Wahhabism in Bosnia-Herzegovina - Part One

Author: Juan Carlos AntĂșnez
Uploaded: Tuesday, 16 September, 2008

First part of an interesting attempt at a comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon of Wahhabism in B-H, written in 2007 by a very unusual international functionary

Intended Outcome

Wahhabism in B-H is an alien, small, but according to some sources growing tendency within B-H. It is relatively successful in recruiting young ‘converts’ from within the B-H moderate Muslim tradition circles. Wahhabism identifies mainstream Bosnian Muslims as false Muslims and even as enemies. It has some potential to result in growing, and even violent confrontation with moderate Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This could have serious ramifications for B-H in its efforts to maintain a pluralistic society, as well as complicate the International War on terrorism, by providing an ever safer environment for transient terrorists. If the Wahhabi reportedly growth tendency is not effectively stopped and reversed by the indigenous Muslim structures, the challenge of Wahhabism in B-H will have serious implications for the rest of Europe.

For most International Community (IC) personnel, this is the first time in their careers that they have had to deal with any kind of Islamic issue. Part of the local media, often biased by nationalistic or/and political interests, have tried to present the problem of Wahhabism in B-H as a growing tendency that is a threat to safety and security not only in the country but also in the rest of Europe. These media have used a discourse very similar to that used at the beginning of the 90’s, changing the term ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ by ‘Wahhabism’. On the other hand, media close to the Bosniak establishment have tried to ‘hide’ any evidence of the Wahhabi presence in B-H, or at least to play down the importance of the phenomenon.

Most of the information gathered until now is based on the regurgitation of media or biased spread of rumours without further confirmation. A serious analysis must try to define who is a real follower of Wahhabism, in order to avoid misinterpretations. Only then can proper proposals be developed for stopping the ‘reported’ growing tendency, and reversing it.

This is a paper on the situation of Wahhabism in B-H, intended to represent original thinking about the real picture of the Islamic community in the country and not a ‘regurgitation of open-source wisdom’.

The purpose of this document is to disseminate it to any member of the International Community who has to deal with this issue. For most of them, it is the first time they have had to get in touch with Islam. It is very important to defeat prejudices and misunderstandings that present obstacles to their proper job performances.

This ‘handbook’ would contribute by increasing the level of the information obtained by the above-mentioned personnel, and also contribute to a better IC relationship with the local community. The book would also contribute to the ability of IC personnel to distinguish what is a real threat to safety and security in B-H.

 

 

Contents

1. Introduction

2. Islam in Bosnia-Herzegovina: short historical review

a) The Ottoman period

b) The Habsburg period

c) The Kingdom of Yugoslavia

d) The Second World War and the Tito period

3. Traditional Islam in B-H versus Wahabism / Salafism

4. Current Situation of Wahhabism / Salafism

a) ‘Wahhabi’ stream ‘loyal’ to the B-H Islamic community

b) ‘Wahhabi’ stream ‘outside’ the B-H Islamic community

i) Missionary Salafism / Wahhabism

ii) Jihadi Salafism / Wahhabism

5. Wahhabi links to international terrorism

6. Conclusions

 

1. Introduction

During and just after the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H) the relationship between the Bosniak part of the new state of B-H and the Muslim world were elevated to an unprecedented level. The financial support coming from foreign Muslim countries undermined the power of the well-organized and structured Bosnian Islamic community . The Islamic revival that began in Yugoslavia in the 70’s decade, which was developed in the framework of the local Muslim institutions and tradition, turned during and after the war to a more politicized revitalization influenced by foreign elements as the Arab fighters and Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from the Middle East.

The Official Islamic community has been taking control of Islam in B-H since the end of the 1992-95 war. However, the Islamic Community has recognized the presence of religious organizations outside its control, and that one of these organizations is an obstacle for the legitimate activities of the wider Islamic Community.

Besides efforts on behalf of the Islamic Community to counter Wahhabi influence, ordinary believers are very often staunch opponents of Wahhabism and that might be the really insurmountable obstacle in front of Wahhabism in B-H. Since the end of the war the largely secular and European attitude among the Bosniaks has caused friction with foreign Islamic extremists. Different reports on incidents involving moderate and radical Muslims have shown that Wahhabi communities are willing to use coercive methods to spread their radical ideas. Traditional Muslims have also demonstrated that they can use radical methods to counter the spread of the Wahhabi movement in B-H.

Assessments show that, despite their efforts, the Wahhabi movement does not have many supporters in B-H. The general population is afraid of their fundamentalist approach towards religion. B-H Muslims want to maintain the local traditional and moderate version of Islam.

While the predominance of traditional ‘Bosniak’ Islam is widespread, the Wahhabi movement has established itself in some areas of B-H. Some radical groups have been determined in their efforts to publicly confront the role of the B-H official Islamic Community and its control over Islamic religion in B-H, using their radical Wahhabi interpretation of the Koran. Their actions have drawn the attention of both local and international media and security services.

An element of the local media, that often shows nationalist or political bias, has tried to show the problem of Wahhabism in B-H as a growing threat against the safety and security within B-H and perhaps within the rest of Europe. This media element has used a theme that is similar to that used at the beginning of the 1990’s, in changing the term ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ to ‘Wahhabism’. To counter this, media close to the Bosniak establishment, have tried to ‘hide’ any evidence of the Wahhabi presence in B-H or, at least, to downplay the significant of their influence.

 

2. Islam in B-H: short historical review

a) The Ottoman period

Islam in B-H was introduced by the Ottoman Empire. From 1463 to 1878 this empire ruled the area. So, the history of Islam in Bosnia is intimately connected to the history of Islam in the Ottoman Empire. The State within the Ottoman Empire, like other Muslim empires before, was organized according to the principle of organic unity of religious and political authority. They did however introduce an unprecedented hierarchy of Muslims scholars or Ulama. Muftis, Mudarris and Imams, together with judges, Qadis, and Friday prayer preachers, or Khatibs, were under state jurisdiction and they were very often state officials. Because this rigid organisation, there was little autonomy in interpretation and practice of Islam in Bosnia.

