SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Islamic militants with ties to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups have been crisscrossing the Balkans for more than 15 years, according to an intelligence report on their activities in Bosnia.
The analysis, compiled jointly by U.S. and Croatian intelligence and obtained by The Associated Press, said extremists financed in part with cash from drug smuggling were trying to infiltrate Western Europe from Afghanistan and points farther east via Turkey, Kosovo and Albania.
The report offers new evidence to support what authorities long have suspected: that terrorists have taken advantage of the Balkans’ porous borders to meet, train and possibly plot attacks elsewhere in Europe.
“Either they come here seeking logistical support, financial support or to contact certain individuals to get instructions, or to hide for a moment from those who are following them,” Dragan Lukac, deputy director of SIPA — Bosnia’s equivalent to the FBI — told the AP in an interview.
Thousands of Islamic fighters, or mujahedeen, came to Bosnia to fight on the Muslim side during the country’s 1992-95 war. But militants, including some with suspected ties to al-Qaida, were active in the region even before it dissolved into ethnic conflict, the intelligence report says.
They included Kamr Ad Din Khirbani, a member of Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, who moved to Zagreb, Croatia, in 1991 to set up a humanitarian aid organization at the direct request of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the report says.
It says Khirbani used the organization, Al-Kifah, “to infiltrate GIA members into Bosnia,” and contends that Iran and unidentified Arab countries bankrolled the operation through cash transfers. The GIA was behind a series of bombings that targeted the Paris subway system in 1995, killing eight people and wounding hundreds.
The report made no connection between those attacks and Khirbani, although it said he was sought by the CIA.
The Algerian connection is well known to Bosnian authorities: Bensayah Belkacem, one of six Algerian-born Bosnians detained by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, allegedly made several telephone calls to Abu Zubaydah, believed to be al-Qaida operations chief in Afghanistan and an aide to bin Laden.
However, NATO’s top commander in Bosnia, U.S. Brig. Gen. Louis Weber, says most Bosnian Muslims are moderate and secular, and the country’s terror threat is fairly low because “there isn’t a large community that would support that kind of activity here.”