By F. Michael Maloof
Iran has been successful in supporting and extending its Shiite influence in Iraq and, most recently, in Lebanon. Now, the "Land of the Aryans" as the name Iran means has embarked on spreading its brand of Islamic radicalism into another region that threatens all of Europe: The Balkans. In the mid-1990s, Iran quietly began supporting the mujahadeen along side Osama bin Laden and Hezbollah in Bosnia. They succeeded in providing needed arms, financial support and other logistics to the Muslim militants fighting against the Serbs.
Iran and bin Laden then provided support to the Kosovo Liberation Army, which the Clinton administration also supported. Today, Iran has successfully established a strong foothold in the Serbian-controlled region of Kosovo, a Muslim enclave. There even is talk that Kosovo could become independent, a development which is meeting strong Serb resistance.
Serbia's pro-Western President, Boris Tadic, in early September 2006 visited the United States to take up this issue. Relations between the United States and Belgrade, however, remain strained due to former Bosnian-Serb president Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, his military chief, remaining at large. Both have been indicted for war crimes. Along with Bosnia, Islamic extremists in an independent Kosovo could create a base from which all of Europe could be threatened. Concern at this level was last realized when the Muslims unsuccessfully sought to sack Vienna, Austria, on September 11, 1683, the so-called first 9-11. Following this unsuccessful effort, the Muslims were forcibly pushed back into the area which today constitutes the Balkan countries. This threat of Kosovo becoming a radical Islamic base to attack the rest of Europe also is apparent to one observer who recently was in Kosovo. One activist trying to prevent Kosovo from falling into the hands of Muslim war lords told G2B: "Unfortunately, there are some in Congress who would like to see this -- even if it means creating another rogue terrorist state in the heart of the Balkans." He reported seeing a Saudi flag flying over a mosque alongside an Albanian flag. He also claims there is an Osama bin Laden mosque on Serbian soil. The spread of Iranian influence into the Balkans throughout the last decade in fact has received extensive U.S. assistance. This assistance was in the form of intelligence and logistical support which also went to Iranian and al-Qaida-backed militants. This development may have blinded U.S. policymakers to the threats of Jihad, or Holy War, that came from al-Qaida leader Usama bin Laden as early as 1998.
U.S. support for the Muslims in Bosnia also came from the person who is the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael V. Hayden. At the time, he was director of the U.S. European Command Intelligence Directorate, based in Stuttgart, Germany. According to a Dutch government report, Hayden "had access to virtually all intelligence" from the United States, United Nations and NATO. As a result, Hayden used his intelligence unit to allow so-called "black flights" of arms to Muslim forces during the Bosnian campaign in 1995. General Hayden was aware that these arms were assisting many of the foreign mujahadeen, which also were receiving support from Iran and bin Laden. According to a Dutch intelligence report at the time, the shipments included "weapons, ammunition, uniforms, helmets, new anti-tank weapons and Stingers." These arms were said to have been dropped in Tuzla, shipped by land or air into Bosnia for the Bosnian Muslim army which included the al-Qaida-linked mujahadeen. After becoming the head of the National Security Agency in March 1999, Hayden then refused to clear the use of intelligence to halt continuing illegal shipments of arms to mujahadeen militants in the Balkans. Often, these arms were brought in discreetly by Muslim countries that were part of the United Nations peacekeeping forces sent in to prevent further violence. The arms then would go through Albania which had become a launch pad for Kosovo. The Clinton administration followed up by providing strong support to the KLA, even though it was known that the KLA supported the Muslim mujahadeen. Despite that knowledge, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had the KLA removed from the State Department list of terrorists. This action paved the way for the United States to provide the KLA with needed logistical support. At the same time, the KLA also received support from Iran and Usama bin Laden, along with "Islamic holy warriors" who were jihad veterans from Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan. Swiss journalist Richard Labeviere, in his book, "Dollars for Terror," said that the international Islamic networks linked to bin Laden received help from U.S. intelligence community. Indeed, Chechen sources claim that U.S. intelligence also aided them in their opposition to Russia. Given that U.S. policy in the post-Cold War period has not only been anti-Russian but anti-Iranian, the United States worked closely with Pakistan's predominantly Sunni Inter-Services Intelligence organization. Through ISI, the United States recruited Sunni mujahadeen by staging them in Chechnya to fight in Bosnia and later in Kosovo. The ISI also was instrumental in the creation of Afghanistan's Taliban which gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and had strong ties to al-Qaida itself.
Iran and Saudi Arabia which supports many of the existing Islamic militant charities view Kosovo as pitting Islam against Christianity. Reuven Paz of Haifa University in Israel and a leading expert on radical Islamic movements said that "all of the Sunni Muslim groups as well as Iran" see Kosovo as a symbol. "As Europe tries to unite, there could be a lot more unity between the Muslims on the margins of Europe," Paz said. "There is potential that this unity could be used in a hostile way." Western officials saw the goal of the now disbanded KLA as severing Kosovo from the rest of Yugoslavia and merging it with Albania. They also saw that an Islamic Kosovo could become a bridge for an Iranian sphere of influence. It would extend from Albania to Bosnia and Macedonia which also has a significant Muslim population. The Clinton administration approach was to create an independent Muslim Kosovo. A March 22, 1998, Times of London story reported that bin Laden and Iran's Revolutionary Guards had signed a pact on Feb. 16, 1998, in Tehran consolidating their operations in Albania and Kosovo. The intention was "to turn the region into their main base for Islamic armed action in Europe." It now appears that the Bush administration is continuing the Clinton administration's approach of creating an independent Muslim Kosovo state. Following his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials in early September 2006, Serbian President Boris Tadic stated that there was an overall opinion that Kosovo should receive some kind of independence. If that turns out to be the case, the specter of an independent but Iranian-dominated Kosovo may not be far off. F. Michael Maloof is a former senior security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense."