradually virtually the whole of the Balkans came under Muslim dominance and were included in the Dar al Islam territory stretching from the Hindu river and up to Gibraltar.

In Bosnia in particular the sect of Vogomils –Eastern Orthodox sect-, converted to Islam for a variety of societal and spiritual reasons. Since the Vogomils were the affluent class of the central Balkans they soon became the ruling class over millions of Christians of mostly Slavic descent.

In Albania the Islamic takeover had a dramatic effect and in a matter of 150 years 2/3rds of the population converted from the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholicism into Islam. The main reason for such a large proselytism in Albania had been the traditional adherence towards the stronger ruler that the mountainous Albanians have showed since their early history. During the Roman Empire times, the Albanians served as elite corps in the Armies of the Emperors Empires –i.e. Diocletian was of Albanian descent- and tended to absorb the cultural and religious norms of their regional superintendents. The same was the case in the more or less Greek dominated Byzantium. As soon as the “Eastern Roman Empire” waned in favor of the Western one; there was a mass conversion to Catholicism in the early 13th century .

The historical collective path of the Albanian people can be compared with that of the mountainous Swiss that have eloquently absorbed influences and norms by the much larger and influential neighbors (Germany, France, and Italy).

It is against this historical background that the Islamic fundamentalist drama in the Balkans evolved in the 1990s. Evan F. Kohlmann, author of Al-Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network argues that “key to understanding Al Qaida’s European cells lies in the Bosnian war of the 1990s” . Using the Bosnian war as their cover, Afghan-trained Islamic militants loyal to Osama bin Laden convened in the Balkans in 1992 to establish a European domestic terrorist infrastructure in order to plot their violent strikes against the United States

So, the outbreak of the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992 presented an unparalleled opportunity for the international Mujaheedin to storm Europe, establish safe havens in the area and thus initiate re-conquest of regions they previously ruled . The leader of Bosnia, Alia Izebegovic was eager to obtain as much assistance as possible and didn’t hesitate in providing the necessary framework by which the Islamic ties were forged . In the same year, a variety of Islamic mercenaries flocked into the Balkans in order to support the “Holy cause”, meaning the establishment of the first Islamic state in Europe . The end of the war in 1995 saw quite a few of those mujahedin, acquiring Bosnian citizenship and establishing the first Islamic community in the village of Bocinja Donja . During 2006 and 2007, hundreds of citizenships were revoked by Islamists residing in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nevertheless the whereabouts of most of them remain unknown, raising fears for potential terrorist acts by them in the future and in an European soil . What is more, the Novi Pazar town in Sanjak area in Southern Serbia; has become a core for Islamic fundamentalism, linked with Al-Qaeda cells. Novi Pazar is the focus of the Islamist attempt to build a landbridge from Albania and Kosovo to Bosnia. Further to the East, in southern Serbia’s Raška Oblast, are three other concentrations of Muslims: Sjenica and Pester area (lightly populated but mostly Muslim), Prijepolje (some 50 percent Muslim) and — very close to the Bosnia border where Republica Srpska controls the slender Gorazde corridor — Priboj (also some 50 percent Muslim). The land between is Serbian farmland, but the Islamist goal is to link the cities as “evidence” that the entire region is, or should be, Muslim territory. The same strategy worked successfully in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Serbian farmers were driven off their lands during the civil war.

Just south of the Serbian area of Raška Oblast is the Montenegrin part of Raška region, where, for example, Bijeljo Polje is some 60 to 80 percent Muslim, and Pijevlja, close to the Bosnian border, is about 40 percent Muslim. These Montenegrin towns, like those of the Western Serbian Raška region, are the key to the illicit arms and narcotrafficking across the Gorazde Corridor to Bosnia

An Islamist university has opened in Novi Pazar, ostensibly a normal college, but led by an Islamist mufti of little formal education. This modern institution — whose officials proclaim it a normal educational institution — reveals its character in its symbol: the Wahabbi/Salafi Dawa symbol, an open Q’uran surmounted with a rising sun. The university, in a renovated former textile factory, is a known center of radical Islamist thinking. A book fair held there in early October 2003 distributed very radical Islamist literature, specifically advocating conflict with the West.

The Dawa sign indicates that the university is predominantly Saudi-funded, although some Western funding is known to have been pumped into the institution, reportedly largely to undermine Serb interests in the region .

