The folowing research is a review around the theme of Southeastern European organized crime, mainly in the period 1995-2007, highlighting the emergence of powerful regional “Mafias” with an actual global presence.
The main focus is the Albanian criminal syndicates centered on Kosovo. The research is composed by previous material of the writer, some of which was presented in international workshops. Moreover the issue of radical Islam is being overviewed in a second part,for the same period, along with information regarding the state of affairs of the Muslim communities in the region.
Narcotics and the emergence of crime syndicates in the Balkans
The main threat to the Balkans nowadays, is the existence of well organized criminal groups that to an extent are an integral part of the world wide “Crime Syndicates” that for the most part control the narcotics trade in our époque. The infamous Balkan drugs route is the main path by which narcotics and specifically heroin; are smuggled to European countries. It is actually a network of contrabands, corrupted public officials and war lords that make sure that the heroin produced in Afghanistan is smoothly transferred to the European addicts.
According to the Council of Foreign affairs, Afghanistan has almost tripled its heroin production and in 2005 32,000 acres were reserved for poppy cultivation, out of 12,000 acres in 2004. This fact shows first of all failure by the NATO Forces in that country to create the necessary framework for the reconstruction process. As far as the ramifications for the Balkans are concerned, the increased profits by criminal gangs have boasted them with tremendous riches and political influence.
There are mainly two organized ethnic groups that deal most of the arrangements concerning the organized crime in the Balkans. The so-called Albanian mafia and the Turkish crime syndicates. The Albanian organized crime is very active since the collapse of the Communist rule in this country that opened the way for various indigenous gangs to spread their wings further and take part in one of the most profitable commerce of all times, namely drugs. A leading French criminologist Xavier Raufer has extensively dealt with the issue of the Albanian mafia. He considers the Albanians as the only true “Mafia” in the Balkans due to the peculiar social structure of their society in the Northern parts of the country “The land of the Genghis”.
An isolated society with very firm beliefs in issues of honor and manhood pride coupled with severe social problems and a culture of vendetta; has been transformed into a huge international crime network. Various reports indicate that roughly 70-80% of the heroin distributed in European is under Albanian control, a really impressive percentage for a nation of just 6 million people. Moreover in the Balkan route –In reality three distinct routes-, the Albanian mafia plays a vital role in safeguarding the interests of the world drugs trade by having its “Soldiers” and “Capos” along the way and protecting shipments from police and official interruption.
Furthermore Albania as a country is a major producer of Cannabis, which is mainly exported to neighboring Greece and Italy. The narcotic traded is placed along the trafficking and illegal immigrant smuggling operations that have seen the Albanians gaining the fame as the most powerful and dangerous criminal group in South Eastern Europe. In Greece alone the revenues from prostitution run at around 7.5 billion USD, a large portion of that being controlled by Albanian criminal groups. Trafficking of women from Albania is one of the main ways to establish a “War chest” for the organized crime, in order to invest its wealth in the drugs trade.
In essence the first stage for every respectable organized crime unit, is to establish a prostitution ring, make easily large amounts of cash, and then invest them for the drugs trade by constructing the expensive logistics bases, fake companies, pay corrupted officials and so on. Therefore when looking into the different aspects of organized criminal activity, one should note that all forms of that activity are interconnected and that each one leads to the other. That actually is one of the differences of organized crime from the other forms of criminality.
Back to the activities of the Albanian criminal groups, the recent history illustrates the existence of a hybrid criminal form, meaning the interconnection between criminal activities and terrorism. The Albanian groups that are mostly active in the North of the country have been associated with the preparations of the U.C.K guerilla forces in the late 90’s, as well as, with their arming and training. The troubling 90’s in South Eastern Europe saw the convergence of the drugs trade along with the formation of radical Islamic groups and the pervasion of corruption in the upper echelons on the countries involved. In the Albanian case the past decade it is assumed that the country is facing a virtual take over of its institution by the organized crime that in its turn has been linked with international terrorism, with Al Qaeda withstanding.
The main role of the Albanian Mafia in the narcotics trade is the one of wholesale distributor of Afghan heroine. Along the Balkan route and especially the one passing through Southern Bulgaria, FYROM; the Albanians import heroin and then dispense it to Italy, or Bosnia- Croatia to Austria and Central Europe. After 1999 and the consequent Albanian dominance in Kosovo, Pristina has become the unquestionable narcotics capital of Europe. A traditionally provisional city in the midst of the Balkans is nowadays the epicenter of all drugs deal of an area encompassing Central Europe, Balkans, and Middle East.
The lack of law coupled with the existence of a society reluctant to pursue organized crime, has created a “black hole” in the centre of the Balkans that primarily lives on criminal activities and the remittances of the Kosovo-Albanian Diaspora. The latter is strategically located in countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Denmark and dominates the European heroin trade. Despite the fact that Albanians are relatively newcomers to the European organized crime scene-Like the old-timers Sicilians, Corsicans – they have already taken over the entire European heroin market and make large advances in the sectors of trafficking, racketeering, arms smuggling and illegal gambling.
The infamous Albanian mafia is a formidable criminal network, but the existence of another one, influential as well, should be added in order to examine the whole spectrum of drugs trade in the Balkans. The Turkish crime syndicates are the undisputable partner of the Albanians. It would not be possible for the Albanians to become distributors in the first place if the weren’t able to acquire their goods from the East, and that is where the role of the Turks begins.
Turkey is a country strategically located between the East and the West. Apart from its importance in political and military level, it is also an integral part of the international narcotics smuggling. It would just be very hard for heroin to travel from Central Asia to Europe without being able to trespass Turkey, the only Asian country bordering with Europe. Turkey is a state traditionally producing Opium, for pharmaceutical purposes. In the early 70’s international pressure –Mostly from Nixon administration in the USA- obliged Turkey to enforce stricter rules for Opium production in 1974. Up until then heroin was produced in Turkey as an Opium derivative and quantities were sold to the West with the assistance of the Sicilian and Corsican mafias.
The heroin to be sold was transported with ships to Sicily, and then to Marseilles were the Corsicans had created labs for the fabrication of the commercial product. From then onwards it was transferred to New York and other USA ports where the American-Italian mafia would assure its allocation in the end-users, the heroin addicts. The forceful USA administration at that time declared a war against narcotics and obliged the Turks to seek other sources of the lucrative opium. Soon enough Turkish operational production bases were established in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. The war in the former during the 80’s, as well as, the resurge of the Kurdish guerilla fighting after 1984 and the Iraq-Iranian war the same period; created a convergence of political, criminal and military operations based in heroin trade.
Events such as the Iran-Contra scandal illuminate how far the heroin trade has penetrated the higher echelons of the world’s decision-making process and how it interacts with the international affairs. Moreover the effective destruction of Beirut during the 80’s collapsed the cities ubiquitous reputation as the prime port for narcotics trade and this role was overtaken by Istanbul. The situation after the end of the Cold War in 1989, found the Turks financially strong from their trade in the previous decades and also ready enough to pursue stronger ties with the countries of Central Asia.
Furthermore the appearance of the Albanians and the civil wars in former Yugoslavia, provided ample of human resources in the Balkans, eager in getting involved in the drugs trade so as to survive financially or gain capital to achieve their political aims. Europe now already hosted considerable Turkish minorities-Especially Germany – and individuals from those Turkish communities were used to act as local retail agents for the heroin distribution in Europe.
In 1996 the Susurluk accident revealed to Turkey the extent where the Drug –Lords have penetrated the upper crust of the society and they were able to conduct their businesses untouched by the law. Even the spouse of the then Turkish Prime Minister Tancu Tsiller was accused by the local media for close interactions with notable underworld figures. Furthermore the accusations that the Turkish security forces were conducting drugs trade in South Eastern Turkey were in relation to the civil strife in that region because of the Kurdish fight and that presents once more that politics and criminal groups seem to go hand in hand.
The modus opperandi of the Turkish organized crime in drugs trade follows the role of the coordinator and distributor. Large amounts of heroin shipments enter Turkey each month and then delivered through the Balkan route mostly, to all over Europe. It has to be noted that the country with the largest Turkish community-Germany- is being used also as a redistribution centre. That means that when heroin reaches Germany, it is being handed out from there to the other major European markets, especially UK and Scandinavia. Moreover some of the strongest “Capo” of the Turkish syndicates resided in Germany and generally speaking this country has become the centre of gravity for the Turkish drug barons, as far as, their posture in the European narcotics scene is concerned. Further the impact of the Turkish drug lords has alarmed European security agencies due to the importance of their overall contribution in the narcotics market in the Continent. For instances since the 1970s, Turkey has accounted for between 75 and 90 per cent of all heroin in the UK. The key traffickers are Turks or criminals who operate along that route using Turkish contacts.
The alliance of Turkish and Albanian crime groups can be explained at first glance by the cultural, religious and ethnic links –A large percentage of Turks in W. Turkey has Albanian ancestry-. Also, the tradition of the Albanians to join and serve larger ethnic groups with whom they feel to have a kind of affinity might have its explanation. The same was he case in USA and New York especially where for decades the Albanian crime syndicates tended to operate under the aegis and influence of the much stronger American-Sicilian crime corporations.
A 2006 article in Balkanalysis revealed interesting facts for the interrelation between USA domestic politics, the role of the Turkish lobby and the American foreign policy. Even though it is extremely delicate to draw conclusive explanations about the real roots of cover the organized crime activities are given; it is beyond any reasonable doubt that in the case of the Balkans the West has dramatically failed to check the narcotics flow. Despite the fact that thousands of troops, intelligence officers and police ones are based in the Balkans assigned by NATO and the EU, there has been no real confrontation with the realities of criminal syndicate pervasion in the Balkans. On the contrary in the areas where the Western presence is more powerful like in Pristina, it is exactly the stronghold areas of the mafias and their collaborators.
It is more than certain that if Western societies along with their partners in the Balkans; cannot control the narcotics trade their incompetence will certainly spill over to the overall antiterrorist security framework that they are trying to enforce. The Hybrid forms that modern crime is currently experiencing will most certainly ensure the continuous flow of capital to terrorist enterprises along with the recruitment of loyal assistants and the corruption of public officials in sensitive sectors of the public sectors. The initiatives by the heads of state of the Balkans to curb on organized crime should give the opportunity for further decisive measures. Balkans have already being developed as Europe’s soft underbelly-Not quite as Churchill imagined- and one of the top priorities of the EU has to be the unquestionable joint effort to “close down” the Balkan route, achieving thus a real advance against terrorism in a worldwide level.
Since the end of the Communist era in the Balkans in the early 90’s, organized crime activities have soared, by expanding their activities in fields such as narcotics, trafficking, racketeering and goods smuggling. The civil wars in Yugoslavia and the continuous strife in Albania provided an excellent framework on which crime syndicates became stronger and gained political and societal clout.
The first and foremost criminal group that can be to an extent classified as a “Mafia” is the Albanian organized crime. Its geographical spread is in and between the triangle Pristina (Kosovo) – Tetovo (FYROM) and Tirana (Albania). During the 1999 and the NATO campaign against Serbia, it was a common secret amongst the members of the international community that the KLA army was financed and assisted by the organized crime that hoped to achieve a safe haven in the Kosovo area. The importance of Pristina is mainly associated with its use as a transit point in the infamous Balkan drugs route. Moreover the capital of Kosovo is a massive hideout for heads of crime syndicates across the Balkans and beyond.