The Ottoman troops also brought the Sunni Islam and the official legal school to the Ottoman Empire: the Hanafi School of Jurisprudence1. The Hanafi is one of the four Sunni legal schools. It is the largest one and it is followed by approximately 30 percent of Muslims worldwide. This school is predominant in Turkey, northern Egypt, Levant, and amongst the Muslim communities of the Balkans, Central and South Asia, China, Russia and Ukraine. Hanafi School has been considered by many authors as the most open-minded School. Early Hanafism was associated with the partisans of Ra’y (translation: Opinion). Other schools, however, especially Hanbalism, that wanted to base everything on formal reports about the prophetic Sunna, grew out of the party of Hadith. This has been cast as ‘rationalism vs. traditionalism’. According to the Hanafi School, the Iytihad, or individual reasoning, is often a used source of the Sharia, or Islamic Law, together with customs or 'Urf, hence a degree of flexibility in interpretation.(1)

b) The Habsburg period

In July 1878 the Congress of European powers held in Berlin, gave Habsburg monarchy the right to occupy and administer Bosnia. The Bosniak resisted the occupying Habsburg forces but their three-month resistance was eventually crushed in October 1878.

The relations between religion and state in the Habsburg monarchy were based upon the concept of ‘recognized religious communities’ which was adopted in 1874. According to this concept, the state guarantees freedom of conscience, belief and private manifestations of religious beliefs and practice.

The Habsburg government introduced this concept in Bosnia. Six religious communities were given the status of ‘recognized religions’: Islamic, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelic and Judaic. The status of Islam dramatically changed. Instead of being the basic principle of social cohesion as it was in the Ottoman times, it now became one of several ‘recognized religions’ within a non-Muslim state. The Bosniaks became a religious minority instead of being a part of the ruling elite.

This change brought about a new challenge to the Bosniaks: to build up a system of the administration of Islamic affairs that would not be identical with the organization of the state. Christians and Jews in Bosnia were in comparative advantage. Under the Ottomans they already had a separate communal organization, which enabled them to easily adapt to the Habsburg regime. Relying upon Ottoman heritage and responding to new challenges during the first two decades of Habsburg rule, the Bosniaks built a new administration of Islamic affairs. This system included religious hierarchy or 'ilmyya, religious education or maarif, endowments or waqf and sharia courts for religious issues.

The system was gradually built through the struggle over the prerogatives for the appointment of key officials, allocation of funding and the running of institutions. The struggle ended on 15 April 1909 when the Habsburg monarch approved the Statute for autonomous administration of Islamic endowments and educational affairs.

The basic features of the administration of Islamic affairs envisaged in the Statute of 1909 were the creation of a council of ulama headed by the Rais Ul Ulama and the introduction of autonomy and elections into the administration of endowments and religious schools.

c) The Kingdom of Yugoslavia

In 1918 the Habsburg monarchy disintegrated and Bosnia was incorporated in a new South Slav state, initially called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and later renamed as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The administration of Islamic affairs in Bosnia, as developed in the Habsburg times, continued to function. The Muslims in other parts of Yugoslavia had a separate religious administration.

This state of affairs lasted until 1930, when the new regime of the Yugoslav King Aleksandar Karađorđević decided to introduce a unified administration of religious affairs for all Muslims in the country and virtually took over the control of that administration, according to his ideology of ‘Yugoslav Unitarism’, which viewed different South Slav ethnic groups as one nation and attended to eliminate any organization alongside ethnic criteria.

The state control over the Yugoslav Islamic Community was, to some extent, relaxed in 1936, when a Bosniak-based political party, the Yugoslav Muslim Organization, joined a coalition government in Belgrade. The relaxation of state control over the community did not mean the return of autonomy from 1909. Rather, a new type of influence was introduced, that of a Muslim political party.

According to the 1936 Yugoslav Islamic Community Constitution, the seat of Rais Ul Ulema, which had been moved during the previous period to Belgrade, returned to Sarajevo.

d) The Second World War and the Tito period

The World War Two broke out in 1939 and the Nazis and their collaborationists occupied Bosnia, together with other parts of Yugoslavia. The leadership of the Yugoslav Islamic Community stuck to the policy of keeping the existing administration of Islamic affairs intact until the war ended.

The end of the war in 1945 was accompanied by the change of state organization and political regime in the country. The Unitarian concept of Yugoslavia was replaced by that of federation, kingdom by republic and parliamentarian democracy by socialist ‘people’s democracy’. These changes greatly affected the position of Islam, as well as other religions, and the organization of the Islamic community .

The socialist regime proclaimed ‘the separation of church from state’ and the principle that ‘religion is a private affair of the citizens’. These principles of secular state were interpreted in socialist practice as subjugation of religious communities to state as ‘allies of the capitalists’ and the persecution of those known to be believers.

The change affected in the social, political and legal positions of religion in Bosnia affected all segments of the administration of Islamic affairs. First, Sharia courts were abolished (5 March 1946) and the Islamic law lost its binding legal force for the Muslims.

Second, in 1952 the government closed all elementary religious maktabs and left only one secondary school, the ‘Gazi Husrevbeg’ Madrasa in Sarajevo, to prepare future imams and khatibs. Religious instruction to the ordinary believers could be given only during weekends in mosques and even that legal possibility was restricted by the policy of the local authorities.

Third, waqf property was largely expropriated and nationalized between 1945 and 1958. During the late 1960s, the socialist regime in Yugoslavia became more liberal. Consequently, more space for activities was given to religious communities. At the same time, the Federal Constitution of Yugoslavia of 1968 gave more power to federal units. These developments found their reflection in the Constitution of the Islamic Community of 5 November 1968.

e) The Islamic revival

During the 1970s and 1980s, Bosnia and other parts of Yugoslavia witnessed Islamic revival.

