Bosnian mujahideen

Bosnian mujahideen[1] were foreign Muslim volunteers who fought on the side of Bosnian Muslims during the 1992–1995 Bosnian war. They arrived in Bosnia with the aim of fighting for Islam and on behalf of Muslims who were at the time brutally attacked by Serbs and Croats in different parts of the country.[2]

Some of them were originally humanitarian workers[3] (such as Abu Hamza,[4] one of the leaders), while some of them were considered criminals in their home countries for illegally travelling to Bosnia and becoming soldiers. The number of volunteers is still disputed,[5] from around 300[6][7] to 4,000.[8] According to the Radio Free Europe research there are no precise statistics dealing with the number of foreign volunteers, but the number of passport or other official document requests towards Bosnian institution by foreign volunteers, can serve as a rough approximation. According to that approximation there were 400 foreign volunteers during the Bosnian War.[9]

The war gave sudden and unexpected credence to the calls of violent radicals who suggested it was time for Muslims to start taking their personal security into their own hands. Dr. Zaki Badawi, the principal (at that time) of the Muslim College in London, believed in early 1992, "Bosnia has shaken public opinion throughout the Muslim world more deeply than anything since the creation of Israel in 1948."


Bosnian War

Foreign mujahideen arrived in central Bosnia in the second half of 1992[2] with the aim of helping their Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) coreligionists to defend themselves from the Serb and Croat forces. Mostly they came from North Africa, the Near East and the Middle East. On 13 August 1993, the Bosnian government officially organized foreign volunteers into the detachment known as El Mudžahid in order to impose control and order.[2] 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 and the Croat forces (HVO), the mujahideen also participated in battles against the HVO alongside ARBiH units.[2]

The foreign mujahideen actively recruited young local men, offering them military training, uniforms and weapons. As a result, some local Bosniaks joined the foreign mujahideen and in the process became local mujahideen.[2] They imitated the foreigners in both the way they dressed and behaved, to such an extent that it was sometimes, according to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) documentation in subsequent war crimes trials, "difficult to distinguish between the two groups". For that reason, the ICTY has used the term "Mujahideen" (which they spell Mujahedin) to designate foreigners from Arab countries, but also local Muslims (i.e. Bosniaks) who joined the mujahideen units.[10]

They quickly attracted heavy criticism from people who claimed their presence was evidence of violent Islamic fundamentalism in Europe. 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 (especially controversial ones who could undermine their reputation as a defending army), but for arms. Many Bosnian Army officers and intellectuals were suspicious regarding foreign volunteers arrival in the 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.

The first mujahideen training camp was located in Poljanice next to the village of Mehurici, in the Bila valley, Travnik municipality. The mujahideen group established there included mujahideen from Arab countries as well as some Bosniaks. The mujahideen from Poljanice camp were also established in the towns of Zenica and Travnik and, from the second half of 1993 onwards, in the village of Orasac, also located in the Bila valley.[2][11]

The military effectiveness of the mujahideen is disputed. However, former U.S. Balkans peace negotiator Richard Holbrooke said in an interview that he thought "the Muslims wouldn't have survived without this" help, as at the time a U.N. arms embargo diminished the Bosnian government's fighting capabilities. In 2001, Holbrooke called the arrival of the mujahideen "a pact with the devil" from which Bosnia still is recovering.[12] On the other hand, according to general Stjepan Šiber, the highest ranking ethnic Croat in Bosnian Army, the key role in foreign volunteers arrival was played by Tuđman and Croatian counter-intelligence with the aim to justify the involvement of Croatia in the Bosnian War and the crimes committed by Croat forces. Although the Bosnian President Alija 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.[7]

Relationship to the Bosnian government army

Although it is alleged that there were a number of mujahideen units in the Bosnian government army (mostly by Serb and Croat propaganda as well some anti-Muslim Western authors and media outlets),[13] the ICTY found that there was just one battalion-sized unit called El Mudžahid (El Mujahid). It was established on 13 August 1993, by the Bosnian Army, which decided to form a unit of foreign fighters in order to impose control over them as the number of the foreign volunteers started to increase.[14]

