Role of foreign fighters in the Bosnian War

The Bosnian War, which was fought between Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia, attracted large numbers of foreign fighters and mercenaries from various countries. Volunteers came to fight for a variety of reasons including religious or ethnic loyalties and in some cases for money. As a general rule, Bosniaks received support from Islamic countries, Serbs from the Eastern Orthodox countries and Croats from the Western Christianity. The presence of foreign fighters is well documented, however none of these groups comprised more than 5 per cent of any of the respective armies' total manpower strength.

Foreign fighters

For the Bosniaks

During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnia-Herzegovina received humanitarian aid from Islamic countries as well as from the West, because of intensive and widespread killing, mass rapes, death camps, ethnic cleansing committed by Serb and, to a lesser extent, Croat forces. The main targets were Bosnian Muslim civilians. The ICJ concluded that these crimes, committed during the 1992 -95 war, were "acts of genocide" and crimes against humanity according to the Genocide Convention. [ [ ICJ: Serbia found guilty of failure to prevent and punish genocide] ]

Following such , Arab volunteers came across Croatia into Bosnia to help the Bosnian Army protect the Bosnian Muslim civilian population. The number of the "El-Mudžahid" volunteers is still disputed, from around 300 [SENSE Tribunal:ICTY - WE FOUGHT WITH THE BH ARMY, BUT NOT UNDER ITS COMMAND [] ] cite web |url=|title=Predrag Matvejević analysis] to 1,500. [SENSE Tribunal:ICTY - WE FOUGHT WITH THE BH ARMY, BUT NOT UNDER ITS COMMAND [] ]

These caused particular controversy: foreign fighters, styling themselves "mujahiddin", turned up in Bosnia around 1993 with Croatian identity documents, passports and IDs. They quickly attracted heavy criticism, who considered their presence to be evidence of violent Islamic fundamentalism at the heart of Europe. However, the foreign volunteers became unpopular even with many of the Bosniak population, because the Bosnian army had thousands of troops and had no need for more soldiers, but for arms. Many Bosnian Army officers and intellectuals were suspicious regarding foreign volunteers arrival in central part of the country, because they came from Split and Zagreb in Croatia, and were passed through the self-proclaimed Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia without problems unlike Bosnian Army soldiers who were regularly arrested by Croat forces. According to general Stjepan Šiber, the highest ranking ethnic Croat in Bosnian Army, the key role in foreign volunteers arrival was played by Franjo Tuđman and Croatian counter-intelligence underground with the aim to justify involvment of Croatia in Bosnian War and mass crimes committed by Croat forces. Although Izetbegović regarded them as symbolically valuable as a sign of the Muslim world's support for Bosnia, they appear to have made little military difference and became a major political liability.cite web |url=|title=Predrag Matvejević analysis]

On August 13, 1993, the Bosnian Army decided to form a unit, "Kateebat al-Mujahideen" ("Battalion of the Holy Warriors") or "El Mudžahid" in order to impose control over the foreign fighters whose number increased. Initially, the foreign Mujahideen gave food and other basic necessities to the local Muslim population, deprived many necessities by the Serb forces. Once hostilities broke out between the Bosnian government (ABiH) and the Croat forces (HVO), the Mujahideen also participated in battles against the HVO alongside Bosnian Army units. [ [ ICTY] , Summary of the Judgmenet for Enver Hadzihasanovic and Amir Kubura, 15 March 2006]

According to the Arab fighters who testified as the prosecution witnesses at the trial of Bosnian general Rasim Delic indicted by ICTY on the basis of superior criminal responsibility, the El Mujahid Detachment was only formally part of the Bosnian Army chain of command. All decisions were taken by the "emir" and the "shura", the Mujahideen commander and the Mujahideen supreme council respectively. This was because the ‘Army couldn’t be trusted’. [ICTY: MUJAHIDEEN DIDN’T TRUST THE ARMY - [] ]

It is alleged that mujahideen participated in some incidents considered to be war crimes according to the international law. However no indictment was issued by the ICTY against them, but a few Bosnian Army officers were indicted on the basis of superior criminal responsibility. Amir Kubura and Enver Hadžihasanović were found not guilty on all counts related to the incidents involving mujahideen. Furthermore, the Appeals Chamber noted that the relationship between the 3rd Corps of the Bosnian Army headed by Hadžihasanović and the El Mujahedin detachment was not one of subordination but was instead close to overt hostility since the only way to control the detachment was to attack them as if they were a distinct enemy force. [ [ ICTY - APPEALS CHAMBER - Hadzihasanović and Kubura case] ]

During and after the war, Bosnia granted citizenship to at least 700 foreigners (mostly Muslims, but also Orthodox and other Christians) who fought in the war, of which 367 were revoked in 2007 as illegal. These included citizens from: Algeria, Egypt, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. [ [ Bosnia scrutinizes wartime citizenship : World ] ] [ [ Bosnia fighters face uncertain fate] , BBC News, 10 May 2007, accessed 13 May 2007]

The mujahideen units were disbanded and required to leave the Balkans under the terms of the 1995 Dayton peace accord. Although the US State Department report suggested that the number could be higher, a senior SFOR official said allied military intelligence estimated that no more than 200 foreign-born militants actually live in Bosnia. [ [ LA Times, Bosnia Seen as Hospitable Base and Sanctuary for Terrorists, 8 October 2001] ] [ [ BBC, Mujahideen fight Bosnia evictions, 18 July 2000] ]