The Islamic revival in B-H started in the 1970s due to several factors:

- a certain aperture of the then Yugoslav regime.

- an improved economic situation.

- the graduation of a new generation of young Muslims intellectuals from Yugoslav and Middle Eastern universities.

- global trends in the Muslim world that began in the Petroleum Crisis in 1973 and culminated in the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

- the main manifestations of revival until 1992 were:

- rebuilding or construction of mosques financed by local money except in a few cases.

- opening or reopening of education institutions.

- publishing of Islamic texts and periodicals.

- intensified personal religiosity and use of Islamic social symbols.

- establishment of Muslim political organizations.

- emergence of Muslim solidarity institutions.

During this period, the Islamic revival in B-H happened into the institutional framework of the Islamic Community. Alternative organizations were practically ignored. This would be dramatically changed after April 1992.

For all these activities the existing Constitution of the Islamic Community was too narrow. Also in 1974 Yugoslavia adopted a new constitution, which moved the state organization toward confederacy. As in the past, changes in the political system found reflection in the organization of the Islamic Community.

On 12 April 1990 the Supreme Islamic Assembly in Sarajevo passed a new Constitution of the Islamic Community. This constitution divided the institutional structure of the Islamic Community into organs, institutions, and officials. The organs of the Community were local yamaas boards, formed mostly formed in the level of boroughs, Mufti offices which were almost at the level of district, the Islamic Communities assemblies and their executive organs, mashiats, the jurisdiction of which coincided with the borders of the Yugoslav states, and finally, the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Community as the highest representative body of the Muslims in Yugoslavia. The executive body of this assembly was the Riaset, at the head of which stands Rais Ul Ulema as a religious leader of the Muslims in Yugoslavia. The seat of Riaset is in Sarajevo. Members of all these bodies were to be elected and their term of office was limited. There was also the Islamic Council, a body of scholars in charge of keeping constitution within the Islamic Community and providing interpretation of Islamic teachings.

The institutions of the Islamic Community were madrasas, faculties, institutes, libraries and a museum. The Constitution also provided for the establishment of charitable, humanitarian and other institution, something that was unimaginable in Bosnia during previous decades.

In 1992 the Yugoslav Federation broke down and its ‘domino effect’ brought an end to all organizations, associations and institutions built on the same principle.

In 1993 the representatives of different bodies of the Islamic Community, Muslim organizations and institutions, met in Sarajevo and proclaimed themselves as the Constituent Assembly of the Islamic Community. This Assembly called for the reconstruction of the autonomous Islamic Community in Bosnia and proclaimed itself as the highest authority in the Community and passed on the same day an interim Basic Regulation that will serve as a legal basis for the organization and function of the Islamic Community until the end of the war.

However, the interim Basic Regulation for all practical purposes relied mainly on the Constitution of the Islamic Community of 1990, which had been adjusted in certain aspects to meet demands of the new situation. The new organization structure again was composed of organs, institutions and officials. Basic organs were the same: yamaa, boards, Mufti offices. Others were adjusted: Naibu Ar Rais, Deputy Rais, replaced the President of the Mashiat, the Riaset replaced Mashiat and Constituent Assembly replaced the Assembly of the Islamic Community. Institutions and officials remained the same.

The organization of the Islamic Community from the time of the Yugoslav Federation was slightly modified to fit the circumstances of independent Republic of B-H. The basic regulation of 1993 provides that the Constituent Assembly will call for elections after the war and thus replace the emergency administration with a permanent one. The elections were conducted in the spring of 1995 and permanent Assembly of the Islamic Community was constituted on 28 April 1995. On 26 November 1997 this Assembly adopted a new Constitution, which is a legal basis for the present administration of Islamic Affairs in Bosnia.

 

3. Traditional Islam in B-H versus Wahabism / Salafism

For more than 500 years Bosnian Muslims have maintained the Hanafi tradition, following a moderate and open-minded version of Islam: rich on tradition, tolerant of other communities and compatible with western values. The Islamic revival in B-H, which began after the secularist Tito period, underwent radical changes from the beginning of the war in April 1992. In those parts of B-H under Serbian and Croatian forces, 75 per cent of Bosnian territory was ‘cleansed’ of Muslims, while mosques and other Islamic buildings were in almost all cases destroyed.(2) However, freedom for Islamic activities became almost unlimited in some territories under the control of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is reported that several hundred Afghan-Arab Mujahidin, or Holy Warriors, joined with, fought alongside Bosniaks during the 1992-5 war in B-H. Highly religious and motivated, they brought a specific understanding of Islam with them and they tried to indoctrinate those ideas into Bosniak minds, having the opportunity to preach and spread propaganda freely. Thus the Wahhabi ideas surfaced for the first time on a wider scale. This foreign creed was different from the moderate and traditional version of Islam in B-H. During this time the relations between B-H and the Muslim world were elevated to an unprecedented level. The number of graduates of Islamic Studies outside the country increased and Islamic literature arrived in significant quantities. Additionally, the economic power of local populations was practically reduced to nothing and the foreign agencies became the prime founders of the Islamic revival. This financial support, coming from foreign Muslim countries, undermined the power of the well-organized and structured Bosnian Islamic community . Saudi Arabian funding of mosques and economic help aimed to confirm Saudi global Muslim leadership (vs. Iran) and to bring Bosnian Muslims closer to beliefs and practices acceptable to Wahhabism.

The activities of the Islamic Community in B-H have always included charity, income-generating projects and Waqf (religious endowment). The Islamic Community of B-H has been the exclusive administrator of these endowments for decades. However, several multi million dollar foreign Waqfs were established after 1995, which, according to the contract with the Islamic Community, were granted full autonomy for various periods of time, usually two decades. The Cultural Centre King Fahd (CCKF) in Sarajevo is an example of this process, together with the Saudi cultural centre in Bugojno and the Cultural Centre in Hadžići.