Furthermore the high unemployment rate in the region along with the chronic industrial decay, have forced masses of the population to remain tolerant –at beast- in the practices of illegal activity. The capital flowing from heroin trade mostly, have helped towards the revitalization of the local economies. To that point it is interesting to note that 4/5 of the heroin flowing to Europe from Asia (Afghanistan) is being transferred by Albanians that have established bases all across Europe from Oslo to Barcelona and from Budapest to Rome. The Albanian organized crime as Xavier Raufer has pointed out operates on a dual basis. That means it has also the function of a strong societal force that virtually governs peripheral areas of Albania, mostly in the North, as well as, Kosovo currently. The Albanian crime syndicates work in close contacts with their American-Albanian counterparts that are mainly located in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. Since 1991 quite a few Kosovo-Albanians have managed under not-so-legal ways, to immigrate to USA and act as liaison with the European community.
This highly sophisticated criminal network has been able to control much of the drugs trade in Europe and also the trafficking of women and children from the Balkans to Western Europe. Both of these activities are complementary to each other and frequently criminal groups switch from one activity to the other.
The ethnic conflicts in Former Yugoslavia, provided ample opportunities for weapons smuggling that reached unprecedented proportions in 1997. The same year a civil unrest in Albania, led to the overthrow of the government and the lack of the rule of law for almost 6 months. During this period 700,000 Kalashnikov and about 200,000 Albanian passports were stolen. Consequently a large portion of the above was sold to criminal groups in the Balkans and in Europe, whilst there are many allegations of terrorist connection whereby Al Qaeda members were able to obtain Albanian passports and an easier access to the European Continent.
The Kosovo experience has been up to date, a great disappointment for the international community. The UN administered territory has not been able to withstand the all-pervading influence of the organized crime. Despite numerous acts of violence and a very high homicide rate; very few convictions have been handed out to culprits, none of those was a member of the organized crime either. Nowadays the existence of regular heroin supply from Afghanistan, and the control by the “Albanian Mafia” of the Balkan route, has enabled it to obtain a large capital base that is laundered mainly though the construction centre in Albania and the use of offshore financial centers. Actually the largest enterprise in terms of sales and profits in South Eastern Europe is the Albanian organized crime.
In the case of Greece, there is not a national organized crime network that can be classified as a national mafia one, although that does not mean that crimininal network are not indeed quite influential. Nevertheless, the perils of Balkan crime have surely affected the country in numerous ways. Apart form the current crime statistics –that show a stronger pervasion of organized crime related activities- money laundering is a present and clear danger. The spread of the Greek banking system in S.E Europe will certainly address in the near future the issue of capital transfer of criminal activities through those financial institutions.
Also the interstate relations between Greece and the other Balkan states should always take into consideration the influence of organized groups that are the 21st century non state actors. For that reason it is of outermost importance to construct in the Greek territory “An observatory of organized crime” that will act as a counselor for the Greek government-Perhaps for the EU as well- and will be compromised by experienced analysts, law enforcement agents, criminologists and international relations experts. The use of this foundation or institute would be to detect, collect, analyze relevant Balkan crime information and produce consultation. In essence an intelligence unit that will be able to predict future trends in organized activities.
Islamic terrorism and the Balkans: The perfect training ground
The emergence of radical – militant Islam during the 90’s is a very complicated issue that involves worldwide actors, social dynamics and a deep knowledge of the religious realm of the Islamic world. This article aims to present and inform for the events that shaped Islamic terrorism in the Balkans. In this corner of Europe, the past 15 years, the roots of Islamic radicalism have deepened and it is of the outermost importance to comprehend this phenomenon, so as to be able to combat it.
The beginning of the Yugoslavian civil strife in 1991 presented an excellent chance for the Mujahedin to get into Europe via the ethno-cultural conflict between Christians and Muslims in Bosnia. These religious mercenaries had proved their aptitude in war from the early 80’s when they fought the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, and managed to inflict great damages to it using Western assistance.
The West at that period, along with its regional allies, promoted the creation of the so-called “Green Arch”. That meant the creation of strong Islamic pockets in areas of Soviet influence, or in border countries that deemed important for the strategy of the West against the Soviets. Thus Afghanistan, Pakistan, Caucasus, and in Turkey (through the use of the Turkish “Hezbollah”), became radicalized during the 80’s.
What the West could not comprehend and predict at that period, is the “Genie out of the bottle” effect. Once these radicals groups gained access to armaments and training, they became autonomous and sought to create their own agenda. Therefore the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was the trial test of their newly founded role.
In mid-1992 some 3000 -3500 Mujahedin were already present in the ranks of the Bosnian Army as volunteer forces. They retained their operational autonomy and in essence became an army within an army. Most of their forces were under the command of General Shakib Mahmouljin and their area of operations was Zenica. Soon the Mujahedin acquired the aura of the elite force within the Bosnian Muslim Army and were accounted for many atrocities against the civilian Christian population. There were instances where the guerillas didn’t hesitate in presenting publicly beheaded corpses with the heads of the victims in baskets, a tactic often used in the Ottoman period as a part of psychological warfare against the enemy.
During the Bosnian war, the Al-Qaeda was beginning to emerge as a world wide Islamic force that intended to strike the West with all means possible. One of the key elements in its success would be to get a hold of “safe havens” in Europe. The situation in Bosnia was the opportunity wanted, and soon logistic bases were established within the Bosnian territory. Moreover a campaign of recruiting Bosnian Muslims to the Al –Qaeda cause, resulted in the creation of “Islamic pockets” in the middle of the Balkans. By the end of 1995 and the subsequent Dayton treaty that ended the war; hundreds of Mujahedin fighters were permanent residents of the established Bosnia-Herzegovina state, and acquired the citizenship of that country.
The USA security agencies have revealed that two of the hijackers in 9/11 attacks, had toured the Balkans and were trained in an Al-Qaeda camp in Bosnia. In addition the explosives used in the 7/7 attacks in London came from the Balkans, an event that portrays the tremendous lack of perspective that the West had when it tolerated the emergence of such networks.
The sensitive issue of the Kosovo status is also interlinked with the presence of terrorism –Of an Islamic nature- and its ramifications are much more extended than conventionally thought. Moreover the impact of Islamic driven terrorism in the Balkans is not only restrained in the region but has global consequences, thus it needs multiparty intelligence cooperation in order to be dealt with. Worries about Kosovo morphing into a safe haven for terrorists are not without merit. After all, radical Islamic elements aided some Kosovars–and earlier, Bosnian Muslims–in the ethno-religious warfare that destroyed Yugoslavia in the 1990s. For example, Australian al-Qaeda fighter David Hicks traveled to the Balkans to join the notorious Kosovo Liberation Army. Hicks completed military training at a KLA camp and later fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, where U.S. forces apprehended him.
The Albanian nationalism and the Islamic terrorism
As in the case of Bosnia, the Albanian Muslims (70% of the population) proved to be a magnet for the Islamists that sought to regain a foothold in Europe. The conditions by which Albania was freed by the Communist regime in the early 90’s, revealed the existence of a backward isolated country with no interaction with the rest of the world. The transition from a central command structure to that of a free market; ensured the development of multiple societal forces within the much repressed Albanian society.
In early 1994 the infamous Osama Bin Laden, paid a visit to Tirana, presumably to oversight the networking of his activities there. He came back in 1998 to oversight Al-Qaeda training camps in the Northern part of Albania, just across the borders with Kosovo. The trainers –of Arabic origin mostly- were assigned to train the newly recruits of the Usthria Climirtare e Kosoves –U.C.K- units for the forthcoming guerilla warfare against the Yugoslav forces in Kosovo.
The then Albanian Director of the Albanian secret service-SHIK-named Fatos Klosi admitted the training that took place in these camps and the existence of “Jihad warriors” from Sudan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt that were responsible for the instruction of the UCK army. To this point it is important to add to the above, the existence of the Albanian Arab Islamic Bank, that was used for the financing of terrorist activities throughout the Balkans. Various sources indicate the existence of Bin Laden’s backing in the bank’s capital, with the sum of 11 million USD.
In 1997, the financial collapse of Albania by an economic scandal that shook the country; had as a result the social unrest throughout the territory and the collapse of the rule of law. An uncounted number of armaments were stolen during the period of the riots from the Albanian’s Army caches, and the bulk of it ended in the hands of the UCK and its Islamist collaborators. Until early 1998 USA characterized UCK as a terrorist organization, due to its connection with well-known figures of the extremist elements of the Islamic world. Nevertheless, the American policy changed its direction since it deemed the existence of Milosevic more threatening at that period than the Islamic movement. During the skirmishes and fights before the NATO bombings in March 1999, the Yugoslav Army managed to inflict great damages to the Mujahedin fighters that were combating along the UCK lines. In Urocevac the bulk of them was eliminated by the Serbian Army and was obliged to retreat back in their safe havens in Northern Albania.
After the end of the 1999 war, the Mujahedin networks regrouped and started to infiltrate the Kosovo area in great numbers. That included the mushrooming of Islamic charitable funds across the region, the construction of Mosques and the radicalization of the local Albanian population and the wider Muslim populations of the ex-Yugoslavia.
It is interesting to note that the Albanian population in its majority cannot be conceived as a fundamentalist Islamic nation and the extremists are for the time being a forceful minority of that nation. The Islamic expansion in the Balkans is coupled with the existence of the criminal syndicates that are all prevalent in the Balkan Peninsula. Since the terrorist activities cannot be financed through the use of the legal free market economy, the use of narcotics and trafficking illegal trade has enabled the flourishing of the terrorist networks. The “Hybrid” organizations as the merged terrorist and criminal are named, has created the necessary framework for the Balkans to enter in one of the worst periods of their modern history. The leading criminologist Loretta Napoleoni has researched articulately the issue and offers illuminating approaches as to the extent of the infiltration of crime & terrorism in world economy.
According to her recent interview for balkanalysis.com, some 1.5 trillion USD are the revenue of the organized crime worldwide. A fair portion of that is being achieved by controlling the “Balkan drugs route” a geographical area that encompasses Kosovo, Northern Albania and Tetovo. More or less the Islamic terrorism network has located some of its bases, along the way of some of the most lucrative criminal areas of Europe. Therefore it is able to increase its revenues and finance its monstrous acts.
In spring 2001, the Mujahedin forces, once again, were brought to day-light by joining the National Liberation Army in its fight in Western FYROM. The NLA was a composition of various Albanian fractions that along with the Islamic extremists sought to prepare the basis for the disintegration of FYROM. There is a large Albanian minority in the country, which also happens to be located right in the centre of the Balkans and where the “Balkan drug route” passes by. The Mujahedin formed the majority of the 113 brigade of NLA, and were accused of many atrocities against innocent civilians of Slavic descent.
On August 2001 the Ohrid accord was signed and the conflict ceased without any real gains by the Albanian side. A month later, the attack on the twin towers revealed to the world the spread and the power the terrorist organizations have amassed, thus the “War on terror” begun and to a great extent dismantled the world wide Islamic terrorist web.
SEVEN KEY AL-QAEDA MEMBERS WHO DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY TOOK PART IN 9/11 AND ARE LINKED TO BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
Nawaf al Hazmi, a Saudi. He was a September 11th hijacker. He fought in BiH in 1995.