The question whether the mujahideen were controlled by the Bosnian government is contentious. According to the ICTY indictment of Rasim Delić, Commander of Main Staff of the Bosnian army (ARBiH), after the formation of the 7th Muslim Brigade on 19 November 1992, the El Mudžahid were subordinated within its structure. According to a UN communiqué of 1995, the El Mudžahid battalion was "directly dependent on Bosnian staff for supplies" and for "directions" during combat with the Serb forces.[15] The issue has formed part of two ICTY war crimes trials against two former senior officials in the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the basis of superior criminal responsibility. In its Trial Chamber judgment in the case of ICTY v. Enver Hadžihasanović, commander of the ARBiH 3rd Corps (who was later made part of the joint command of the ARBiH and was the Chief of the Supreme Command Staff), and Amir Kubura, commander of the 7th Muslim Brigade of the 3rd Corps of the ARBiH, the Trial Chamber found that

"the foreign Mujahedin established at Poljanice camp were not officially part of the 3rd Corps or the 7th Brigade of the ARBiH. Accordingly, the Prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the foreign Mujahedin officially joined the ARBiH and that they were de jure subordinated to the Accused Enver Hadzihasanovic and Amir Kubura.[2]

It also found that

"there are significant indicia of a subordinate relationship between the Mujahedin and the Accused prior to August 13, 1993. Testimony heard by the Trial Chamber and, in the main, documents tendered into evidence demonstrate that the ARBiH maintained a close relationship with the foreign Mujahedin as soon as these arrived in central Bosnia in 1992. Joint combat operations are one illustration of that. In Karaula and Visoko in 1992, at Mount Zmajevac around mid-April 1993 and in the Bila valley in June 1993, the Mujahedin fought alongside ARBiH units against Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat forces."[2]

However, the ICTY Appeals Chamber in April 2008 concluded that the relationship between the 3rd Corps of the Bosnian Army headed by Hadžihasanović and the El Mudžahid 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.[14]


Although Serb and Croat media created much controversy about alleged war crimes committed by the squad, no indictment was issued by International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia against any of these foreign volunteers. The only foreign person convicted of war crimes was Swedish neo-Nazi Jackie Arklov, who fought in the Croatian army (first convicted by a Bosnian court, later by a Swedish court). According to the ICTY verdicts, Serb propaganda was very active, constantly propagating 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. 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 Bosnia. According to ICTY conclusion in Milomir Stakić's case verdict, Mile Mutić, the director of the local paper 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.[16][17]

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. Gornji Vakuf was attacked by Croatian Defence Council (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.[18][19] 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.[20][21] The shelling campaign and the attacks during the war resulted in hundreds 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 UN Britbat company claimed that there were no Muslim "holy warriors" in Gornji Vakuf and that his soldiers did not see any.[18]

According to Predrag Matvejević, a notable Italian and Croatian modern prosaist who analyzed the situation, the number of Arab volunteers who came to help the Bosnian Muslims, "was much smaller than the number presented by Serb and Croat propaganda".[7]

After the war

Citizenship controversy

The foreign mujahideen were required to leave the Balkans under the terms of the 1995 Dayton Agreement, but many stayed. Although the U.S. 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 lived in Bosnia in 2001, of which closer to 30 represent a hard-core group with direct or indirect links to terrorism.[22][23]

In September 2007, 50 of these individuals had their citizenship status revoked. Since then 100 more individuals have been prevented from claiming citizenship rights. 250 more were under investigation, while the body which is charged to reconsider the citizenship status of the foreign volunteers in the Bosnian War, including Christian fighters from Russia and Western Europe, states that 1,500 cases will eventually be examined.

War crimes trials

It is alleged that mujahideen participated in a few 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 command responsibility.

