Chris Stephen in Tirana
ALBANIAN authorities working with the Central Intelligence Agency claim to have uncovered a terrorist network operated by Osama Bin Laden, the Islamic fundamentalist accused of masterminding the African embassy bombings last August. The network is said to have been set up to use Albania, a Muslim country, as a springboard for operations in Europe. Fatos Klosi, the head of Shik, the Albanian intelligence service, said last week that Bin Laden had visited Albania himself. His was one of several fundamentalist groups that had sent units to fight in Kosovo, the neighbouring Muslim province of Serbia, Klosi said. "Egyptians, Saudi Arabians, Algerians, Tunisians, Sudanese and Kuwaitis - they come from several different organisations." Klosi said he believed terrorists had already infiltrated other parts of Europe from bases in Albania through a traffic in illegal migrants, who have been smuggled by speedboat across the Mediterranean to Italy in huge numbers. Interpol believes more than 100,000 blank Albanian passports were stolen in riots last year, providing ample opportunity for terrorists to acquire false papers. Apparent confirmation of Bin Laden's activities came earlier this month when Claude Kader, 27, a French national and self-confessed member of Bin Laden's Albanian network, was jailed for the murder of a local trans lator. He claimed during his trial that he had visited Albania to recruit and arm fighters for Kosovo, and that four of his associates were still at large. Bin Laden is believed to have established an operation in Albania in 1994 after telling the government that he was head of a wealthy Saudi humanitarian agency keen to help Europe's poorest nation. "Terrorist organisations have taken advantage of peaceful Islamic charity and religious groups," Klosi said. Albanian sources say Sali Berisha, who was then president, had links with some groups that later proved to be extreme fundamentalists. The Socialist party, which took over after Berisha's government was driven out by country wide rioting, has since co- operated closely with American officials. American raids on Bin Laden's men in Albania have failed to halt their operations entirely, however. The Americans have withdrawn non- essential staff from the country and fortified their embassy, fearing it may be attacked.