Khalid al-Mihdhar, from Yemen. He also was a September 11th hijacker. He also fought in BiH with the foreign mujahideen battalion in Bosnia in 1995
Sheikh Omar abd-al Rahman (convicted of the 1993 attack on the WTC) was connected with the so-called humanitarian organization TWRA, which was a cover for terrorists. Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic made personal guarantees for TWRA’s general director and personal friend Elfatih Hassanein, so he could open an account with Die Erste Osterreich Bank in Vienna, Austria in 1993.
Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who recruited Mohamed Atta into Al-Qaeda, had a terrorist base in Bosnia. Zammar is also responsible for recruiting two of Atta’s lieutenants, Ramzi Binalsahib and Said Bahaji.
Osama bin Laden received a Bosnian passport from the Embassy in Vienna, Austria. Many other Al-Qaeda members were issued B-H passports, which enabled them to continue their terrorist activities.
Abu al-Ma’ali (Abdelkader Mokhtari), a senior Al-Qaeda operative, was stationed in Bosnia until recently. Just a few years ago, US officials used to call him “Osama Bin Laden, Jr.”
Bensayah Belkacem was arrested in Bosnia in October 2001. Numbers saved in his cell phone connected him with at least one top-rank associate of Bin Laden
The “White Al-Qaeda” in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Information available to experts on international terrorism indicate that B-H is at this time one of the most dangerous countries in Europe, as it represents a nursery for potential Islamic terrorists – the so called “white” or “European” Al-Qaeda. Money from Islamic countries that is laundered through “humanitarian” organizations finances the religious education of at least 100,000 young Bosnian Muslims. In addition to such education, which follows the interpretations of Wahhabi Islam, there is another type of “training” in various officially registered camps throughout the B-H Federation. There, the young and carefully selected Wahhabis attend “additional courses” in marksmanship, explosives and martial arts. Organizations such as “Furqan,” the “Active Islamic Youth,” the “Muslim Youth Council” and others – differing only in name and primary donors, but otherwise interchangeable – teach young Muslims computer and Internet skills, so they could establish contacts with their coreligionists worldwide. Knowing all this, the former head of UN Mission in Bosnia Jacques Paul Klein recently said that some 200 mujahid’din in Bosnia did not represent a danger, because they can be easily controlled.Klein knew it would be a lot more difficult to stop the spread of young Bosnian Wahhabis throughout Europe, youths who consider Osama Bin Laden and the mujahid’din role models. Nowadays there is still a strong presence of a variety of extremist Islamic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina, under the pretext of charity funds and related philanthropic establishments. Thus it is not of surprise that the U.K Foreign Office still warrants concern safety for every British national traveling there, especially in relation to potential terrorist incidents.
Foreign intelligence involvement in the Balkans
Since the early 1990s, Bonn and Washington have joined hands in establishing their respective spheres of influence in the Balkans. Their intelligence agencies have also collaborated. According to intelligence analyst John Whitley, covert support to the Kosovo rebel army was established as a joint endeavor between the CIA and Germany’s Bundes Nachrichten Dienst (BND) (which previously played a key role in installing a right wing nationalist government under Franjo Tudjman in Croatia). The task to create and finance the KLA was initially given to Germany: “They used German uniforms, East German weapons and were financed, in part, with drug money”. According to Whitley, the CIA was, subsequently instrumental in training and equipping the KLA in Albania.
The covert activities of Germany’s BND were consistent with Bonn’s intent to expand its “Lebensraum” into the Balkans. Prior to the onset of the civil war in Bosnia, Germany and its Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher had actively supported secession; it had “forced the pace of international diplomacy” and pressured its Western allies to recognize Slovenia and Croatia. According to the Geopolitical Drug Watch, both Germany and the US favored (although not officially) the formation of a “Greater Albania” encompassing Albania, Kosovo and parts of FYROM. According to Sean Gervasi, Germany was seeking a free hand among its allies “to pursue economic dominance in the whole of “Mitteleuropa.“
An interesting twist in the sector of intelligence operations and especially the ones described as “ Covert operations”, is the abundance of material available and the easiness by which the USA in particular have provided access to their operational tactics. Todd Stiefler has documented that “In Kosovo, the Agency was extremely eager to publicize its covert operations”. In contrast with other similar incidents in Latin America or the Middle East; the CIA was confident enough to inform the public of operations that are not to be announced and that is an intriguing and not well answered topic.
The emergence of “Balkan Jihad” and its progress in the region
After the 9/11, a worldwide “War on terror” begun in order to disband and neutralize Islamic terrorist networks across the globe. The main focus of the largest anti-terrorist campaign in history is focused in the Middle East area, as well as in Afghanistan.
The Balkan Peninsula is the European area where this campaign has also taken place, with numerous arrests and a continuous effort into riding the fundamentalist out of the area. The question arising though, is how did the extremists gain a foothold in South Eastern Europe in the first place, and what was the reaction of the international community over the previous years.
The presence of Islam in the Balkans dates back in the 13th century.
In order to create the much needed mercenary armies, against the then archenemy, the Francs, Byzantine Emperors allowed Muslim Turks into modern day Bulgaria. They were used mainly as cavalry forces due to their excellent techniques in that kind of war. Over the coming decades the antagonism between the Francs and the Vatican from one side and the Byzantium from the other, led to the final conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Gradually virtually the whole of the Balkans came under Muslim dominance and were included in the Dar al Islam territory stretching from the Hindu river and up to Gibraltar.
In Bosnia in particular the sect of Vogomils –Eastern Orthodox sect-, converted to Islam for a variety of societal and spiritual reasons. Since the Vogomils were the affluent class of the central Balkans they soon became the ruling class over millions of Christians of mostly Slavic descent.
In Albania the Islamic takeover had a dramatic effect and in a matter of 150 years 2/3rds of the population converted from the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholicism into Islam. The main reason for such a large proselytism in Albania had been the traditional adherence towards the stronger ruler that the mountainous Albanians have showed since their early history. During the Roman Empire times, the Albanians served as elite corps in the Armies of the Emperors Empires –i.e. Diocletian was of Albanian descent- and tended to absorb the cultural and religious norms of their regional superintendents. The same was the case in the more or less Greek dominated Byzantium. As soon as the “Eastern Roman Empire” waned in favor of the Western one; there was a mass conversion to Catholicism in the early 13th century.
The historical collective path of the Albanian people can be compared with that of the mountainous Swiss that have eloquently absorbed influences and norms by the much larger and influential neighbors (Germany, France, and Italy).
It is against this historical background that the Islamic fundamentalist drama in the Balkans evolved in the 1990s. Evan F. Kohlmann, author of Al-Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network argues that “key to understanding Al Qaida’s European cells lies in the Bosnian war of the 1990s”. Using the Bosnian war as their cover, Afghan-trained Islamic militants loyal to Osama bin Laden convened in the Balkans in 1992 to establish a European domestic terrorist infrastructure in order to plot their violent strikes against the United States
So, the outbreak of the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992 presented an unparalleled opportunity for the international Mujaheedin to storm Europe, establish safe havens in the area and thus initiate re-conquest of regions they previously ruled. The leader of Bosnia, Alia Izebegovic was eager to obtain as much assistance as possible and didn’t hesitate in providing the necessary framework by which the Islamic ties were forged. In the same year, a variety of Islamic mercenaries flocked into the Balkans in order to support the “Holy cause”, meaning the establishment of the first Islamic state in Europe. The end of the war in 1995 saw quite a few of those mujahedin, acquiring Bosnian citizenship and establishing the first Islamic community in the village of Bocinja Donja. During 2006 and 2007, hundreds of citizenships were revoked by Islamists residing in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nevertheless the whereabouts of most of them remain unknown, raising fears for potential terrorist acts by them in the future and in an European soil. What is more, the Novi Pazar town in Sanjak area in Southern Serbia; has become a core for Islamic fundamentalism, linked with Al-Qaeda cells. Novi Pazar is the focus of the Islamist attempt to build a landbridge from Albania and Kosovo to Bosnia. Further to the East, in southern Serbia’s Raška Oblast, are three other concentrations of Muslims: Sjenica and Pester area (lightly populated but mostly Muslim), Prijepolje (some 50 percent Muslim) and — very close to the Bosnia border where Republica Srpska controls the slender Gorazde corridor — Priboj (also some 50 percent Muslim). The land between is Serbian farmland, but the Islamist goal is to link the cities as “evidence” that the entire region is, or should be, Muslim territory. The same strategy worked successfully in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Serbian farmers were driven off their lands during the civil war.
Just south of the Serbian area of Raška Oblast is the Montenegrin part of Raška region, where, for example, Bijeljo Polje is some 60 to 80 percent Muslim, and Pijevlja, close to the Bosnian border, is about 40 percent Muslim. These Montenegrin towns, like those of the Western Serbian Raška region, are the key to the illicit arms and narcotrafficking across the Gorazde Corridor to Bosnia
A new Islamist university has opened in Novi Pazar, ostensibly a normal college, but led by an Islamist mufti of little formal education. This modern institution — whose officials proclaim it a normal educational institution — reveals its character in its symbol: the Wahabbi/Salafi Dawa symbol, an open Q’uran surmounted with a rising sun. The university, in a renovated former textile factory, is a known center of radical Islamist thinking. A book fair held there in early October 2003 distributed very radical Islamist literature, specifically advocating conflict with the West.
The Dawa sign indicates that the university is predominantly Saudi-funded, although some Western funding is known to have been pumped into the institution, reportedly largely to undermine Serb interests in the region.
Western tolerance of Islamic radicals, however, was one of the gravest mistakes of modern times. In addition, a well organized criminal network has already been established in Sarajevo that in a large extent facilitates illegal immigration from Asia to Europe. That activity is coupled with the narcotics trade that is being supplemented by the infamous “Balkan Drug route”. It is illuminating to note that the areas from where this route is passing are under Muslim influence mostly.
The Albanian factor
Albania was under the Communist rule during the Cold War, the most isolated country in Europe. The break of the Soviet Empire unleashed forces that were kept dormant in the society for decades, and resulted to some very interesting developments. In 1992 Albania becomes a member of the Islamic Conference, an international Islamic organization. The same year as well the government of Sali Berisha, currently also a Prime Minister, signed a military agreement with Turkey, thus enacting a series of discussions in the neighboring states, around the possibility of an Islamic arch from Istanbul to Sarajevo.
One of the main reasons the Albanian officials were eager to form strong ties with the Muslim world was the hope that large investments from the Gulf would ensure the uplifting of the decaying Albanian economy. Therefore the religious sentiment of the majority of Albanians, mostly in the North, was overplayed in order to gain capital from the Islamic world. Unfortunately no serious investment initiatives were undertaken; instead the Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, found another state to expand their illegal activities. Many different and respectable sources have indicated two visits by Bin Laden in Tirana that aimed into creating an Islamic platform for the country and the construction of terrorist networks within the territory.
An Albanian called Naseroudin Albani played an instrumental role in spreading extremist Islamic values into the Albanian society. He was a fugitive from Albania since 1963 and resided in Amman-Jordan. Sources from Albania point out that Albani organized radical Sunni sects back in the 70’s in the Middle East that became the nucleus of the modern day Mujahedin. Another Albanian, the then head of the Albania’s Secret service, SHIK, called Bashkim Gazidente assisted into implementing radical Islamic agenda in Albanian domestic policies. During the 1997 Albanian riots Gazidente fled from Albania and he is said to be an instrumental part in global Islamic networks. He fled presumably to a Middle Eastern country and currently he resides in Rome-Italy treated in a local hospital due to chronic illness; according to reliable regional sources.
The Al Qaeda factor in Albania was consolidated by the creation of the Arabic-Albanian bank, in which Bin Laden allegedly invested the sum of 11.4 million USD. This financial institution acted as a front cover for the transfer of capital for Islamic activities within the country. Just before Berisha’s political overturn in 1997, another Islamic institution called “El Farouk”, acted as a recruitment agency for young Albanians, under the pretext of a charity. One of the most dramatic indicators of the degree of Islamic presence in Albania is the militant Islamic training camp just outside Tirana, the same camp on which Berisha relied in his unsuccessful 1998 coup of his rival Fatos Nano. At this point it is interesting to note that it was a well known fact around the international community of the nexus between organized crime syndicates, terrorist cells and the KLA, operating under and with Albanian assistance. Actually Albania was mainly used as springboard to neighboring Kosovo. In April 1999, some 500 Arab Mujahedeen were smuggled into the capital of Tirana. Their mission was to conduct special operations against Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. They entered Kosovo from Northern Albania. The whole operation was led by Bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The Nairobi and Tanzania bombings of 1998 shocked the US administration into taking some action, for the first time, do dismantle terrorist’s networks. Soon, the pressure fell on Albania and in the October of the same month individuals of Middle Eastern origin were rounded up and deported. The head of SHIK, Fatos Clozi, admitted for the first the existence of extremists in Albania and promised the eradication of the terrorist nucleus.
The 9/11 attacks proved to be a fatal blow for the radicals in Albania and the USA forces have more or less neutralize any remaining cells. The government of Albania, which is more than willing to become inducted in the Euro-Atlantic security framework, has ceased to seek Islamic assistance and the current Berisha’s administration has refaced its Islamic outlook into a modern European one.
Nevertheless, the Albanian-Islamic connection is now concentrated in Kosovo, the very same province NATO forces are stationed! There is an overwhelming variety of sources and reports that indicate a well established fundamentalist presence in that area. It is a common secret in the international community that the West kept a blind eye during the 1998-1999 Winter where hundreds of Mujahedin joined the UCK forces and helped it expand. Shaul Shay describes “The [Kosovo Albanian] KLA enjoyed the support of former Albanian President Sali Berisha, who regarded the war in Kosovo as a Jihad and issued a call to all Muslims to fight for the protection of their homeland”.
At that period the means justified the end which was the disbandment of the Russian influence in the Balkans, as the Clinton administration viewed the Milosevic one. The result was a resurge of Islamic radical networks in the region, thus eliminating the beneficial results of previous actions against it. Moreover Russia managed to regroup and it is still viewed as a great player in South Eastern Europe.
The newly independent Montenegro nowadays faces a long term Islamic population bomb and it is certain that should current trends continue, in 2050 half of the population would be Muslim That is not of course a prelude of terrorism action per se, but the overall turbulent Balkan history and the existence of terror networks in nearby Kosovo do not assure a tranquil political future for the newest Balkan state.
The FYROM is also another terrain where the delicate balance between radicalism and Muslim secularism is taking place. Back in 2001, an Albanian uprising nearly resulted in the disintegration of the state although nowadays there is an uneasy stability. However any negative developments in Kosovo will affect directly the country which is also the epicenter of the Balkans by a geopolitical point of view.
Lastly the Sanjak area in Southern Serbia is a territory to watch, where the Wahhabi strain of Islam has gained tremendous influence in the local Muslim population. On March 2007 a terrorist cell was disbanded by the Serbian authorities and a terrorist plan was dwarfed at the last minute .Again Kosovo as the centre of radicalism in the Balkans could play the role of the powder keg for any developments in Sanjak, against the Serbian population in the region.
The EU strategists, whoever they may be, must become aware of the complicated Balkan reality: the region is a mostly secular one, but it has the peculiarity of hosting safe havens of terrorists and organized crime related Islamists. Most of these areas are under international protection a paradox that ridicules the entire Western anti terror campaign. Another worrying fact is the real danger of proliferation of chemical or biological weapons into the hands of terrorists, especially in the case of Albania. Already this threat is one of the top priorities for the security services across Southeastern Europe, and Greece along with the USA, Italy, Switzerland, and the European Union; assists Albania in destroying the stockpiles of its chemical weapons. It is worthwhile to mention that the Albanian authorities had discovered 16 tons of chemicals in 2002, stored in an underground cache, but there are no verified accounts if any amount had been stolen during the 1997 riots, thus raising a question as to whether terrorist organizations already have taken hold of quantities of chemicals.
Lastly, the attack on the USA Embassy in Athens-Greece in January 2007 with an RPG weaponry, is assumed to have a Balkan-Albanian connection, meaning source it came from, the “Weapons black market” vividly active in the borderlines between Kosovo and FYROM.
Only a coordinated pan European operation would be able to eradicate this perilous condition. The bombings in Madrid and in London had a Balkan flavor in them, namely the explosives used, according to many, came from those very same Muslim pockets in the Balkans that are protected by Western armies. For the future then, Islamic radicalism in the Balkans is an X factor. What is certain though is that this factor will not be used for the benefit of the West and the only way of neutralize it is by disrupting its logistic and financial base.
The only obstacle so far for the successful inaction of a “Balkan war on terror” are the careers in various world capitals, that are related on the perception of half truths and half lies about the West’s involvement in the Yugoslav wars and the use of the Islamic X factor on them. Political ambitious, international reputations and the all pervading political correctness, hinders the right actions to be taken. Unfortunately the implications of the Western involvement have spilled-over worldwide and with dire consequences regarding the global anti-terror campaign. Shaul Shay states that “In the course of 1999-2000, several terror cells were discovered in the U.S. and Canada. Some of their members lived in Bocinja [Bosnia] or were connected to radical Islamic entities that resided there”. The West followed a contradictory stance in the Balkans where it promoted the advance of radical Islamic elements linked to terrorism, in the same period -1999- it enacted the attacks against Serbia, thus empowering the former.
A great leader once said “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject”. That surely sums up the mentality of the international officials around this Balkan “X factor”.
The Muslim minorities in the Balkans
In contemporary Europe there is a great debate on the role of Islam in modern societies and the path that the European-Muslim relationship will lead into the 21st century. The Balkans is a European area where considerable Muslim communities reside, some of them for over 700 hundred years and since the era of the Ottoman Empire.
The Balkan Peninsula was always an area characterized by continuous population arrivals and exodus due to the turbulent history of the region and because of its geopolitical disposition in the midst of three continents. Sine the fall of the Roman Empire immigration and conquest waves have over the centuries shaped the population composition of this European soil. The Slavs in the 6th Century AC, the Bulgarians in the 7th and the Turks in the 14th one, have all constructed more or less modern ethno-diversity in the Balkans.
The former were able –after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 AC- to create the Ottoman Empire stretching from modern day Saudi Arabia and North Africa, right up to the infamous “Gates of Vienna” or more specifically in Klagenfurt and the Styria province. During much of the previous 6 centuries, there have been massive conversions to Islam that formatted the existing Islamic enclaves in the Balkans. The fall of the Soviet Bloc in 1989 and the civil wars in Ex-Yugoslavia; brought the remembrance of the religion wars that were a part of the Balkan history for the better part of the last Millennium.
Nowadays, all Balkan states-Bar Rumania- have Muslim minorities that are part of the social and political life of the respective states and most importantly have been often accused as acting like a “Trojan Horse” from powers seeking to exercise influence in the area.
Bosnia was already a part of the Ottoman realm, back in 1463 and a mass conversion of the Bogomil Christian sect, endured the existence of a large and influential Islamic community in the state. This area was for centuries the epicenter of the Balkan Muslim life, since it was ideally placed in the centre of South Eastern Europe and had a viable and vibrant Muslim community. In this point it has to be noted that the Bogomils were the most affluent class of Bosnia and their adherence to Islam constituted an initiative from their part to retain their privileges and rights under the newly formed dominion.
In 1908 Bosnia-Herzegovina was annexed by the then Austria-Hungarian Empire, at the same period the idea of a united confederation of the Southern Slavs –Serbs, Croats, Slovenians- was gaining hold. The creation of Yugoslavia after WW1 didn’t resolve the wide religious and cultural gaps between Catholics, Orthodox and Sunni Muslims. The Second World War saw the alliance between the Fascist, pro-German Croatian regime of Andre Pavelic and the Muslims in Bosnia.
Actually in 1943 the latter created the 13th Mountainous SS Brigade –Waffen Gerbings Division der SS- that committed atrocities against the civilian Serbian population in a classic ethnic cleansing fashion. In 1944 a similar brigade was to be formed by the Kosovo Albanians -21st Skanderberg Brigade- that sought as well the elimination of Serbians from Kosovo-Metohija.
During the 90’s Mujahedeen from various Islamic states, fought along the Bosnian Muslims against both the Croatians and the Serbs. Numerous allegations and documents reveal a strong Jihad connection between the then Izebegovic administration and Al Qaeda operatives that sought a safe have in the centre of the Balkans and close to mainland Europe. Stephen Schwartz notes “Muslim Bosnia and neighboring territories also face growing Islamist extremism. Wahhabi missionaries, promoting the ultraradical cult financed by Saudi Arabia, have come back to the Balkans after their expulsion from Sarajevo in the aftermath of September 11. Bosnian authorities acted then with admirable speed in cracking down on the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a center of al Qaeda activity”. Currently 40% of Bosnia’s population is Muslims, mainly populating the urban centers.
Serbia’s largest Muslim minority is to be found in Kosovo where over 90% of the population is of Albanian descent and Muslim in denomination. The situation after the 1999 NATO intervention has revealed a massive destruction of the Serbian Christian Orthodox heritage. Kosovo has been since the early Middle Ages a traditional Serbian pilgrimage and state epicenter. The negotiations in action concerning the status of the province have come to a halt and there is a great debate within the international community on which direction Kosovo should move on within the coming months.
The percentage of the Muslims in Kosovo was traditionally 50-60% from the Ottoman period and up until the 1950’s. The mass immigrations of Albanians from Northern Albania, the immigration of Serbians to Europe and the very high birth rate of the former; resulted in the creation of an almost homogenized Albanian-Muslim Kosovo in the course of the second half of the 20th century. The importance of Kosovo to the Serbian psyche, stems amongst other by the greatness of its artistic, literature and architecture grandeur during the Middle Ages and under the Serbian Nemanjia Kingdom, most probably the most highlighted era in the history of the Serbian Kingdom.
Another Serbian province with large numbers of Muslims is Sanjak –Close to Kosovo borderline- that is also a habitation of Wahabbi strings as recent investigations point out.
FYROM is a state that can be characterized as a hub between Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Greece. Due to its unique placement it always attracted various ethnic and religious minorities, amongst them the largest would be the Muslim one. It is mainly composed by Albanians, Turks and Roma. After the 1999 war, scores of Kosovo Albanians sought refuge in FYROM thus increasing the total percentage of Muslims in the country. The 2001 conflicts between the Slavic majority of the country and the Albanian minority revealed a cultural chasm between them, as well as, he fear of the Slavs that the high birth rates of their Muslim compatriots will lead them to majority levels in the course of the 21st century. Already, grossly 30% of the citizens claim Muslim religion.