The financing of the reconstruction of a mosque by a Saudi based organization was a part of a strategy aimed at acquiring the spiritual leadership of the community. The result of this process is the replacement of the Hanafi, the moderate traditional local version of Islam, with Wahhabism, (3) a more radical and intolerant Saudi version that in some cases might be a shift toward more radical and, possibly, terrorist activities. The elder and established Imams in some areas, who stand for a more moderate Islam, were more controlled and restricted in their activities.

In the past, the High Saudi Commission for the Relief of Bosnian Muslims (HSC) has administered the Cultural Centre King Fahd without consulting the Islamic Community of B-H. The HSC gave full support to different Wahhabi organisations, including Active Islamic Youth (AIO) and different Islamic NGO’s. After the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 Sep 01, the situation changed because the media identified the HSC and related organisations as potential sources of extremism. Some of their members were arrested or questioned by local police or international forces about their links to terrorism. At the end of 2002, the Cultural Centre King Fahd, tried to change its public image and attempted to distance itself from these extremist circles, and established closer relations with the official Islamic Community of B-H. When the government of Saudi Arabia decided to close the HSC all the mosques whose construction was financed by the HSC were handed over to the B-H Islamic Community, and the King Fahd Cultural Centres in Sarajevo and Mostar to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia for management. According to Abdul Aziz Al Akili, Cultural Attaché with the Saudi Arabia Embassy in B-H, the King Fahd Cultural Centre is a cultural institution that remains under the supervision and care of the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Despite of this fact, the facilities of the Cultural Centre King Fahd and the King Fahd Mosque in Dobrinje, Sarajevo, are still the epicentre of the spreading of radical ideas

in B-H.

The spreading of radical ideas in B-H has been linked to the return process of the people who were displaced during the war and to the social, economic and education situation within the country. The return of Muslims to some areas of B-H controlled by Bosnian Serbs or B-Croats is creating an unstable local climate, potentially leading to increased ethnic tensions and inter-ethnic incidents. Some of these Muslim returnees are members of the Wahhabi sect. The perceived harassment of Bosniaks may stimulate an increased involvement of organizations tied to Islamic extremism in local communities. Reportedly, Wahhabism was already attempting to take advantage of Bosniak feelings of frustration by trying to radicalize the youth of these areas. These radical movements are taking advantage of the poor condition of education and social services, in some areas, and offering young people a variety of possibilities, as means to subsequently recruit them. The same policy has been used by different radical Islamic movements all over the world.

Extremist recruiters, who are likely to be a few years older, take the young people under their care, organizing bonding activities like camping trips and sporting events. The recruiter gradually isolates the recruits from their families and steps into the role of mentor. In this newfound clique, young recruits find the social integration and spiritual space they have yearned for, as radical indoctrination intensifies, and bonds tighten around a shared worldview.

Radical religious groups are also offering health and social services to former drug users and petty criminals. The weak mental and physical condition of the addicts makes them easy targets for indoctrination and recruiting. In addition, former drug users are familiar with illegal activities and once recruited these individuals may be used to support the organization, through criminal activity. For these reasons petty criminals inside jails all around Europe are also recruited.

 

4. Current situation of Wahhabism in B-H

B-H in the 1990s was in a unique situation: it had the political and mobilizing structures in place for the creation of an Islamic state. Nevertheless, it lacked the cultural framework around which to mobilize social support, nor did it have a context in which to develop a strong Islamic social movement. Islam was used more in a nationalist context rather than as a pervasive issue that could transform the society. At the moment, despite its efforts, the Wahhabi movement does not have many supporters in B-H. The general population appears to be afraid of their fundamentalist approach towards religion. The Bosnian Muslims have been among the most secularised Muslim populations in the world. The largely secular and European attitude among the Bosniaks has caused friction with foreign Islamic extremists. In the past, Islamic radical groups have been financed through the donations of Arabic countries and by non-governmental organizations that were headquartered in B-H. These NGOs have been present in the Balkans since the 1990s, many evolving from the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo. Since then, these organizations have developed support structures that have proven to be easily exploited by terrorist and extremist groups. As a consequence of a number of worldwide terrorist attacks, the situation dramatically changed with police starting to raid a number of Arab charities. The arrests of suspected terrorists alerted local and international attention to the birth of a different interpretation of Islam in B-H. Also the situation in Saudi Arabia has undergone serious changes. Currently, the Saudi Kingdom, including the royal family, is a significant target for international terrorist groups linked to Salafi ideas.(4) The Saudi authorities are now more careful about the final use of the money that they send abroad. It is however necessary to be aware of the fact that the radical networks have been looking for other financial sources to support their activities and are careful to avoid police and intelligence agencies. An important consideration that guides the groups is time. They do not attach the same imperative to their objectives that Western nations might. The spreading of their radical ideas transcends a time-linked end state. If they perceive that the situation is not good to achieve their goals, they may move to isolated areas where they can practice their version of Islam, waiting for the right moment to proceed with their ‘mission’: that is to establish B-H as a homogenous Islamic country, based exclusively on the principles of the Sharia. This is the concept of Hijra or emigration that radical groups associate with a kind of spiritual retirement outside a ‘corrupted society’ or Yahilia, the ‘dark’ period before Islam. Some Bosnian Muslim radicals have lost their respect for the leaders of the official Islamic Community. These Salafis consider the local Islamic Community as ignorant, lacking initiative, indifferent and transgressing Islamic norms. This is the likely attitude of some radical groups in B-H currently.

B-H local authorities and the Official Islamic Community attempt to counter Salafi influence. Additionally ordinary believers are very often staunch opponents of Salafis, and this might be the insurmountable obstacle for Salafism in B-H. It is possible that the Wahhabi movement does not have many supporters in B-H because the general population is afraid of their fundamentalist approach towards religion. They want to maintain the traditional local and moderate version of Islam.