Western tolerance of Islamic radicals, however, was one of the gravest mistakes of modern times . In addition, a well organized criminal network has already been established in Sarajevo that in a large extent facilitates illegal immigration from Asia to Europe . That activity is coupled with the narcotics trade that is being supplemented by the infamous “Balkan Drug route”  It is illuminating to note that the areas from where this route is passing are under Muslim influence mostly.


Chicago-Kent College of Law and the Illinois Institute of Technology (1996), ” Nationbuilding in the Balkans-History of Albanians”. Web Site:

Evan F. Kohlmann, “Al-Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe“,Berg Publications, Preface, Oxford-UK, September 2004.

Kokalis Foundation; Kennedy School of Government; Harvard University, Presentation paper by Xavier Bougarel, “Islam & Politics in the Post-Communist Balkans. Website:

Foreign Military Studies Publications (02/1995), By LTC John E. Sray, U.S. Army, “Mujahedin Operations in Bosnia”. Website:

Department of the USA Navy; Naval Historical Centre Publications (26/07/2005), By Steven Woehrel, “Islamic terrorism & the Balkans”. Website:

Reuters, Alert Net Service (11/04/2007), By Daria Sito-Sucic, “Bosnia revokes citizenship of Islamic ex-soldiers”. Web Site:

Information was provided by a variety of ISSA Reports, informal journalist sources from Serbia, Albania & FYROM. The material has been made publicly else were and has not been contended for its reliability.

For extensive and sensitive information on the subject see: ISSA Special Report (17/09/2003). Web Site:

Council on Foreign Relations; Open Edition (13/02/2002), By David L. Phillips, “Keeping the Balkans free of Al-Qaeda”. Website:

European Commission; External Affairs Service (2004), “The Contribution of the European Commission to the Implementation of the EU-Central Asia Action Plan on Drugs”. Website:

12. The Albanian Islamist factor

Albania was under the Communist rule during the Cold War, the most isolated country in Europe. The break of the Soviet Empire unleashed forces that were kept dormant in the society for decades, and resulted to some very interesting developments. In 1992 Albania becomes a member of the Islamic Conference, an international Islamic organization . The same year as well the government of Sali Berisha, currently also a Prime Minister, signed a military agreement with Turkey, thus enacting a series of discussions in the neighboring states, around the possibility of an Islamic arch from Istanbul to Sarajevo.

One of the main reasons the Albanian officials were eager to form strong ties with the Muslim world was the hope that large investments from the Gulf would ensure the uplifting of the decaying Albanian economy. Therefore the religious sentiment of the majority of Albanians, mostly in the North, was overplayed in order to gain capital from the Islamic world. Unfortunately no serious investment initiatives were undertaken; instead the Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, found another state to expand their illegal activities. Many different and respectable sources have indicated two visits by Bin Laden in Tirana that aimed into creating an Islamic platform for the country and the construction of terrorist networks within the territory.

An Albanian called Naseroudin Albani played an instrumental role in spreading extremist Islamic values into the Albanian society. He was a fugitive from Albania since 1963 and resided in Amman-Jordan . Sources from Albania point out that Albani organized radical Sunni sects back in the 70’s in the Middle East that became the nucleus of the modern day Mujahedin. Another Albanian, the then head of the Albania’s Secret service, SHIK, called Bashkim Gazidente assisted into implementing radical Islamic agenda in Albanian domestic policies. During the 1997 Albanian riots Gazidente fled from Albania and he is said to be an instrumental part in global Islamic networks . He fled presumably to a Middle Eastern country and then in Rome-Italy treated in a local hospital due to chronic illness; according to reliable regional sources he has died recently.

The Al Qaeda factor in Albania was consolidated by the creation of the Arabic-Albanian bank, in which Bin Laden allegedly invested the sum of 11.4 million USD. This financial institution acted as a front cover for the transfer of capital for Islamic activities within the country . Just before Berisha’s political overturn in 1997, another Islamic institution called “El Farouk”, acted as a recruitment agency for young Albanians, under the pretext of a charity. One of the most dramatic indicators of the degree of Islamic presence in Albania is the militant Islamic training camp just outside Tirana, the same camp on which Berisha relied in his unsuccessful 1998 coup of his rival Fatos Nano .  At this point it is interesting to note that it was a well known fact around the international community of the nexus between organized crime syndicates, terrorist cells and the KLA, operating under and with Albanian assistance . Actually Albania was mainly used as springboard to neighboring Kosovo. In April 1999, some 500 Arab Mujahedeen were smuggled into the capital of Tirana. Their mission was to conduct special operations against Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. They entered Kosovo from Northern Albania. The whole operation was led by Bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri .

The Nairobi and Tanzania bombings of 1998 shocked the US administration into taking some action, for the first time, do dismantle terrorist’s networks. Soon, the pressure fell on Albania and in the October of the same month individuals of Middle Eastern origin were rounded up and deported . The head of SHIK, Fatos Clozi, admitted for the first the existence of extremists in Albania and promised the eradication of the terrorist nucleus.

The 9/11 attacks proved to be a fatal blow for the radicals in Albania and the USA forces have more or less neutralize any remaining cells . The government of Albania, which is more than willing to become inducted in the Euro-Atlantic security framework, has ceased to seek Islamic assistance and the current Berisha’s administration has refaced its Islamic outlook into a modern European one .

Nevertheless, the Albanian-Islamic connection is now concentrated in Kosovo, the very same province NATO forces are stationed! There is an overwhelming variety of sources and reports that indicate a well established fundamentalist presence in that area. It is a common secret in the international community that the West kept a blind eye during the 1998-1999 Winter where hundreds of Mujahedin joined the UCK forces and helped it expand .  Shaul Shay describes “The [Kosovo Albanian] KLA enjoyed the support of former Albanian President Sali Berisha, who regarded the war in Kosovo as a Jihad and issued a call to all Muslims to fight for the protection of their homeland” .

At that period the means justified the end which was the disbandment of the Russian influence in the Balkans, as the Clinton administration viewed the Milosevic one. The result was a resurge of Islamic radical networks in the region, thus eliminating the beneficial results of previous actions against it. Moreover Russia managed to regroup and it is still viewed as a great player in South Eastern Europe.

Montenegro nowadays faces a long term Islamic population bomb and it is certain that should current trends continue, in 2050 half of the population would be Muslim That is not of course a prelude of terrorism action per se, but the overall turbulent Balkan history and the existence of terror networks in nearby Kosovo do not assure a tranquil political future for the newest Balkan state.

The FYROM is also another terrain where the delicate balance between radicalism and Muslim secularism is taking place. Back in 2001, an Albanian uprising nearly resulted in the disintegration of the state although nowadays there is an uneasy stability. However any negative developments in Kosovo will affect directly the country which is also the epicenter of the Balkans by a geopolitical point of view.

Lastly the Sanjak area in Southern Serbia is a territory to watch, where the Wahhabi strain of Islam has gained tremendous influence in the local Muslim population. On March 2007 a terrorist cell was disbanded by the Serbian authorities and a terrorist plan was dwarfed at the last minute .Again Kosovo as the centre of radicalism in the Balkans could play the role of the powder keg for any developments in Sanjak, against the Serbian population in the region .

The EU strategists, whoever they may be, must become aware of the complicated Balkan reality: the region is a mostly secular one, but it has the peculiarity of hosting safe havens of terrorists and organized crime related Islamists . Most of these areas are under international protection a paradox that ridicules the entire Western anti terror campaign. Another worrying fact is the real danger of proliferation of chemical or biological weapons into the hands of terrorists, especially in the case of Albania .  Already this threat is one of the top priorities for the security services across Southeastern Europe, and Greece along with the USA, Italy, Switzerland, and the European Union; assists Albania in destroying the stockpiles of its chemical weapons . It is worthwhile to mention that the Albanian authorities had discovered 16 tons of chemicals in 2002, stored in an underground cache, but there are no verified accounts if any amount had been stolen during the 1997 riots, thus raising a question as to whether terrorist organizations already have taken hold of quantities of chemicals.
Lastly, the attack on the USA Embassy in Athens-Greece with an RPG weaponry, is assumed to have a Balkan-Albanian connection, meaning source it came from, the “Weapons black market” vividly active in the borderlines between Kosovo and FYROM.

Only a coordinated pan European operation would be able to eradicate this perilous condition. The bombings in Madrid and in London had a Balkan flavor in them, namely the explosives used, according to many, came from those very same Muslim pockets in the Balkans that are protected by Western armies. For the future then, Islamic radicalism in the Balkans is an X factor. What is certain though is that this factor will not be used for the benefit of the West and the only way of neutralize it is by disrupting its logistic and financial base.