Montenegro always had a small Islamic community that has risen up considerably due to the continuous influx of refugees because of the Yugoslavian wars in the 90’s. Roughly 20% of the population is Muslim, and their vote was crucial during the independence referendum in 2006, that broke Montenegro’s ties with Serbia.
Albania is the only Balkan country that has an absolute majority in terms of Muslim citizens. Officially 70% of the population is Sunni Muslims, even though there are considerable segments of non-practicing secular ones. The main reason for such a large Muslim impact in the state is the mass conversion during the Ottoman Empire that saw a considerable stratum of the Albanian population exchanging their Christian religion for Islam in order to gain considerable advantages in the Ottoman bureaucracy and army. Actually many Turkish historical figures were Albanians, and one of them rose to become the first Pasha of Egypt; Mehmet Ali Pasha.
Albania since 1992 is a member of the Islamic conference, an intergovernmental Muslim organization and it has often become a country focused by the international community because of links by fundamentalists and members of the state apparatus.
Bulgaria has a considerable Muslim minority in the southern regions bordering with Greece and Turkey. The Communist regime in Bulgaria after 1945, initiated measures that forced Muslims –Of Turkish descent mostly- to immigrate to Turkey. In the 1980’s alone 300, 000 of those were to flee Bulgaria. Nevertheless the percentage of Muslims in the country is well over 10% and they exercise significant influence in the political climate of Bulgaria. The existence of a well established Turkish-Muslim minority in Bulgaria has proved to be one of the main reasons for the Greek-Bulgaria rapprochement that enacted in the mid-70’s and continues up to date, bringing the two states with a colorful history of rivalry together; along with excellent bilateral relations.
Greece’s Muslim minority is to be found in Western Thrace, the province neighboring with Bulgaria and Turkey. The first Muslim coming from Anatolia, settled there in 1363 along with the Ottoman Turks in the first European conquest Endeavour.
In 1923 Greece and Turkey agreed to a mass exchange of populations and consequently Greeks resettled from Minor Asia to mainland Greece and vice versa. The Muslim minority in Thrace along with the Greek-Orthodox in Istanbul remained as a counterweight to its other and as a symbolic remembrance of the oldest Muslim settlement in Europe and the historical Byzantine – Christian presence in the East respectively.
The course of events though revealed a systematic extinction of the Greek-Orthodox Christians in Istanbul that number some 5,000 people down from 200,000 in the 1920’s. In Western Thrace 110,000 Muslims reside and constitute a 1% of the total population in Greece and a Quarter of the Western Thracian populous.
In all Balkan states excluding Greece the overall Muslim population is set to increase because of very low birth rate of the Christian population –Especially in Bulgaria- and the reverse trend by the Islamic communities. Moreover an immigration movement from the Balkans towards Western Europe has actually lowered population like in Bulgaria, over the past decade or so.
The Balkans has always constituted one of the fiercest terrains of ethnic – Cultural enmity in Europe. The reasons for the above are the placement of the Peninsula close to Asia that reserved the role of the “European gatekeeper” for the whole of South Eastern Europe. One has to remember of the Kraijna border area created by the Austrians in the 17th century in order to counterweight the Ottoman forces [89. Moreover the Venetians were active in recruiting Greeks as “Stradioti” in order to combat all along the Aegean Archipelagos and the Greek coastline.
Future seems to have elements of repeating this situation due to the ongoing rivalry between West and East, a phenomenon that one can easily retrieve by reading Homer’s Iliad or by comprehending the Persians wars dated in the 5th century BC, as they were recorded by Herodotus historiography. The Balkans are the borderline area between the West and the East, where the two either meet or contest and in any case synthesize or degenerate.
In lieu of a conclusion
The overall challenges for the security and intelligence services, oriented in the Balkan region seems overwhelming, judging by the multitude of the challenges involved and the tasks needed to overcome them. The current époque has brought –Especially to Greece- the re-engineering of security policies, in order to combat non- symmetrical threats such as the ones of organized crime and terrorism. Taking into account the globalization process, the interrelation between societies and the breathtaking advancements in telecommunications and transport; it is fair to assume that certain issues should be seriously reflected upon, on a different perspective than the traditional mode.
A multiparty approach to organized crime should be form here upon the core of any intelligence activity in the Balkans. Organized crime –Along with the rest of the perils for modern societies- need measures that are up to the modern way of life and communication of ours. A parallel and well constructed method of Open Source Intelligence gathering and the operation of specialized crime intelligence units will certainly help towards the aim of curbing crime and its calamities. In addition a conclusive analysis and synthesis of the available information, without any bias; should be the core of any serious attempt into reaching viable prognosis and stall malicious situations such as terrorists incidents and further empowerment of organized crime.
In order for the aforementioned to become a custom reality, there has to be a constructive and significant replenish of the human resources involved and an upgrade of the present era technical equipment. Therefore decisions should be taken soon enough so as to foresee any positive results, before events surpass the ability of the intelligence community to react and function properly. The Balkan Peninsula remains more than ever “The soft underbelly of Europe”, apart from the other more conventional menaces in the wider Eastern Mediterranean area.
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Footnotes for : “Islamic terrorism and the Balkans: The perfect training ground”
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University of Buffalo; Listserv Buffalo (04/03/2002), By MILS News, “Seven terrorist killed near Skopje”. Website: http://listserv.buffalo.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0203a&L=maknws-l&T=0&P=298
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (04/2002), By Lt. Col. Harry Dinella, Policy Advisor, Western Policy Center, “Uncertainty in the Slav-Albanian Partnership”. Website: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=109941&fuseaction=topics.documents&doc_id=119929&group_id=115869
University of Belgrade; Faculty of Security Studies Publications (2002), By Prof. Drako Trifunovic, “Terrorism and Bosnia and Herzegovina – Al-Qaeda’s Global Network and its influence on Western Balkans nations” P. 9-11.
Washington Post Newspaper (01/12/2005), By Rade Maroevic and Daniel Williams, “Terrorist Cells Find Foothold in Balkans”. Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/30/AR2005113002098.html
The Jamestown Foundation; Terrorism Monitor Journal; Volume II; Issue 20, (21/10/2004), By Stephen Schwartz, “Wahhabism and al-Qaeda in Bosnia-Herzegovina”.
PfP Consortium; Study Group Crisis Management in South East Europe; Vienna and Sarajevo (12/2002), By Alfred C. Lugert, “Preventing and Combating Terrorism in Bosnia and Herzegovina”
University of Belgrade; Faculty of Security Studies Publications (2002), By Prof. Drako Trifunovic, “Terrorism and Bosnia and Herzegovina – Al-Qaeda’s Global Network and its influence on Western Balkans nations” P. 16-17.
Kokalis Foundation; Kennedy School of Government; Harvard University, Paper presentation by Teodora Popesku, “Tackling Terrorism in the Balkans. Website: http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/kokkalis/GSW9/Popescu_paper.pdf
United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office (Current as of 13/05/2007), “Bosnia & Herzegovina travel advice”. Website: www.fco.gov.uk/…/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029390590&a=KCountryAdvice&aid=1013618385675
Quoted in Truth in Media news broadcast in Phoenix; USA( 02/04/1999)
Covert Action Journal; No. 56. (Spring 1996), By Michel Chossudovsky, professor at the Department of Economics at University of Ottawa, “Dismantling Yugoslavia; Colonizing Bosnia”. Website: http://www.lbbs.org/yugoslavia.htm
Association of Breton & Celtic journalists (21/09/1998), By Roger Faligot, “How Germany backed KLA”. Website: http://www.bretagnenet.com/reporter-breton/archives/germany.htm
Geopolitical Drug Watch Journal; No 32 (06/1994). P. 4
Covert Action Quarterly Journal; No. 43, (Winter 1992-93), By Sean Gervasi, “Germany, US and the Yugoslav Crisis”
Intelligence and National Security, Volume 19, Number 4 (12/2004), pp. 632-654(23), By Todd Stiefler, ” CIA’s Leadership and Major Covert Operations: Rogue Elephants or Risk-Averse Bureaucrats?”
Chicago-Kent College of Law and the Illinois Institute of Technology (1996), ” Nationbuilding in the Balkans-History of Albanians”. Web Site: http://pbosnia.kentlaw.edu/resources/history/albania/albhist.htm
Evan F. Kohlmann, “Al-Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe“,Berg Publications, Preface, Oxford-UK, September 2004.
Kokalis Foundation; Kennedy School of Government; Harvard University, Presentation paper by Xavier Bougarel, “Islam & Politics in the Post-Communist Balkans. Website: http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/kokkalis/GSW1/GSW1/13%20Bougarel.pdf
Foreign Military Studies Publications (02/1995), By LTC John E. Sray, U.S. Army, “Mujahedin Operations in Bosnia”. Website: http://leav-www.army.mil/fmso/documents/muja.htm
Department of the USA Navy; Naval Historical Centre Publications (26/07/2005), By Steven Woehrel, “Islamic terrorism & the Balkans”. Website: http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/islamic_terrorism.htm
Reuters, Alert Net Service (11/04/2007), By Daria Sito-Sucic, “Bosnia revokes citizenship of Islamic ex-soldiers”. Web Site: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L1151505.htm
Information was provided by a variety of ISSA Reports, informal journalist sources from Serbia, Albania & FYROM. The material has been made publicly else were and has not been contended for its reliability.
For extensive and sensitive information on the subject see: ISSA Special Report (17/09/2003). Web Site: http://220.127.116.11/ISSA/reports/Balkan/Sep1703.htm#App1
Council on Foreign Relations; Open Edition (13/02/2002), By David L. Phillips, “Keeping the Balkans free of Al-Qaeda”. Website: http://www.cfr.org/publication/4344/rule_of_law.html?breadcrumb=%2Fregion%2F385%2Fbalkans
European Commission; External Affairs Service (2004), “The Contribution of the European Commission to the Implementation of the EU-Central Asia Action Plan on Drugs”. Website: http://ec.europa.eu/external_relations/drugs/hero.htm
Organization of Islamic Conference (2007), memberships. Website: www.oic-un.org/about/members.htm
Center for Contemporary Conflict; Strategic Insights; Volume V; Issue 4 (04/2006), Anouar Boukhars, “ The challenge of terrorism in Jordan”. Website: http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/si/2006/Apr/boukharsApr06.asp
ISSA Research & Analysis Corporation; Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis (16/01/2006), “Kosovo SHIK Directly Linked With Albanian SHIK Intelligence Organization”.
According to Stavro Markos, acclaimed Albanian journalist, correspondent for UK, French and Greek media.
Global Research Organization Publications (22/10/2003), By Michel Chossudovsky, “Regime rotation in the USA”. Website: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO310B.html
Federation of American Scientists Publications (1998), By Milan. V. Petkovic, “Albanian terrorists”. Website: http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980000-kla-petkovic-terror.htm
Alessandro Politi, “European Security: The New Transnational Risks,”Chaillot Papers, No. 29, October, 1997. This paper discusses analytically the strong evidence around the KLA’s tendencies towards criminal actions well before the U.S. intervention in Kosovo and with the suffice knowledge by the international bodies. ALSO see an article by the Independent newspaper (25/09/2002), “Bin Laden linked to Albanian drug gangs”. Website: http://www.thedossier.ukonline.co.uk/Web%20Pages/INDEPENDENT_Bin%20Laden%20linked%20to%20Albanian%20drug%20gangs.htm
Der Spiegel, 24 September 2001, p. 15
Federation of American Scientists Publications; Patterns of global terrorism (1998), “Europe overview”. Website: http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/terror_98/europe.htm
International Herarld Tribune (22/12/2006), “Albania seizes assets of alleged bin Laden associate”. Web Site: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/12/22/europe/EU_GEN_Albania_Terror_Financing.php
Voice of America News Service (08/05/2007), “Albania supports War on terror”. Website: http://www.voanews.com/english/About/2007-05-08-albania-foreign-minister.cfm
Anti War Article & Analysis Organization (19/09/2001), By Christopher Deliso, “How Islamic terrorism took root in Albania”. Website: http://www.antiwar.com/orig/deliso5.html
Shay Shaul “Islamic Terror and the Balkans”,P. 82, Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, December2006
For detailed information on terrorist sympathizers in the Sanjak area ( Names, locations), see a GIS Security Briefing: http://www.slobodan-milosevic.org/news/dfasa040307.htm (Reprint)
ISSA Research & Analysis Corporation; Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis (03/2007), By Darko Trifunovic, “Terrorism: The case of Bosnia, Sanzak & Kosovo”.
United Nations Information Service in Vienna (01/10/2004), Press Release SOC/CP/311, “UN warning on terrorism in the Balkans”. Website: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2004/soccp311.doc.htm
Washington Post (20/01/2005), By John Stilides, “Albania’s Dangerous Past”.
Boston Globe (o1/05/2006), By Jonathan B. Tucker and Paul F. Walker , “A long way to go in eliminating chemical weapons”. Web Site: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2006/05/01/a_long_way_to_go_in_eliminating_chemical_weapons/
Kathimerini Newspaper (07/02/2007), “ Kosovo link to Embassy strike”. Web Site: http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_100012_07/02/2007_79818
Shay Shaul “Islamic Terror and the Balkans”,P. 70, Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, December2006
Of course there were interactions of a great scale between the Byzantines and the Arab Muslims well before the arrival of the Ottomans in the Balkans. For more see: H.T. Norris “Islam in the Balkans: Religion and Society Between Europe and the Arab World”, P. 43-50, C. Hurst & Co, London, Jan 1994
Nexhat Ibrahimi, “Islam’s first contacts with the Balkan nations”. Web site: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/6875/nexhat.html
The USA Pentagon Library; Selected bibliography on Balkan conflicts. Website: http://www.hqda.army.mil/library/balkans.htm
Wikipedia (2007), “Bogomils”. Website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogomil
For an articulate description of the “ Bogomils” and their impact in the Pan-European history see: Medieval Cathares History:Short History of Bosnian Bogomils. Web Site: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/9892/bhhisto.html
Serbianna News Agency (11/04/2006), By Carl Savich, “The role of the Bosnian Muslims in WW2”. Website: http://www.serbianna.com/columns/savich/077.shtml & http://www.serbianna.com/columns/savich/006.shtml
The Counterterrorism Blog (17/08/2005), “Jihadist found a convenient base in Bosnia”. Website: http://counterterror.typepad.com/the_counterterrorism_blog/2005/08/jihadists_find_.html
Schwartz Stephen, “The failure of Europe in Bosnia and the Continuing Infiltration of Islamic Extremists”, The Weekly Standard, 20 June 2005
CIA Publications; Factbook; Bosnia-Herzegovina (2005). Website: https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/bk.html
Serbianna News Agency (23/10/2006), By Russell, Gordon “Behind Kosovo’s façade”. Website: http://www.serbianna.com/columns/gordon/004.shtml
Radio Free Europe; Background Report/253 (31/10/1983), By Louis Zanga, “Albanian Population Growth”. Reprinted by the Open Society Foundation Archives. Website: http://files.osa.ceu.hu/holdings/300/8/3/text/3-13-10.shtml
Kaplan, Robert D. “Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History”,P. 95-98 St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1993. The chapter of Kaplan on Serbia, extensively and articulately grasps the importance of Kosovo-Metohija for the Serbian nation and the consequences of a potential loose of that territory.
USA AID Organization Publications (2002), “Wahhabi presence in Sanjak”. Website: www.pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNADC982.pdf
Indian Ministry of External Affairs Publications (2003), “Assessment of FYROM”. Website: www.meaindia.nic.in/foreignrelation/macedonia.pdf
BBC News (32/12/2005), “Muslims in Europe: Country guide”. Web Site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4385768.stm
Wikipedia (2007), “History of Ottoman Albania”. Website: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Ottoman_Albania
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Publications (11/2003), “The human rights of Muslims in Bulgaria in law and politics since 1978”. Chapter 2, Paragraph 2. Web site: www.bghelsinki.org/special/en/2003_Muslims_fm.doc
Hellenic Resources Network Organization, “Presentation of the Lausanne Treaty”. Website: www.hri.org/docs/straits/exchange.html
London School of Economics; Hellenic Observatory Annual Symposium; Paper presentation, By Giorgios Niarchos Ph.D Candidate, “Continuity & Change in the minority policies of Greece & Turkey”. Website: www.lse.ac.uk/collections/hellenicObservatory/pdf/symposiumPapersonline/Niarchos.pdf
Ibid. AND Saudi Aramco Corporation Publications (08/1976), By Pamela Roberson, “Islam in Greece”. P. 26-32
BBC News (23/12/2005), “Muslims in Europe: Country guide”. Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4385768.stm
Wikipedia (2007), “Kraijna”. Web Site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krajina, ALSO for an in-depth analysis of the ethno-religious lines during the era of the Ottoman Empire in the Northern Balkans: Blumi Isa,”Contesting the edges of the Ottoman Empire: Rethinking ethnic and sectarian boundaries in the Malesore”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 35:P. 237-256, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003
M. E. Mallet and J. R.Hale, “The Military organization of a Renaissance State: Venice ca. 1400 to 1617″,Cambridge University Press,London, 1984
Footnotes for: “Narcotics and the emergence of crime syndicates in the Balkans”
Interpol official publication (2006), “Heroin production”, Website: http://www.interpol.int/Public/Drugs/heroin/default.asp
Council of Foreign Affairs (09/2006), by Lionel Beehner; “Afghanistan’s role in Iran’s Drug problem”. Website: http://www.cfr.org/publication/11457/
BBC News Europe (03/08/2000), “Albanian mafia steps up people smuggling”. Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/863620.stm
Federal Research Division, Library of Congress (12/2002), By Glenn E. Curtis & Tara Karacan. Website: http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/pdf-files/WestEurope_NEXUS.pdf
Website of Xavier Raufer: http://www.xavier-raufer.com/
The Washington Quarterly Journal (09/1999), By Frank Cilluffo & George Salmoiraghi. Website: http://www.twq.com/autumn99/224Cilluffo.pdf
EUROPOL Publications (2005), “EU Report on drug production and drug traffiking 2003-2004. Web site : http://www.europol.europa.eu/publications/SeriousCrimeOverviews/2005/SC2Drugs-2005.pdf
CEMES Institute (2004), “Balkan trafficking report”. Website: http://www.cemes.org/current/ethpub/ethnobar/wp1/wp1-d.htm
Sisyphe Organization (02/2005), By Prof. Richard Poulin, “The legalization of prostitution and its impact in trafficking of women and children”. Website: http://sisyphe.org/article.php3?id_article=1596
Maltz D. Michael , “Defining Organized Crime”, in: Robert J. Kelly et al. (eds.), Handbook of Organized Crime in the United States, Westport/London 1994, 21-37. ALSO for the particular Modus Opperandi of the Albanian criminal groups see: Raufer, Xavier avec Stéphane Quéré. “La Mafia Albanaise, une Menace pour l’Europe: Comment est née cette Superpuissance Criminelle Balkanique” P. 12-124, Lausanne, Favre, 2000.
United Nations Information Service in Vienna (09/2004), “Nexus between drugs, crime & terrorism”. Website: http://www.unis.unvienna.org/unis/pressrels/2004/uniscp500.html
Xavier Raufer (2002), “At the heart of the Balkan chaos: Albanian mafia”. Website: http://www.xavier-raufer.com/english_5.php
BIA -Security Information Agency- (09/2003), “Organized crime in Kosovo & Metohija”. Website: http://www.decani.org/albterrorism.html
National Post (04/2000), By Patrick Graham, “Drug wars: Kosovo’s new battles”. Website: http://www.balkanpeace.org/index.php?index=article&articleid=7582
Wikipedia (2007), “Albanians”. Website: http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albanians
Observatoire Geopolitque des Drogues Foundation; Annual Report (1996) “The World Geopolitics of Drugs”.Page 61-75.
Wikipedia (2007), “Opium”. Website: http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium
FBI Publications (2002), “Report on transnational narcotics trade”. Website: http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cid/orgcrime/lcn/ioc.htm
Drug Text organization, Reference library, By McCoy, “Marseille: America’s heroin labatory”. Website: http://www.drugtext.org/library/books/McCoy/book/11.htm
Federation of American Scientists briefing, “Kurds I Turkey”. Website: http://www.fas.org/asmp/profiles/turkey_background_kurds.htm
The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed. (2001-2005), “Iran-Iraq war”. Website: http://www.bartleby.com/65/ir/IranIraq.html
Charles R. Grosvenor Jr. (2007), “The Iran-Contra scandal”. Website: http://www.inthe80s.com/scandal.shtml
Lobster Magazine; Issue 30 (1995), “Persian Drugs: Oliver North, the DEA and Covert Operations in the Mideast”
German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (10/2006), “Profile of Turkey”. Website: http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/diplo/en/Laender/Tuerkei.html
DHKC Information Bureau (01/1997), “The Susurluk accident”. Website: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/51/289.html
BBC News (06/10/2005), By Sarah Rainsford, “ Turkey at the drugs crossroads”. Web site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4305692.stm
West Network organization (1998), “Corruption in Turkey”. Website: http://users.westnet.gr/~cgian/cillermurder.htm
Le Monde Diplomatic (07/1998), By Kendal Nezan, “Turkey’s pivotal role in international drugs trade”. Website: http://mondediplo.com/1998/07/05
Centre for Drugs Research-University of Amsterdam- (1998), By Tim Boekhout Van Solinge, “Drugs use & trafficking in Europe”. Website: http://www.cedro-uva.org/lib/boekhout.drug.pdf
Journalismus Nachrichten Von Heute (11/12/2006), “The Highjacking of a Nation”, Quoting Mark Galeotti, a former UK intelligence officer and expert on the Turkish mafia. Web Site: oraclesyndicate.twoday.net/stories/3049459
Centre for European Reform (07/2006), By Hugo Brady, “Organized crime & punishment”. Web Site: http://www.cer.org.uk/articles/brady_esharp_july_aug06.html
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Publications, “Open Edition on Albanian people”. Web Site: http://www.thefellowship.info/Global%20Missions/UPG/Albanian.icm
CNN (26/10/2004), By Eric Pearce, “Albanian crime rings suspects arrested”. Website: http://www.mfa.gov.yu/FDP/CNN-261004_1.html
Balkanalysis news agency (30/11/2006), By Christopher Deliso, “The hijacking of a nation, part-2”. Website: http://www.balkanalysis.com/2006/11/30/the-hijacking-of-a-nation-part-2-the-auctioning-of-former-statesmen-dime-a-dozen-generals/
American Council for Kosovo organization (28/08/2006), “Text of report in English by Belgrade based Radio B92”. Website: http://www.savekosovo.org/default.asp?p=5&leader=0&sp=118
Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (11/05/2005), “Bucharest Declaration”. Website: http://www.mvpei.hr/seecp/docs/7_BUCHAREST_DECLARATION_11_MAY_2005.pdf
Subcommittee on European Affairs, Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate (30/10/2003), Testimony by Grant D. Ashley, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division, FBI, “Eurasian, Italian, and Balkan Organized Crime”. Website: http://www.fbi.gov/congress/congress03/ashley103003.htm ALSO see more on: Galeotti, Mark. 2001. “Albanian Gangs Gain Foothold in European Crime Underworld.” Jane’s Intelligence Review 13(11, November): 25-7.