The measures that have been taken by the local and international authorities to raid a number of Arab charities, to block their bank accounts, to search for suspicious financial operations and to close some of these organizations, have been successful and, consequently, these organizations have to find alternative financial sources to support their activities. These measures, together with the secular attitude of the Bosniaks and the well-organised Islamic Community, have hampered the spreading of radical ideas in B-H.

The official Islamic community has been taking control for Islam in B-H since the end of the 1992-95 war. (5)

At the end of 2006, the strategy of some Wahhabi leaders of openly challenging the B-H Islamic Community and their public statements, labelling Bosnian traditional Islam as ‘communist Islam’, have increased the traditional Muslims’ animosity towards him and the rest of the Wahhabi community. Despite the fact that the stance of the B-H Islamic Community has repeatedly been considered as unclear and ambiguous, and intellectuals, scholars and journalists have continually asked for an active position to tackle Wahhabism, the ‘tardy and shy’ measures taken by the B-H Islamic Community since the end of 2006, can be considered as positive. The response of the B-H Islamic Community has increased the ‘schism’ that had been observed in the Salafi community in B-H for the last month. Mustafa Ćerić, the leader of the B-H official Islamic Community has gathered around him, not only the traditional Bosnian Muslim believers but also a part of the Salafi reformists that want to distance themselves of the more radical wing of the movement. The more radical elements of the Salafi community are almost isolated by the rest of the Muslim society.

B-H Wahhabi movement is currently comprised of two main streams:

- a Salafi / Wahhabi stream loyal to the B-H Islamic Community;

- a Salafi / Wahhabi stream outside the control of the B-H Islamic Community. This stream can also be divided into two main groups: Missionary and Jihadi.

a) ‘Wahhabi’ stream ‘loyal’ to the B-H Islamic community

Nezim Halilović, high-ranking official of the B-H Islamic Community, has been considered to be the main Salafi / Wahhabi leader in B-H.(6) Despite this, he is totally opposed to those Salafis / Wahhabis that want to split from the Islamic Community. According to Halilović, they are undermining the unity of Muslims.(7) Halilović is likely the leader of those Salafis who want to distance themselves from the more radical elements and gather around the official Islamic Community. Some local scholar refuses that Halilović is a Salafi or a Wahhabi follower and labelled him only as an ultra conservative and nationalistic traditional Bosnian believer.

Former AIO members, close to SAFF magazine, as Semir Imamović, defend that is possible to cooperate with the Islamic community if it will benefit Islam and Muslims.(8) This circle has also defended the need for dialogue between islamic scholars and religious leaders of other faiths and confessions, and confessions, and for religious tolerance since both are firmly rooted in the Koran and the Sunnah of Allah́s Prophet. Samir Avdić, member of SAFF circle, has stated that he would cooperate with SIPA (State Investigation and Protection Agency) in denouncing terrorist. Semir Imamović, (9) has recommended that Bosnian Salafists should be advised on how to be civil to other people, and how to show respect for the opinions of others. SAFF has published the fatwas issued by important scholars, the European Council for Fatwas and Research (ECFR), as well as a part of the study by Abdul Karim Zaidan which he presented at the session of the Rabita (Muslim World League) Fiqh (Jurisprudence) Council in which he sets forth the arguments about when permission can be granted to engage politically, to vote, and take part in elections.

b) ‘Wahhabi’ stream ‘outside’ the B-H Islamic community

The Salafi / Wahhabi community outside the control of the B-H Islamic Community can also be divided in two main groups: Missionary and Jihadi.(10)

i) Missionary ‘Wahhabism’

Muhamed Porča, the Imam of the ‘Al-Tawhid’ Mosque in Vienna, who has repeatedly stated his opposition towards the B-H Islamic Community, is considered to be the spiritual leader of the Bosnian Salafi / Wahhabi movement in Austria, and a middle-man between some Middle Eastern NGO’s and Salafis / Wahhabis in B-H. Members of the official B-H Islamic Community have condemned Porča’s and other radical leaders’ idea to set up a parallel Islamic Community in B-H. Porča can be considered as the leader of Bosnian Missionary Salafism / Wahhabism without any relationship with the B-H Islamic Community . After his studies in Saudi Arabia, Porča arrived in Austria in 1993 to serve as an imam. From the moment he was denied a job at Sarajevo's Faculty of Islamic Studies on his return to B-H, Porča started implementing the idea of creating an Islamic community parallel to the official one lead by Reis Mustafa Efendi Ćerić. Porča has not succeeded in this but he has managed to strengthen the Wahhabi movement specially among the Bosnian Diaspora to an unprecedented extent. This outcome took time to achieve, but, owing above all to the inertness of the B-H Islamic Community, Porča and the like-minded Adnan Buzar (11) and Senad Podojak had ample time.(12) The Islamic Community of Bosniaks in Austria, as well as the Islamic Community of Muslims in Austria, have unequivocally disassociated themselves from the Wahhabi movement, whose members - they believe - are doing unprecedented damage to all Muslims in Austria.

‘The Diaspora has been neglected and ... there was no reaction to developments among their members. Most of the divergence among Bosnian Muslims was originated in the EU. Many individuals and in some cases ‘džemats’ refer to Vienna and at the same time their links with Bosnian scholars are becoming increasingly tenous. As a result relations with the Muslim community have become so strained that Muslim have drawm arms against Muslims, and some have even come to an untimely end. There is no answer as to how all this will end because it is not yet clear if the current state of affairs will have any impact on B-H. Many young men who started practicing Islam only recently feel lost and are at the mercy of those who sow confusion. They often complain that Bosnian Salafis have become relaxed about their work because they have not issued tekfir against the Reis and other scholars’.(13)

After the reported closure of the AIO, Muhamed Porča, has appointed himself as the leader of the emergent Islamic Youth in Europe, an organization or movement that has apeared as a parallel of the AIO that insists on being point of reference for all the Bosniaks which no one should digress. In B-H Porča is using Selam organization to take the control over those Salafis that are not maintaining contacts with the B-H Islamic Community. These Salafi communities, such as those in the area of Bihać, Maoca and Bocinja, have decided to isolate themselves from official mesdžids and tears apart of the B-H Islamic community , embracing the concept of hijra, or emigration, to be apart of the jahilia, the corruption, the dark period before Muhammad spread their message.