Both Amir Kubura and Enver Hadžihasanović (the indicted Bosnian Army officers) were found not guilty on all counts related to the incidents involving mujahideen.[14] The judgments in the cases of Hadžihasanović and Kabura concerned a number of events involving mujahideen. On June 8, 1993, Bosnian Army attacked Croat forces in the area of Maline village as a reaction to the massacres committed by Croats in nearby villages of Velika Bukovica and Bandol on June 4. After the village of Maline was taken, a military police unit of the 306th Brigade of Bosnian Army arrived in Maline. These policemen were to evacuate and protect the civilians in the villages taken by the Bosnian Army. The wounded were left on-site and around 200 people, including civilians and Croat soldiers, were taken by the police officers towards Mehurici. The commander of the 306th Brigade authorised the wounded be put onto a truck and transported to Mehurici. Suddenly, a number of mujahideen stormed the village of Maline. Even though the commander of the Bosnian Army 306th Brigade forbade them to approach, they did not submit. The 200 villagers who were being escorted to Mehurici by the 306th Brigade military police were intercepted by the mujahideen in Poljanice. They took 20 military-aged Croats and a young woman wearing a Red Cross armband. The prisoners were taken to Bikoci, between Maline and Mehurici. 23 Croatian soldiers and the woman were executed in Bikoci while they were being held prisoner.[24]

The ICTY indictment of Rasim Delić, also treats incidents related to mujahideen during the summer of 1995, such as the murder of two Serb soldiers on 21 July 1995 as part of Operation Miracle, the murder of a Serb POW at the Kamenica prison camp on 24 July 1995, and events related to 60 Serb soldiers captured during the Vozuća battle that are missing and presumed to have been killed by foreign volunteers.[25]

Terrorist links

Following the end of the Bosnian War and, especially, after the 11 September attacks (committed by a group of 19 al-Qaeda agents that included two Saudi Bosnian War veterans), the links between the mujahideen, al-Qaeda and the radicalization of some European Muslims has become more widely discussed.

In an interview with U.S. journalist Jim Lehrer, Holbrooke stated:

There were over 1,000 people in the country who belonged to what we then called Mujahideen freedom fighters. We now know that that was al-Qaida. I'd never heard the word before, but we knew who they were. And if you look at the 9/11 hijackers, several of those hijackers were trained or fought in Bosnia. We cleaned them out, and they had to move much further east into Afghanistan. So if it hadn't been for Dayton, we would have been fighting the terrorists deep in the ravines and caves of Central Bosnia in the heart of Europe.[26]

Evan F. Kohlmann wrote:

Some of the most important factors behind the contemporary radicalization of European Muslim youth can be found in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the cream of the Arab mujahideen from Afghanistan tested their battle skills in the post-Soviet era and mobilized a new generation of pan-Islamic revolutionaries.

He also notes that Serbian and Croatian sources about the subject are "pure propaganda" based on their historical hatred for Bosniaks "as Muslim aliens in the heart of Christian lands".[27]

Some authors suggested that the United States fully supported Muslim militants including current and former top al-Qaeda members.[28]

According to the Radio Free Europe research "Al-Qaeda In Bosnia-Herzegovina: Myth Or Present Danger", Bosnia is no more related to the potential terrorism than any other European country.[27]

Juan Carlos Antúnez in his comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon of "Wahhabism" in Bosnia, written in 2007 has noted that:

Different articles appearing in local and international mass media have commented about the role of Bosnia-Herzegovina 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 Bosnia-Herzegovina 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.[29]