CIAO organization, interview of Mark Edmond Clark in CIAO, “Terrorism and organized crime”. Website: http://www.ciaonet.org/special_section/iraq/papers/clm10/clm10.html
The Center for Peace in the Balkans (06/2003), “Humanitarian bombing vs. Iraqi freedom”. Website: http://www.balkanpeace.org/index.php?index=/content/analysis/a14.incl
Global Policy Forum (2004), “Kosovo”. Website: http://www.globalpolicy.org/security//issues///ksvindx.htm
Gus Xhudo. (1996) “Men of Purpose: The Growth of Albanian Criminal Activity.” Transnational Organized Crime. 2(1). Spring: 1-20
Website of Xavier Raufer: http://www.xavier-raufer.com/
Wikipedia (2007), “Albanian Mafia”. Website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albanian_mafia
USA Department of State (2006), Trafficking in person’s reports”. Website: http://www.state.gov/g/tip/
Albanian-Canadian organization (2006), “Dateline of Albanian history”. Website: http://www.albanian.ca/datehistory.htm
Serbianna News Agency (19/04/2005), By M. Bozinovich, “Al-Qaeda in Kosovo”. Website: http://www.serbianna.com/columns/mb/035.shtml
Interpol official publication (2006), “Heroin production”, Website: http://www.interpol.int/Public/Drugs/heroin/default.asp
Italian Parliament Publications (29/03/2006), Report by Senator Alberto Maritati, “Organized crime in the Balkans with a reference to Albania”. Website:
Open Democracy Foundation (16/08/2006), By Ilija Trojanow, “Bulgaria: The Mafia’s dance to Europe”. Website: http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-europefuture/bulgaria_3825.jsp
Information acquired through various reliable journalistic sources in Bulgaria
Robert Schumann Foundation (17/10/2006), By Corrine Deloy, “Presidential election in Bulgaria”. Website: http://www.robert-schuman.org/anglais/oee/bulgarie/presidentielle/default2.htm
Xenakis Sappho, “International Norm Diffusion and Organised Crime Policy: The Case of Greece”, Global Crime, Volume 6, Issue 3 & 4 August 2004 , pages 345 – 373, London.
Business Week Journal (20/06/2005), BY Alkman Granitsas, “Digging for gold in the Balkans”. Website: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_25/b3938161_mz035.htm
Central Asian Jihadists’ Use of Cryptocurrencies in Bitcoin
On August 13, 2020, the US Justice Department announced that it seized $2 million in Bitcoin and other types of cryptocurrency from accounts of three Salafi-Jihadi extremist groups, including al Qaeda and the Islamic State, relied on to finance their organizations and violent plots. According to their statement, the U.S. authorities seized over 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites, and four Facebook pages all related to Sunni-Jihadi militant organizations. Indeed, the disclosed criminal case documents indicate that this was the largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency by US intelligence agencies in the context of terrorism.
US counterterrorism agents analyzed transactions of cryptocurrency on the blockchain, a secure form of public ledger for the online funds, and employed undercover operations as well as search warrants on email accounts to establish a money trail of Sunni terror groups that was detailed in an 87-pages of the Washington DC federal court report
The revealed papers indicate, in some instances, al Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist groups in Syria acted under the cover of charities ‘Al Sadaqah’ and ‘Reminder for Syria’. In this regard, it should be noted that some al Qaeda-linked Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups also have frequently acted under the umbrella of the charity ‘Al Sadaqah’ for bitcoin money laundering and have solicited cryptocurrency donations via Telegram channels to further their terrorist goals.
But that doesn’t mean that Islamist terrorist groups from the post-Soviet space raised funds precisely through this charity ‘Al Sadaqah’ of al Qaeda, whose accounts were seized by the US Justice Department. It has become a tradition in the Islamic world that charity organizations and foundations widely give to themselves the names ‘Al Sadaqah’ and ‘Zakat’, as the Quranic meaning of these words (Quran 2:43; 63:10;9:103)exactly corresponds to the purposes of “voluntary charity”. Analysis of the finance campaigns of al Qaeda-affiliated Central Asian militant groups demonstrates that they frequently raised cryptocurrency donations through charities called ‘Al Sadaqah’ and ‘Zakat’.
In order to explore the scale of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi Jamaats’ crowdfunding campaigns, we analyzed their social media activities where they raised Bitcoins, dollars, Russian rubles and Turkish lira over the past two years.The methods and sources of the Uzbek and Uighur Islamist militants’ crowdfunding campaigns in bitcoins are about the same as those of their parent organizations, the global Sunni terrorist groups ISIS and al Qaeda.Due to the inclusion in the list of terrorist groups, they carry out sophisticated cyber-operations for solicitation of cryptocurrency donations.
Before “mastering” the complex technology of cyber-tools in order to raise bitcoin funds in cyberspace, Central Asian jihadists used the simple ‘hawala’ money transfer system (informal remittance system via money brokers).Sometimes they have resorted to conventional ‘hand-to-hand’ cash transfer channels, where trust, family relationships or regional affiliations play an important role.
According to a UN report, Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi terrorist group Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), Katibat Imam al Bukhari (KIB) and the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG) leading jihad in Syrian Idlib province have close financial ties with its cells in Afghanistan. The UN Security Council’s Sanctions Monitoring Team states that “regular monthly payments of about $ 30,000 are made to Afghanistan through the hawala system for KTJ.”
The UN report asserts that “similarly to KTJ, KIB sends financial assistance, from its cell in Istanbul, through the hawala system to Afghanistan. Funds are brought in by informal money exchangers for Jumaboi from Maymana, the capital of Faryab. The original source of this income is the smuggling of fuel, food and medicine from neighboring Turkmenistan.”According to the UN report, “suffering material losses, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)and Tajik militant group JamaatAnsarullah (JA) are forced to engage in criminal activity, including transportation of drugs along the northern route in Afghanistan.”For the Uighur jihadists of Turkestan Islamist Party (TIP) from China’s Xinjiang province operating under the umbrella of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in northern Syria, “funding comes primarily from the Uighur diaspora” in Turkey, Central and Southeast Asia.
Dark Web & Bitcoin: New Endeavor of Central Asian Terrorists
With the development of digital cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin, Central Asian jihadists actively began to exploit this innovative financial transaction system to support their attacks and other terrorist activities. It is known that al Qaeda-backed Salafi-Jihadi groups of the post-Soviet space are seeking to purify Islam of any innovations (Bid’ah) and strictly following the Sharia law. They live similarly to how the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his companions lived in the seventh-century and always oppose any form of Bid’ah, considering it to be shirk and heresy. However, the Uzbek and Uighur Wahhabis did not shy away from using bitcoin innovation.
The first advertisements of Central Asian terrorist groups crowdfunding campaigns accepting bitcoin for Jihadi purposes in Syria appeared on the Telegram channel in 2017. In November of that year, a self-proclaimed charity group al-Sadaqah began a fundraising campaign on the internet from Western supporters to help the Malhama Tactical, the first private military contractor team from Central Asia working exclusively for jihadist groups in Syria.Al-Sadaqah in English on Telegram, explicitly relying on the English-speaking western sponsors, called on them to make bitcoin donations to finance the Malhama Tactical and the Mujahedeen fighting against the Assad regime in northeastern Syria.
As we have previously analyzed, Malhama Tactical is a private jihadi contractor operating in the Idlib-Aleppo region of Syria. The group, founded by an Uzbek jihadist Abu Salman (his real name is Sukhrob Baltabaev) from Osh City of Southern Kyrgyzstan in May 2016, is closely allied with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the strongest militant factions in northern Syria. The Malhama Tactical is known to have regularly conducted military training for jihadists of HTS, Ahrar al-Sham, Ajnad al Kavkaz and the Turkistan Islamic Party.After the death of Abu Salman in August 2019, Ali Ash-Shishani, the native of Russia’s North Caucasus became the new leader of Malhama Tactical.
In 2017-18, al-Sadaqah charity on Telegram called on followers to donate via a “Bitcoin wallet anonymously and safely for the Mujahedeen brothers of Malhama Tactical”. The charity group urged potential cryptocurrency contributions to benefit from “the ability to confuse the trail and keep anonymity”.
We do not know how much bitcoin money al-Sadaqah managed to raise for the activities of the Central Asian Muhajireen. But according to Malhama Tactical’s report on the internet, crowdfunding has been “fruitful.” In an effort to explain how donations were spent, Malhama Tactical has advertised extensively to followers on 17 October 2018, in a video posted on Telegram, that a new training camp had been built and purchased airsoft rifles, night vision devices and other modern ammunitions.
Since 2018, Uzbek and Uighur militant groups KTJ, KIB and TIP have begun an agitation campaign to fundraising bitcoin money on the Internet. Judging by the widespread call for Bitcoin donation online, their need for anonymous, secure, and hassle-free funding streams have made cryptocurrencies of some potential value to them. These properties are the anonymity of fundraising, the usability of remittance and transfer of funds, the security of attack funding, acceptance of funds, reliability, and volume of web money.
And every time they announced a crowdfunding campaign, they clearly declared for what purpose the collected bitcoins would be used. For example, al Qaeda-linked KTJ’s most recent call for bitcoin appeared on Telegram in May 2020 as a banner that asks to “Equip a jihadist”. The poster showed a masked jihadist and the exploitation of the Quran’s Hadith in Uzbek, calling on the believers to prepare and equip a fighter going on a raid for the sake of Allah.
Another picture shows a jihadist with a Kalashnikov AK-74 in his hand, over whose head enemy planes and helicopters fly. The picture gives a symbolic meaning about the empty-handed jihadists in Syria, fighting against the Russian and Syrian powerful military aircraft to protect the Islamic Ummah. Then goes on with KTJ’s call to make donations in bitcoins and rubles to purchasing equipment and ammunition for the Central Asian Mujahedeen in Syria. On the bottom it was displayed the long address of the virtual wallet for Bitcoin donations along with KTJ’s Telegram and web contacts promising the anonymity of potential donors.
On June 18, 2020, KTJ militants published the opinion of the well-known ideologue of modern jihadism Abu Qatada al-Falastini in Telegram from whom they asked whether the crowdfunding campaign of Bitcoin for the purposes of Jihad contradicts Islam. As it is known, there are still ongoing disputes among the world’s top Islamic scholars about whether cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, are deemed Sharia-compliant.
Abu Qatada from a religious point of view justified the acceptability of using Bitcoin to protect the Islamic Ummah and wage holy Jihad, but at the same time warned against full confidence in Bitcoin. In his opinion, the enemies of Islam can destroy this cryptocurrency in the future, and if it loses its current value, and then the devout Muslims who have invested their savings in Bitcoin could go bankrupt. Abu Qatada al Falastini is a greatly respected Salafi thinker among Central Asian jihadists and he gave a pep talk to KTJ when it pledged bayat (Oath of Allegiance) to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri in 2015.
