Al-Qaeda in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Al-Qaeda in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the al-Qaeda branch based in Bosnia and Herzegovina, formed during the Bosnian War in 1992. During the Bosnian War, the group contributed volunteers to the Bosnian mujahideen (called El Mudžahid), a volunteer detachment of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The group operated through the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SHC).


Al-Qaeda's operations in Bosnia started in 1993 and were led by Ayman al-Zawahiri.[1] At the onset of the Bosnian War, the then president Alija Izetbegović turned to the Islamic world for support in Bosnia's war efforts. Izetbegović was a strong advocate of Islamic rule and stated in 1970 that "the Islamic movement must and can take over political power as soon as it is morally and numerically so strong that it can not only destroy the existing non-Islamic power but also to build up a new Islamic one." The call for help to the Islamic world brought along with it arms, money and an influx of hundreds of foreign fighters, many of them mujahedin from Afghanistan who had fought against the Soviets.[2] Approximately 5,000 foreign fighters came to Bosnia, many of them coming from Pakistan after their government expelled former mujahedin fighters of the Afghan resistance. In addition to Afghan resistance fighters, many foreign volunteers came from Europe with Madrid, Spain, being a center for recruitment in Europe. Abu Dahdah recruited many fighters out of the Abu Bakr mosque.[3]

It was alleged that between 1993 and 1996, al-Qaeda-leader Osama bin Laden was thought to have visited camps in the country on a Bosnian passport.[4] According to the German magazine Der Spiegel, Osama bin Laden visited Bosnia in 1993 and met with Izetbegović. Al-Qaeda, through a Vienna-based charity linked to bin Laden (Third World Relief Agency), funneled millions of dollars in contributions to the Bosnians, trained mujahedin to go and fight in Bosnia, and maintained an office in neighboring Croatia's capital Zagreb.[5]


Foreign mujahedin fighters during the Bosnian war served in the El Mudžahid brigade.[6] The experience in Bosnia helped globalize a mujahedin mentality and according to one former al-Qaeda member, many talented leaders of al-Qaeda emerged from this conflict after they developed anti-Western and anti-globalization sentiment.[7][8]


After the war, al-Qaeda reestablished its connections in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the SHC charity organization. The organization was closely tied and financed by the Saudi government, for which reason an American judge declared it immune after the September 11 attacks in 2001, concluding that it's a body of the Saudi government. In 2002, the Ministry of Finance of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina conducted a raid in offices of the SHC and found documents that led them to believe that the SHC was "a front of radicals and terrorist related activities". The same year, an employer of the USAID William Jefferson was killed. One of the suspects was Ahmed Zuhair Handala, linked to the SHC.

In 1996, the National Security Agency (NSA) found out through wiretapping devices that prince Salman financed Islamist militants through charity organizations. A report of the CIA from the same year said that "the CIA has evidence that even high officials of charity organizations and supervisory boards in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan, such those of the Saudi High Commission, are participating in illicit activities, including support of terrorists."

Ronald Jacquard claims that majority of the SHC officials supported Osama bin Laden. Even though it participated in legitimate charity, the SHC used its charity character for sending illegal merchandise, drugs and weapons in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In May 1997, a French military report wrote that "the Saudi High Commission, under cover of the humanitarian aid, is helping a development of permanent islamisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina influencing the country's youth. A successful end of this plan would give Islamic fundamentalism a perfect position in Europe and gave cover to members of the Bin Laden's organization".

A terrorist attack occurred in Mostar in 1997, executed by Handala and his two associates, also linked to the SHC. They managed to escape, but Handala was arrested after the September 11 attacks and detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. At least two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, served in Bosnia.[9]

In late 2001, a raid was carried out by United States Special Forces on local SHC headquarters in Ilidža, a suburb of Sarajevo.[10] In the raid documents, including manuals on how to forge the United States Secretary of State office ID cards, as well as manuscripts and notes on meetings with Bin Laden were found. Other al-Qaeda fronts such as Vazir (successor of al-Haramain Foundation) and the Global Relief Fund were also shut down.[11]

A Bosnian raid on al-Haramain Foundation, an organisation reportedly tied to al-Gama'at Islamiya which worked closely with al-Qaeda, uncovered tapes calling for attacks on peacekeepers in Bosnia. The Bosnian police also raided the offices of Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), finding weapons, military manuals, a fake passport and photos of Bin Laden.[12][failed verification] The evidence uncovered by Bosnian authorities on BIF's office on March 19, 2002, led to the arrests of Munib Zahiragic, the head of its Bosnian chapter, and Enaam Arnaout.


  1. ^ Scott, Peter. "The US-Al Qaeda Alliance: Bosnia, Kosovo and Now Libya. Washington's On-Going Collusion with Terrorists" (PDF). Global Research. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  2. ^ Pena, Charles (2005). "Al Qaeda: The Balkans Connection". Mediterranean Quarterly. 16 (4): 65–76. doi:10.1215/10474552-16-4-65. S2CID 154570948.
  3. ^ de Roy van Zuijdewijn, Jeanine; Bakker, Edwin (2014). "Returning Western foreign fighters: The case of Afghanistan, Bosnia and Somalia" (PDF). International Centre for Counter Terrorism - the Hague.
  4. ^ Kurop, Marcia (November 2001). "Al Qaeda's Balkan Links" (PDF). No. The Wall Street Journal Europe. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  5. ^ Pena, Charles (2005). "Al Qaeda: The Balkans Connection". Mediterranean Quarterly. 16 (4): 65–76. doi:10.1215/10474552-16-4-65. S2CID 154570948.
  6. ^ PBS Newshour with Jim Jim Lehrer, A New Constitution for Bosnia, 22 November 2005 Archived 2 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "The spy who came in from al-Qaeda". BBC. 3 March 2015. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  8. ^ O'Neill, Brendan (2 August 2004). "The Bosnian connection". Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  9. ^ O'Neill, Brendan (2 August 2004). "The Bosnian connection". Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  10. ^ Niall Mulchinock (28 March 2017). NATO and the Western Balkans: From Neutral Spectator to Proactive Peacemaker. Springer. p. 163. ISBN 9781137597243.
  11. ^ Cofie D. Malbouisson (2007). Focus on Islamic Issues. Nova Science Publishers. p. 77. ISBN 9781600212048.
  12. ^ Lyubov Grigorova Mincheva; Ted Robert Gurr (3 January 2013). Crime-Terror Alliances and the State: Ethnonationalist and Islamist Challenges to Regional Security. Routledge. pp. 84, 85. ISBN 9781135132101.