According to the ICTY verdicts Serb propaganda was very active, constantly propagated false information about the foreign fighters in order to inflame anti-muslim hatred among Serbs. After the takeover of Prijedor by Serb forces in 1992, Radio Prijedor propagated Serb nationalistic ideas characterising prominent non-Serbs as criminals and extremists who should be punished for their behaviour. One example of such propaganda was the derogatory language used for referring to non-Serbs such as mujahedin, Ustasa or Green Berets, although at the time there were no foreign volunteers in BosniaFact|date=May 2008. According to ICTY conclusion in Stakić verdict Mile Mutić, the director of Kozarski Vjesnik and the journalist Rade Mutić regularly attended meetings of Serb politicians (local authorities) in order to get informed about next steps of spreading propaganda. cite web|url=|title=ICTY: Milomir Stakić judgement - The media|] cite web|url=|title=ICTY: Duško Tadić judgement - Greater Serbia|]

Another example of propaganda about "Islamic holy warriors" is presented in the ICTY "Kordić and Čerkez verdict" for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia leadership on Bosniak civilians. It claimed that Gornji Vakuf was attacked by Croatian Army (HV) and Croatian Defence Forces (HVO) in January 1993 followed by heavy shelling of the town by Croat artillery. During cease-fire negotiations at the Britbat HQ in Gornji Vakuf, colonel Andrić, representing the HVO, demanded that the Bosnian forces lay down their arms and accept HVO control of the town, threatening that if they did not agree he would flatten Gornji Vakuf to the ground. cite web|url=
title=ICTY: Kordić and Čerkez verdict - IV. Attacks on towns and villages: killings - 2. The Conflict in Gornji Vakuf|
] cite web|url=
title=SENSE Tribunal: Poziv na predaju|
] The HVO demands were not accepted by the Bosnian Army and the attack continued, followed by massacres on Bosnian Muslim civilians in the neighbouring villages of Bistrica, Uzričje, Duša, Ždrimci and Hrasnica.cite web|url=
title=SENSE Tribunal: Ko je počeo rat u Gornjem Vakufu|
] cite web|url=
title=SENSE Tribunal: "James Dean" u Gornjem Vakufu|
] The shelling campaign and the attackes during the war resulted in houndreds of injured and killed, mostly Bosnian Muslim civilians. Although Croats often cited it as a major reason for the attack on Gornji Vakuf in order to justify attacks and massacres on civilians, the commander of the British Britbat company claimed that there were no Muslim "holy worriors" in Gornji Vakuf and that his soldiers did not see any. cite web|url=
title=ICTY: Kordić and Čerkez verdict - IV. Attacks on towns and villages: killings - 2. The Conflict in Gornji Vakuf|

For the Croats

The Croats received support from Croatia and the Croatian Army fought with the local HVO forces. Some radical Western fighters including British volunteers as well as numerous individuals from the cultural area of Western Christianity fought as volunteers. Dutch, American, British, Polish, French, Swedish, German, and Canadian volunteers were organized into the Croatian 103rd (International) Infantry Brigade. There was also a special Italian unit, the Garibaldi battalion.

Neo-Nazi volunteers from Germany and Austria were apparently also present, fighting for the Croatian Defence Forces (HOS) paramilitary group. ['Germany's secret Balkans plan', "Searchlight", July 1992] [Eric Geiger, 'Neo-Nazis help Croatians in Bosnia', "San Francisco Chronicle", 5 April 1994, p. 1] This illegal armed group was organized by the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP), a right-wing party, and was disbanded by the legal Croatian authorities in late 1992. HSP's leader, Dobroslav Paraga was later charged with treason by the Croatian authorities.

Swedish Neo-Nazi Jackie Arklöv fought in Bosnia and was later charged with war crimes upon his return to Sweden. Later he confessed he committed war crimes on Bosniak civilians in Croatian camps Heliodrom and Dretelj as a member of Croat forces. [Nacional: Šveđanin priznao krivnju za ratne zločine u BiH [] ]

For the Serbs

The Serbs received support from radical Christian fighters from countries including the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Russia. Some reports claim 4000 mercenaries from Russia, the Ukraine, Romania and Greece fought for Bosnian Serbs. "Srebrenica - a 'safe' area:Reconstruction, background, consequences and analyses of the fall of a Safe Area"; [ Appendix II, Chapter 4, Section 5] ]

Two primary Russian fighting units were the "Tsarist Wolves" and the Cossacks. At least 700 Russians fought in these units, mainly in eastern Bosnia, near Višegrad. [ [ Pravda article about Russian volunteers] ] In May 1995, Serb Herzegovina Corps intended to organize an international brigade in eastern Bosnia which gathered only 150 members, mostly ex-Russian veteran soldiers fighting for 200 German marks monthly. Ali M. Koknar: "The Kontraktniki: Russian mercenaries at war in the Balkans" (see link: [ Article summary on Bosnian Institute] )] In April 1995, the commander of the Russian contingent in UNPROFOR Sector East in Croatia, Russian General Pereljakin, who had been replaced for dereliction of duty, was appointed as adviser to the commander of a Serb division in the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska Krajina in Croatia.

Greek volunteers are also reported to have taken part in the Srebrenica Massacre, with the Greek flag being hoisted in Srebrenica when the town fell to the Serbs. [Helena Smith, [,,868869,00.html Greece faces shame of role in Serb massacre] , "The Observer", 5 January 2003, accessed 25 November 2006] The Greeks were organized in March as the "Greek Volunteer Guard" (GVG) and had around 100 soldiers. Some Greek volunteers were members of a Greek Neo-Nazi party Chrysi Avyi,The Golden Dawn.

Other foreign fighters were not numerous enough to form independent units, but included nationals from Ukraine and other countries of the former USSR like Armenia, as well as Romania and Bulgaria.Fact|date=April 2007

External links

* [ Croatian Forces International Volunteers Association]


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