Safet Kuduzović is considered to be one of the Missionary Salafi / Wahhabi leaders in B-H. Kuduzović is a graduate of the Islamic University in Jordan, with a Masters degree, and a former Imam of the Bosnian Salafi Kewser Džemat (Muslim religious congregation) in Linz, Austria. Kuduzović is a well-known and active figure in Bosnian Salafi circles. It is possible he currently resides in B-H. Kuduzović actively cooperates with the Studio-din portal (www.studio-din.com), Salafi / Wahhabi missionary portal, and advices it on its political and religious direction.

In its 1 June 2007 edition, ‘SAFF’ magazine (14) reported that after the death of Jusuf Barčić, a majority of members of his group had chosen Nusret Imamović to be their new leader. ‘Saff’ reported that Imamović was well known as a religious leader and primary school teacher in the village of Gornja Maoca.

Nusret Imamović is a prominent Salafi / Wahhabi cleric originating from Kalesija. Imamović’s reporting started in 2002, when Barčić was imprisoned, Imamović had taken over the leadership over his network.

Lately, major media attention has been drawn to an important inter-ethnic incident that occurred on 15 July 2006, in the Bukvik (CQ 1567) settlement near Brčko, when some 10 persons, known to belong to a Wahhabi group, clashed with three Bosnian Serbs. One Bosnian Serb, Mihajlo Kisić, was seriously injured and allegedly gunshots were fired too. The Brčko District (BD) Police started an investigation, and six Salafis / Wahhabis were detained by the Tuzla Police. BD Police increased the security around the detention centre as it was close to Gornja Maoca. A few days after the incident, the local police detained Imamović. He is known to have contacts with Nedžad Balkan, who was arrested together with Imamović, after the Bukvik incident. Imamović is close to Vienna-based Wahhabi cleric, Muhamed Porča. Imamović is one of the few Bosnian Salafis / Wahhabis who has publicly refused any kind of collaboration with the B-H Islamic Community. He is linked to the ‘Selam’ organization.

A mainstream Islamic biweekly ‘Preporod’ (15), published by the B-H Islamic Community (IZ) of B-H, in its 15 March 2007 issue featured an editorial by the Editor in Chief, Aziz Kadribegović, entitled ‘Destruction of the Islamic Community as a Long Term Goal’, in which the author claimed that Bosnian Salafists were contemplating a new strategy for their mid-term activity.(16) Kadribegović wrote that ‘Preporod’ had learned that one of the Salafi authorities in the Diaspora, a Jordanian student with a Masters degree mentioned as ‘S.K’ (probably Safet Kuduzović), having grasped the seriousness of the situation in which his companions could find themselves, and having realized that ‘the sand that until yesterday appeared as mortar has started to crumbled’, had held a meeting with a group of ‘the most mature Salafi / Wahhabi Da’ias or missionaries’. At this meeting, he presented them with the basic elements of a new strategy for the Salafi / Wahhabi movement, which the editorial called ‘the Organization’.

According to ‘Preporod’, the leader of the meeting, stressed that:

‘the Organization’s activity in the EU countries must remain a strategic interest, because the B-H Islamic Community was weaker abroad than in B-H, which created a manoeuvring space for the Organization’.(17)

He told the meeting participants that the strong ‘Organization’ outside B-H could:

‘financially assist ‘the brothers’ in B-H, and act as a powerful platform for a more aggressive approach in B-H’.

The editorial also commented that the leader highlighted the importance of a new generation of missionaries graduating from Middle Eastern Islamic universities, who would be returning to B-H shortly. ‘These missionaries are better educated than the B-H Islamic Community missionaries, more eloquent, and, most importantly, fully committed to their work and ideas. In time, they will overwhelm the B-H Islamic Community and take full control of the Muslims in B-H’.

At the meeting, the importance of avoiding future incidents was also highlighted. As ‘Preporod’ wrote, he advised that ‘brothers’ at all times ‘give the impression that they are normal citizens in B-H and in the EU countries in which they reside’. ‘With this goal in sight, we must bury immediately the hatchet with the Rijaset, B-H Islamic Community executive office, and the representatives in B-H and abroad’. Jusuf Barčić was not mentioned at the meeting, which led Kadribegović to conclude that Barčić was probably ‘a lone shooter’ and not a member of ‘the Organization’. However, ‘some brothers from Sandžak’ were mentioned in this context at the meeting. According to the editorial, it was proposed that those ‘who cannot be controlled’ first be ‘isolated’ by ‘the Organization’ and, if this did not work out, then to ‘denounce them’ openly in Islamic papers such as ‘Saff’ (an Islamic youth magazine reflecting of Salafist, favouring some sort of cooperation with B-H Islamic Community) and ‘Al Asr’ (Islamic Salafi / Wahhabi bi-monthly, published by the Bosnian Salafi ‘Hidžra’ Džemat (Bosnian version of the Arabic word Jama'at) in Holland, more theological in nature).

As for the group’s attitude towards Muslims sentenced on terrorism charges, the participants of the meeting have reportedly agreed that ‘brothers’ should be advised ‘not to embark on similar undertakings’ in the future, in view of the stiff sentences envisioned for these acts. However, the meeting decided against a public distancing from individuals charged with terrorism. Terrorism verdicts ‘should be ignored’ and ‘there should be no public reaction to them’.

