SARAJEVO, Bosnia – The raid netted explosives, rifles, other arms and a videotape pledging vengeance for the “brothers” killed fighting Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq. Police found the cache in an apartment occupied by an underground group that was aiming to blow up the British Embassy in Sarajevo, Western intelligence officials said.
The Oct. 19 bust in Sarajevo confirmed a suspicion among several intelligence agents that Bosnia and other parts of the Balkans are becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks in Europe.
In particular, Islamic radicals are looking to create cells of so-called white al-Qaida, non-Arab members who can evade racial profiling used by police forces to watch for potential terrorists. “They want to look European to carry out operations in Europe,” said a Western intelligence agent in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and Montenegro, which is adjacent to Bosnia. “It’s yet another evolution in the tools used by terrorists.”
Parts of the Balkans, stuck in lawless limbo after years of war in the 1990s, are ripe recruitment territory for Middle East radicals, intelligence officials say. Bosnia is still divided among Muslim, Croat and Serb population areas, even if it is nominally united under the 10-year-old Dayton peace agreement that ended ethnic warfare.
Muslim enclaves in Serbia are restive, and Muslim-majority Kosovo remains an estranged province campaigning for independence six years after NATO bombing forced out Serb-dominated Yugoslav troops.
During the three-sided war in Bosnia, hundreds of fighters from Arab and other Middle Eastern countries flocked to Bosnia to fight on behalf of the Muslim faction against Croats and Serbs. Many of the foreign mujaheddin, or holy warriors, were expelled after the war, according to the Bosnian government, but others remained and received passports.
Today, parts of Bosnia framed by the cities of Zenica, Tuzla, Sarajevo and Travnik are home to these immigrants and compose the core regions for Islamic militancy, Bosnian police and Western intelligence officials say.
On Nov. 24, Bosnian police arrested another suspect in the town of Hadzici, near Sarajevo. The police found about 20 pounds of explosives hidden in woods near his home. The man, whose name has not been made public, is suspected of being in charge of providing explosives to the rest of group.