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ Also spelt Mujahedin in some articles
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h ICTY: Summary of the judgement for Enver Hadžihasanović and Amir Kubura - [1]
  4. ^ Veterans - Siege of Sarajevo (Part II)
  5. ^ BBC - Analysis: Bosnian stability at stake
  7. ^ a b c "Predrag Matvejević analysis". 
  8. ^ Bosnia Seen as Hospitable Base and Sanctuary for Terrorists
  9. ^ "Vlado Azinović: Al-Kai'da u Bosni i Hercegovini - mit ili stvarna opasnost?". Radio Free Europe. "Nema jednog čistog izvora iz kojeg bismo mogli izvoditi takve zaključke. Ne postoji nikakva centralna evidencija. Ono do čega sam ja došao je brojka od nekih 400 osoba koje su različitim kanalima komunicirale sa lokalnim vlastima, tražeći, naprimjer, ovjeru svojih pasoša i drugih ličnih dokumenata. Dakle, to bi bio jedan od mogućih kriterija. Drugi od mogućih kriterija jeste spisak vojne jedinice El Mudžahid. Međutim, i ta vrsta evidencije je nepouzdana, jer većina tih osoba nije ni vojnim ni civilnim vlastima otkrivala svoj pravi identitet. Tako da ne znamo ni koliko ih je bilo, ni ko je sve ovdje bio," ističe Hećimović." (Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian)" 
  10. ^ ICTY, Summary of the Judgmenet for Enver Hadzihasanovic and Amir Kubura, 15 March 2006. See section "VI. The Mujahedin"
  11. ^ Spero News, Bosnia: Muslims upset by Wahhabi leaders, Adrian Morgan, 13 November 2006
  12. ^ LA Times, Bosnia Seen as Hospitable Base and Sanctuary for Terrorists, 8 October 2001
  13. ^ Some Call It Peace: Waiting for the War In the Balkans by Yossef Bodansky, 1996. Part 1, Chapter 3
  14. ^ a b c ICTY - APPEALS CHAMBER - Hadzihasanović and Kubura case
  15. ^ The American Conservative, The Bosnian Connection, by Brendan O’Neill, 16 July 2007
  16. ^ "ICTY: Milomir Stakić judgement - The media". 
  17. ^ "ICTY: Duško Tadić judgement - Greater Serbia". 
  18. ^ a b "ICTY: Kordić and Čerkez verdict - IV. Attacks on towns and villages: killings - 2. The Conflict in Gornji Vakuf". 
  19. ^ "SENSE Tribunal: Poziv na predaju". 
  20. ^ "SENSE Tribunal: Ko je počeo rat u Gornjem Vakufu". 
  21. ^ "SENSE Tribunal: "James Dean" u Gornjem Vakufu". 
  22. ^ LA Times, Bosnia Seen as Hospitable Base and Sanctuary for Terrorists, 8 October 2001
  23. ^ BBC, Mujahideen fight Bosnia evictions, 18 July 2000
  24. ^ Judgement Summary - Kubura and Hadzihasanovic
  25. ^ ICTY indictment against Rasim Delic
  26. ^ PBS Newshour with Jim Jim Lehrer, A New Constitution for Bosnia, 22 November 2005
  27. ^ a b RFE - Al-Qaeda In Bosnia-Herzegovina: Myth Or Present Danger - Chapter: Myth Or Present Danger? [3]
  28. ^ The American Monitor, Scratching the Surface, by Devlin Buckley, 16 November 2006
  29. ^ Wahhabism in Bosnia-Herzegovina - Part One, Author: Juan Carlos Antúnez - 5. Wahhabi links to international terrorism [4]

Further reading

  • Radio Free Europe - Al-Qaeda In Bosnia-Herzegovina: Myth Or Present Danger, Vlado Azinovic's research about the alleged presence of Al-Qaeda in Bosnia and the role of Arab fighters in the Bosnian War
  • The Afghan-Bosnian Mujahideen Network in Europe, by, Evan F. Kohlmann. The paper was presented at a conference held by the Swedish National Defence College's Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies (CATS) in Stockholm in May 2006 at the request of Dr. Magnus Ranstorp - former director of the St. Andrews University Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence - and now Chief Scientist at CATS). It is also the title of a book by the same author.

External links

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