The only obstacle so far for the successful inaction of a “Balkan war on terror” are the careers in various world capitals, that are related on the perception of half truths and half lies about the West’s involvement in the Yugoslav wars and the use of the Islamic X factor on them. Political ambitious, international reputations and the all pervading political correctness, hinders the right actions to be taken. Unfortunately the implications of the Western involvement have spilled-over worldwide and with dire consequences regarding the global anti-terror campaign. Shaul Shay states that “In the course of 1999-2000, several terror cells were discovered in the U.S. and Canada. Some of their members lived in Bocinja [Bosnia] or were connected to radical Islamic entities that resided there”. The West followed a contradictory stance in the Balkans where it promoted the advance of radical Islamic elements linked to terrorism, in the same period -1999- it enacted the attacks against Serbia, thus empowering the former.

A great leader once said “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject”. That surely sums up the mentality of the international officials around this Balkan “X factor”.


Organization of Islamic Conference (2007), memberships. Website:

Center for Contemporary Conflict; Strategic Insights; Volume V; Issue 4 (04/2006), Anouar Boukhars, “ The challenge of terrorism in Jordan”. Website:
ISSA Research & Analysis Corporation; Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis (16/01/2006), “Kosovo SHIK Directly Linked With Albanian SHIK Intelligence Organization”.

Global Research Organization Publications (22/10/2003), By Michel Chossudovsky, “Regime rotation in the USA”. Website:

Federation of American Scientists Publications (1998), By Milan. V. Petkovic, “Albanian terrorists”. Website:

Alessandro Politi, “European Security: The New Transnational Risks,”Chaillot Papers, No. 29, October, 1997. This paper discusses analytically the strong evidence around the KLA’s tendencies towards criminal actions well before the U.S. intervention in Kosovo and with the suffice knowledge by the international bodies.

ALSO see an article by the Independent newspaper (25/09/2002), “Bin Laden linked to Albanian drug gangs”. Website:
Der Spiegel, 24 September 2001, p. 15

Federation of American Scientists Publications; Patterns of global terrorism (1998), “Europe overview”. Website:
International Herarld Tribune (22/12/2006), “Albania seizes assets of alleged bin Laden associate”. Web Site:
Voice of America News Service (08/05/2007), “Albania supports War on terror”. Website:

Anti War Article & Analysis Organization (19/09/2001), By Christopher Deliso, “How Islamic terrorism took root in Albania”. Website:

Shay Shaul “Islamic Terror and the Balkans”,P. 82, Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, December2006

For detailed information on terrorist sympathizers in the Sanjak area ( Names, locations), see a GIS Security Briefing: (Reprint)

ISSA Research & Analysis Corporation; Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis (03/2007), By Darko Trifunovic, “Terrorism: The case of Bosnia, Sanzak & Kosovo”.

United Nations Information Service in Vienna (01/10/2004), Press Release SOC/CP/311, “UN warning on terrorism in the Balkans”. Website:

Washington Post (20/01/2005), By John Stilides, “Albania’s Dangerous Past”.

Boston Globe (o1/05/2006), By Jonathan B. Tucker and Paul F. Walker  , “A long way to go in eliminating chemical weapons”. Web Site:

Kathimerini Newspaper (07/02/2007), “ Kosovo link to Embassy strike”. Web Site:

Shay Shaul “Islamic Terror and the Balkans”,P. 70, Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, December2006

13.  General resources
I) “Landscapes of the Jihad”, By Faisal Devji, Hurst Company, London, Uk, 2005
II) “The rise, corruption and coming fall of the house of Saud”, By Sair Aburish, New York, St Martin’s Press, 1996
III) “The road to Al-Qaeda”. By Ahmed Fekry, London, Pluto Press, 2000
IV) “Who rules Iran”, By Wilfried Buchta, Washington DC, WINEP PEress, 2002
V) “Terrorism: From popular struggle to media spectacular”, By Gerald Chailand, London, Saqi Books, 1997
VI) “Saudi Arabia and the politics of dissent”, By Mamoun Fandy, Palgrave, London,2002
VII) “Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia supports global terrorism”, By Dore Gold, Washington DC, Regnery Publishing, 2003
VIII) “The Afghanistan wars”, By William Maley, Palgrave, New  York, 2003

IX) “Jihad: The trail of political Islam”, By Gilles Kepel, Belknap Press of Harvard, 2002
X) “The Islamic threat: Myth of reality”, By John L. Esposito, New York, 1999
XI) “Voices of terror”, By Walter Laqueur, Reed Press, New York, 2004
XII) “Global terrorism, the complete reference guide”, By Harry Henderson, Checkmark Books, New York, 2001