Assumptions taken in the previous chapters of this paper support the above information and give credibility to the ‘Preporod’ article. Salafi / Wahhabi future strategy may be summarized as:

- Recruitment of Bosniak Diaspora. This recruitment is especially easy and profitable for ‘the Organization’ because:

A. The B-H Islamic Community is weaker abroad.

B. The Bosnian ‘converted’ Muslims are a healthy financial source.

C. Converted Muslims abroad are able to spread Salafism / Wahhabism in their close circle when they come back B-H.

- Well trained Salafi / Wahhabi scholars will argue with those who are less prepared within the B-H Islamic Community. In 2003, there were about a hundred Bosnian students of Islam in different Middle East countries. Although many of them would easily find their place in the B-H Islamic Community upon return to the country, some of these students could adopt Salafi / Wahhabi ideas.

- Silent creation of a parallel Islamic religious structure, without publicly facing the official one but with the final goal of defeating it.

- Not to be directly linked to any kind of terrorist activity.

Although any missionary activity can not be seen as a threat per se, the risk of missionary Islam to B-H security has to be analyzed from three perspectives:

- To understand the meaning of this threat, it is necessary to pay attention to a concept very common amongst radical Islamic movements: The concept of ‘Takfir’ - the practice of declaring that an individual or a group, previously considered Muslims, are in fact Kafirs, or apostates. The sentence for apostasy under Sharia law, as traditionally interpreted, is execution. For this reason, orthodox Islamic law normally requires stringent evidence in support of such accusations. In many cases this requires an Islamic court of religious leaders to pronounce a Fatwa, or religious decree, of Taqfir on an individual or group. Also texts of scholars as Ibn Taymyyah and Abd Al Wahib recommended the ‘utmost restraint’ in Taqfir. However, certain extremist movements have been very ready to practice Taqfir, for which they have been condemned by mainstream Muslims. Modern groups, such as the Algerian GIA, take this practice to an extreme, and regard virtually all non-strictly orthodox Muslims as Kuffar, whose blood is legitimate to shed. Taqfir might have taken root in some ‘groups of young Muslims in B-H’.(18) This position can be considered a threat, especially for the safety and security of Bosnian Muslims who do not agree with Salafi ideas and can be seen as ‘impious’ and be targeted by radical groups.

- Members of the Salafi / Wahhabi movement may change their approach to Islamism when its perceived that they are not going to attain their goal as a result of preaching and proselytizing, and so they may take a more radical and violent stance. The lack of a result by the Wahhabi mission and the religious attitude of the Bosnian Muslim mainstream, who wants to maintain the traditional local and moderate version of Islam, may hasten this process.

- Salafi / Wahhabi groups are used to spot talent by Jihadi groups that find highly motivated and religiously convinced youngster.

ii) Jihadi Salafism / Wahhabism

Jihadism defends an armed struggle that has three main variants:

- Internal: a Jihad against nominally Muslim regimes which the Jihadis hold to be ‘sinful’ and thus legitimate targets for insurrection.

- Irredentist: the fight to redeem land considered to be a part of Dar Al Islam or Muslim territory, from non-Muslim rule or occupation.

- Global: the Jihad against the West, particularly the US and their associates.

The three different strands of Jihadism can, and are, used in various combinations by the same Jihadist group simultaneously, according to their objectives.

No Jihadi leaders have been reported in B-H, although Nedžad Balkan, labeled as the leader of a Sandžak Jihadi group, maintains contacts with religious leaders in B-H. Nedžad Balkan, also known as Abu Muhammad, who was born in Vienna, is a B-H citizen of Sandžak origin. He studied at the Islamic University in Medina, Saudi Arabia, but he left without graduating, reportedly disappointed with the Saudi political regime. Upon his return, he stayed in Vienna, where he preached at the ‘Al-Tawhid’ Mosque. He left the mosque due to disagreement with Muhamed Porča and other members of the congregation. Nedžad Balkan led the ‘Sahaba’ Mosque in Vienna’s 7th County. In 2005, Balkan was placed under observation of the Austrian Police, for condoning the London bombings and for making extremist statements for the Austrian press. According to ‘SAFF’ magazine, Balkan is considered to be the ‘highest religious authority’ of the Jihadi group Kelimetul-Haqq and of young extremists in Sandžak. www.kelimatulhaqq.co.nr, the website of the group Kelimetul-Haqq (Words of the Truth, Right Words) is the first openly Jihadi Bosniak website, actively promoting the concept of holy war and disseminating Jihadi videos and lectures. However, its radical message appears to have little support outside its base in the Sandžak region. www.islamskadravska.com, whose content is hard-core Salafi. There are indications of ties with the Sandžak-based Jihadi group Kelimetul-Haqq. The website is also linked to www.abuhamzabrigade.tk and www.bugojnocity.tk. Both are Bugojno-based minor Salafi / Wahhabi web pages.

 

5. Wahhabi links to international terrorism

The potential threat of terrorism in B-H is totally linked to the spread of extremist religious ideas in the country. Despite the fact that Wahhabism and Terrorism must not be merged, most people detained in B-H because of suspected terrorist activities have also been linked to Wahhabi groups. Wahhabi communities are used by terrorist networks to recruit new members, to provide logistic bases for transient terrorists and as a front to cover their activities.

