The Bosnian connection

Published on July 7, 2007, Comment Is Free - The Guardian

Category: Islamic Terror in Kosovo

By Brendan O'Neill

Far from being radicalised by the failure of the west to act, large numbers of Muslims were radicalised by western intervention in the Balkans.

Brendan Simms is right to argue that today's Islamo-nihilism has its origins in the civil war in Bosnia. But he is way off the mark when he says it was the failure of the west, and in particular Britain, to intervene on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims that radicalised Muslims in Britain and elsewhere.

The exact opposite is the case: Muslims in Britain, America and across the Middle East were radicalised not by western sloth on Bosnia, but rather by the west's transformation of that dirty civil war into a simplistic battle between good and evil.

Simms is guilty of some sins of omission, too. He fails to mention, for example, that between 1,800 and 3,000 mujahideen fought in Bosnia on the side of the Bosnian Muslim army. These holy warriors came from the Middle East, north Africa and western Europe (notably France and the UK). And their path to holy war in Bosnia was facilitated by western intervention.

The mujahideen moved to Bosnia as part of a process of "Islamicisation" of the conflict, which took place under the watchful and approving eye of the Clinton administration. In 1993 and 1994, the Clintonites gave a green light to Iran, Saudi Arabia and various highly dubious radical Islamic charities to arm the Bosnian Muslims.

Despite having denounced Iran as "the worst sponsor of terrorism in the world", the Clinton administration told both Croat and Bosnian Muslim leaders that they should accept shipments of weapons, ammunition, anti-tank rockets, communications equipment and uniforms and helmets from Iran.

Washington also allowed "Islamic charities", which really were radical mujahideen-based organisations, to supply money and arms to the Bosnian Muslims. As the Washington Post reported in September 1996, US officials on the ground in Bosnia, who were motivated by "sympathy for the Muslim government and ambivalence about maintaining the arms embargo", instructed other western officials to "back off" and "not interfere" with these shipments from radical Islamists.

This US-supported supply line between the Middle East and Bosnia, through which both Iranian elements and radicals sent money and weapons, also encouraged mujahideen to make their way into the Balkans. Along with the flow of radical Islamist weaponry into Bosnia, there followed the movement of radical Islamist warriors.

Once inside Bosnia, the mujahideen fought with the Bosnian Muslim army, at a time when it was being supported politically and militarily by Washington. In 1994 and 1995, Washington surreptitiously supplied the Bosnian Muslim army with weapons and training, even though it had hundreds of mujahideen in its ranks. The mujahideen formed a battalion of holy warriors which was, according to Evan Kohlmann, directly answerable to then Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic.

In other words, America armed and trained a military machine that was using mujahideen as "shock troops". As the United Nations said in 1995, the period of America's secretive arming, the mujahideen were "directly dependent on [the Bosnian Muslim army] for supplies".

Perhaps most strikingly, many mujahideen were encouraged to venture to Bosnia by shrill media coverage of the conflict. Arab fighters say they first ventured to Bosnia because they "saw US media reports on rape camps" or read about the "genocide" in Bosnia and the "camps used by Serb soldiers systematically to rape thousands of Muslim women". Holy warriors seem to have been moved to action by some of the more hysterical and unsubstantiated coverage of the Bosnian war.

Far from being radicalised by the failure of the west to act, large numbers of Muslims were radicalised by western intervention in the Balkans. Their movement to Bosnia was facilitated by Washington's support for a military gateway between the Islamic world and Bosnia, and inside Bosnia they fought with a military outfit that Washington armed. They were also inspired to take up arms against the Serbs by western media depictions of the Serbs as sub-human savages who deserved "punishment". The mujahideen meted out such punishment, in the form of stabbings, beheadings and forced circumcisions, as well as ordinary warfare.

Many of the mujahideen who fought in Bosnia went on to become al-Qaida operatives. They learned their trade of simplistic moral fury and brutal violence on the battlefields of Bosnia, where they were enticed and inflamed to execute holy war against the Serbs by western meddling and western media coverage.

They were the armed wing of western liberal opinion, the shock troops for the western liberal prejudice of their age: Serb-baiting.


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