Different articles appearing in local and international mass media have commented about the role of B-H in different issues related with international terrorist networks. Most of this information is unconfirmed. The substance of follow-on media coverage is variously both true and false. Terrorist cells are no less likely to be present in B-H than in any other state. Bosnian Serb and Serbian media outlets regularly misappropriate such reporting, and the information is generalized to the point of suggest that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a significant threat to ethno-national security because it allegedly harbours foreign Islamic terrorists. This is nationalist propaganda that deliberately obscures the facts in two areas: first, the symptoms of global security threats are confused with the causes of Bosnian state weakness; and second, deliberate state-level support to terrorism rather than the weak state’s inability to police itself. The terrorist phenomenon in B-H is no more developed, and the risk of a terrorist attack is not higher than in other parts of the world. It is possible to assess that the international presence in B-H, the growing interest of local and foreign police agencies in this issue, especially after September 11th, and the special characteristics of the Muslim population have reduced the possibility of the establishment of a Jihadi base in B-H. But it is necessary to remark that the potential for instability exists in B-H, for example, the presence of some NGOs, some radical communities, the citizenship issue, the historical links between B-H and some suspicious countries and the problem of a weak border control, may provide an environment suitable for such establishment to occur, in a significant and widespread way.

Though Islamic terrorist acts cannot be excluded from B-H, it is assessed that they are very unlikely. Until now there has never been a direct threat against the International Community (IC) in B-H. Taking into account the reported long-term goal of the major ‘Islamic players’ to turn B-H into an Islamic society, it is considered that a terrorist attack in B-H could have a negative impact on achieving this goal. The predicted reaction of the IC might change the now favourable environment significantly.

According to different sources B-H is mainly used by international terrorist organizations mainly for the following purposes:

- Islamic bridgehead in to Europe,

- Logistic base,

- Recruiting base,

- Rest and recuperation area

- Transit country.

During the last six years there have been some terrorist activities in B-H linked with international terrorism but the terrorist phenomenon in B-H is not as significant as some nationalist and foreign mass media try to show:

- In October 2001, Bensayah Belkacem, Saber Lahmar, Ait Idir Mustafa, Boudallah Hadj, Boumedien Lakhdar and Necheld Mohammad were arrested on the suspicion that they had planned a terrorist attack against the U.S Embassy and the British Embassy in Sarajevo. No charges have been presented against them.

- On 6 May 2004, the US Treasury froze the assets of three B-H charities suspected of financing the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. The B-H authorities raided several Islamic charities operating in Bosnia and forced three of them to close.

- On 19 October 2005, the FMUP Anti Terrorist unit raided a house in Ilidza and arrested Mirsad Bektašević and Kadar Cecur on suspicion of terrorist activities. Mirsad Bektašević is a Bosnian citizen that is the holder of a Swedish passport. Cecur is a Turkish citizen and the holder of a Danish passport.

- On 12 December 2006, upon order of B-H Prosecutor’s Office, SIPA searched several buildings in different locations in Sarajevo. One of the searched buildings is the address of a Kuwaiti humanitarian organization in Nedzarici neighbourhood. No one has been charged because of this operation.

- At the beginning of April 2007, the German newsweekly ‘Spiegel’ reported that Nihad Ćosić, B-H citizen born in Germany, was arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. He was reportedly arrested by the Pakistani Secret Service in the city of Rawalpandi on 30 Jan 07, while crossing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where he was supposed to run the camp for training of the Al-Qaeda mercenaries. ‘Spiegel’ reported that Nihad Ćosić was known to the German Police for his earlier links to a Jihadi organization in southern Germany and terrorist organizations in B-H.

Recent reports in local and international media have alleged the presence of terrorist training camps in B-H.

Various analysts and commentators have offered wildly differing opinions on the implications of individual foreign terrorists being present in B-H, while local authorities have denied that there are any terrorist training facilities operating in B-H. Because extremely limited international and domestic collection assets and capabilities, there is insufficient information available to confirm or deny the presence of paramilitary training camps in B-H. The focus on ‘training camps’ however is, in part, a red herring. Although Bosnian terrain is extremely rugged and suitable to clandestine insurgent-style operations, known extremists have also conducted training in classrooms, prison cells, sporting clubs, and via the Internet. Such approaches to training do not require open-air facilities, cleared fields, firing ranges, tented camps, or sites otherwise identifiable in military terms. Summer youth camps are often reported as terrorist training camps. Although the potential for indoctrination exists at such locations, they are not the same as paramilitary facilities used for training in terrorist methods and equipment.

According to 2006 Country Reports on Terrorism, released by the Office of the US Coordinator for Counterterrorism:

‘B-H’s Law enforcements organizations cooperated with the United States on international counterterrorism. B-H remained a weak state, however, with multiple semi-autonomous centres of power, vulnerable to exploitation as a terrorist safe haven or a potential staging ground for terrorist operations in Europe. Nevertheless, there were notable signs of increased local operational capability to combat terrorism and terrorism finance’.

The reports also states that

- ‘Bosnian authorities continued to strengthen existing counterterrorism mechanisms and develop new ones. The Inter-Ministerial Counterterrorism Task Force (IMCTF), formed in December 2004, and currently responsible for coordinating all State level institutions with counterterrorism responsibilities, directed two successful terrorism-related deportations in 2006. Despite these successes the Task Force’s operational effectiveness was generally hampered by insufficient coordination, such as infrequent communication and a lack of clear divisions of labour among the agencies’.

- Is also reported the work of the Citizenship Review Commission (CRC).(19)

- The only reported terrorist activity in B-H during 2006 is ‘the trial against the three individuals that were arrested in October 2005 and charged with terrorism, and two others charged with illegal possession of explosives. The charged people were supposedly preparing to attack unspecified European targets’.

- ‘The Bosnian organization Aktivna Islamnka Omladina (Active Islamic Youth, or AIO) spread extremist and anti-American rhetoric through its weekly print and on line publication SAFF Magazine.(20) There were indications that AIO conducted youth outreach in B-H during the year and maintained a presence in Western Europe’.(21)

According to this report, it is possible to assess that:

- B-H’s Law enforcements organizations cooperate on international counterterrorism. There are notable signs of increased local operational capability to combat terrorism.

- Bosnian authorities continue to strengthen existing counterterrorism mechanisms and develop new ones, although coordination among the different agencies has to be increased.

 

[The Conclusions and Footnotes will follow in Part Two]

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