On June 25, 2020, KTJ posted another Crypto Crowdfunding campaign announcement on its Telegram channel to provide Uzbek jihadists with modern military gear and equipment. For clarity, the group published a picture entitled “Perform jihad with your property” in Uzbek, which indicates the prices for military clothing and weapons. For example, the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle costs $300, unloading vest for AK-47 cartridges – $20, Field Jacket – $50, Military Combat Boots – $30.In total, $400 will be needed on the full provision of one Mujahid with weapons and uniforms. On the upper side of the picture is a Hadith quote about “He who equips a fighter in Allah’s path has taken part in the fighting.”
A month later, the group’s Telegram channel reported that it had managed to raise $4,000, for which 8 sets of weapons and uniforms were purchased for the Uzbek Mujahedeen. Also, KTJ’s media representative announced that the group is stopping the fundraising campaign for this project.
Other projects of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups were the Bitcoin crowdfunding campaign for the purchase of motorcycles for Inghimasi fighters (shock troops who penetrate into the enemy’s line with no intent to come back alive), cameras, portable radios, sniper rifles and night vision devices. For each project, a separate closed account was opened on the website of jihadist groups in Telegram, after which the Bitcoin and Monero accounts, as well as contact information, were closed.
Another crowdfunding project posted on January 29, 2020, in Telegram, called ‘Helping captive Muslim sisters’ and claims to raise money to free Kyrgyz, Tajik and Uzbek ISIS women hold in the al-Hol refugee camp in northeast Syria controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. The KTJ jihadists posted pictures of Central Asian women with their children holding posters “We need help” in Kyrgyz, and asked the fellow Muslim believers to raise money to ransom them from the captivity of the Kurdish communists. It was not clear to us how much money was raised as a result of the crowdfunding campaign since this channel was later blocked by the Telegram administrator.
The annual largest crowdfunding project for the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups is being implemented on the eve of the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, during which believers pay Zakat (obligatory tax) and Sadaqah (voluntary alms).According to the Quran, recipients of the Zakat and the Sadaqah include the poor and needy, debtors, volunteers in jihad, and pilgrims.
The websites of the Central Asian Jihadist Jamaats revealed that their crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the jihad was particularly active during Ramadan. Ramadan is known as a holy and generous month, but this year was especially generous to notorious al Qaeda-linked Central Asian extremist groups. KTJ, KIB, Uighur’s TIP and Russian-speaking North Caucasian militant group Liwa al Muhajireen wal Ansar (LMA), that pledged allegiance to HTS, have boosted their military budget during Ramadan.
To avoid the risk of being blocked or tracked, they created a temporary mirror group called ‘Zakat’, where the donation money was received. Zakat’s wallet received donations from Central Asian labor migrants in Russia in the amount of $150 to $220 each time to purchase livestock, which was then slaughtered in sacrificial prayer on behalf of the donors. After Ramadan and the holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the ‘Zakat’ mirror group in Telegram was closed.
The Central Asian Islamist extremist groups have asked their supporters to make Bitcoin donations mainly at the following two virtual wallet addresses:
Our analysis confirmed that multiple transactions were made to these bitcoin addresses. In addition, other transactions were made in digital currencies, the addresses of which were blocked on Telegram.
In conclusion, the significance of the crowdfunding campaigns in bitcoin should not be given exaggerated importance, even though they have improved the position of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups in Syria and Afghanistan, and boosted their budget. Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi terrorist groups’ technical abilities are not currently suited to bypass the financial controls of international counterterrorism organizations and discreetly conduct money laundering.
The history of their activities has shown that small Uzbek, Uighur and Russian-speaking Islamist extremist groups from the post-Soviet space and China have been assimilated with more powerful global Sunni terrorist organizations such as ISIS, al Qaeda and HTS. And accordingly, their potential for crowdfunding campaigns in bitcoin should be viewed through the prism of their global parent organizations.
In any case, the governments of Central Asia and Russia do not have sufficient mechanisms and leverage to combat illegal cryptocurrency transactions on the dark web by global Salafi-Jihadi movements waging jihad in the Middle East. As noted at the beginning of this article, such opportunities to monitor and investigate jihadist crowdfunding activities are available to the US government and financial institutions. For example, the U.S. Treasury“ has access to unique financial data about flows of funds within the international financial and commercial system,” which is invaluable for tracking illicit flows of money.
Consequently, Central Asian governments must rely not only on Moscow but also actively cooperate with Western counter-terrorism and financial institutions to disrupt the Salafi-Jihadi group’s external crypto crowdfunding sources.
The Afghan intelligence services
Still today the Afghan Intelligence Services’ ability to collect information is definitively scarce. This is mainly due to the limited specific training of staff and the very scarce and even improper use of the most recent technologies.
The Afghan Intelligence Services collect information mainly in major cities and in the areas most controlled by the government and this often leads the decision-makers who use this “complacent” or rhetorical intelligence to make severe evaluation errors.
The National Directorate of Security (NDS) does not correctly disseminate its news in the traditional “information cycle” of a Service and therefore it leaves decision-makers with scarce, incomplete and often inaccurate information. Established in 2001 and heavily supported by the United States, the NDS is based in Kabul but is strongly supported by Germany, GBritain and obviously the United States. It should be noted that its first Director was Mohammed Arif Sarwari, one of the leaders of the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, i.e. the old “Northern Alliance”.
It was precisely the NDS that in 2015 caused the fall of Kunduz into the hands of the Taliban, who were, indeed, a full invention of the Pakistani Intelligence Services, which were in search of an Afghanistan that could only play the role of “depth area” for a possible nuclear or even conventional confrontation with India. Ironically, it is from the Pakistani Intelligence Services that the United States received the largest or almost total amount of news and information precisely, or apparently, against the Taliban. Quos Deus lose vult, dementat.
Moreover, the current relations between the NDS, the National Security Agency of Afghanistan (NSA), i.e. another Intelligence Service in Kabul, the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry show a very poor ability of communication and exchange of news between them, which makes them often be late in their operations or even useless.
Or sometimes voluntary collaborators of what Westerners would call the “enemy”, but for some operatives or executives of the NDS or of the other Afghan Intelligence Services could also be an “Islamic brother”. Sometimes it has happened.
In the case of Kunduz, the very evident and aggressive Taliban operations were deemed ineffective or irrelevant. Nobody took seriously the news coming from the most reliable “sources” among the rebels. No agency of the Afghan Service took seriously or even studied the Taliban operations in Kunduz.
The NDS, however, was established mainly with the support of the American CIA.
But there is a strategic and conceptual problem that should not be overlooked at all: all NATO countries that participated or still participate in military operations in Afghanistan have very different ideas about their role in the war against the “rebels” and in the country.
The Resolute Support Mission, composed of about 13,000-16,000 soldiers from 39 NATO countries and from other countries, operates from Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar and Laghman, and focuses mainly on the training of Afghan forces, as well as on military consultancy and assistance, hoping that the local Afghan forces will reach a level capable of ensuring at least fictitious national independence.
At least until 2014, akey year for the new relationship between NATO and the Afghan government, the Italians – who are still training the Afghan police very well – went there especially not to displease the usual U.S. Big Father that the Italian strategic system still sees as unquestionable and unassailable.
This participation “to bring democracy” has led to some positive effects for Italy, especially on the technological-intelligence level. But it has never been enough.
Nevertheless, the silly servility and sycophancy of Italian politicians, who closely resemble the character of Nando Mericoni played by Alberto Sordi in the movie An American in Rome, is still largely widespread. Italian politicians – even starting from the text of the Constitution – do not know or do not want to understand the eternal rules of foreign policy and strategic thinking, of which they know nothing yet.
Certainly you cannot obtain votes, additional funding and small favours from foreign policy. This is the level of Italian politicians, especially in current times more than in the past.
France, as long as it stayed in Afghanistan, interpreted its presence in Kabul as a way to control Asia’s intermediate axis so as to avoid Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Iranian and even American expansion.
The Brits went to Afghanistan to fight against a “terrorism” of which – like everyone in the West-they do not know the organizational and doctrinal roots or even the purposes, but see as the maximum destabilization of their unreasonably “multi-ethnic” and hence inevitably “multipolitical” societies.
This is the terrible case of a propaganda that stifles even the ruling classes that should be immune to it.
Certainly this was not even true in Afghanistan because the bad guy, namely Osama bin Laden, was often elsewhere. He was considered the only mastermind of the aforementioned “radical Islamic terrorism” – or whatever can be defined with this rather rough terminology – and hence to be killed, like a horse thief in the Far West. As has precisely happened, the killing of Osama bin Laden did not change anything.
He had to be killed because he had killed American citizens. True, right. But foreign policy is never the extension of any country’s domestic criminal law.
There was even Germany present in Afghanistan to contemplate its military decline, but above all to show – even eighty years later – that it was no longer a Nazi country. As Marx would have said, le mort saisit le vif.
In short, the varied presence of NATO and of the initial coalitions of the willing in the War on Terror had no clear ideas and probably did not even know where it really was.
Meanwhile, since 2014 – the year of the actual withdrawal from Afghanistan by the United States and its attack forces (after rigged elections, but in any case, whenever the United States participate in operations abroad, it always has acoitus interruptus)– the Taliban have started their great and real campaign to conquer the territory and, above all, the Afghan “souls”.
In 2015 NATO and the United States had planned to keep 13,000 military plus 9,800 U.S. soldiers for counter-terrorism activities. Later, however, the withdrawal from the Afghan territory – coincidentally after the great Battle for Kunduz – ended in December 2016, but leaving alive and operational as many as 8,400 soldiers on the ground.
Currently as in the past, the real problem for Afghanistan is Pakistan. General Musharraf, the former Pakistani President from June 20, 2001 to 18 August 18, 2008 (note the dates) and perpetrator of the 1999 military coup, clearly stated that the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), i.e. the Pakistan single intelligence structure, supported and trained all terrorist groups in Pakistan so as to later send them to Afghanistan, with a view to carrying out “terrorist” attacks on NATO, Western and Afghan targets.
In 2015 -a key year for Afghanistan – in an interview with The Guardian, Musharraf clearly said that the ISI had always “cultivated” the Taliban mainly to destabilize the government led by Karzai (a man also linked to India) but, in particular, to carry out harsh actions against India.
Pakistan keeps on supporting terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world – not only the Taliban, but also the other groups.
Rahmatullah Nabil, the Chief of the NDS -i.e. the new Intelligence Service affiliated to CIA but entirely Afghan – also officially showed documents proving that the funds long granted by the United States to Pakistan to “fight terrorism” shifted to the Pakistani Service ISI, precisely to train, recruit and support terrorism.
Hence the forgetfulness – so to speak – of the Afghan governments with regard to intelligence comes from far away.
At the time of the Soviet invasion, the KGB and the GRU created their two local counterparts, namely the Khadamar e-Aetela’at Al-Dawlati (KHaD) and the Wazeelat e-Amniat-e-Daulati (WAD), respectively.
The two agencies disappeared when Najibullah’s government fell in 1992, pending the great Russian crisis. As a result, however, also the Afghan State in all its forms collapsed. Therefore also the two agencies linked to the Soviet intelligence Services evaporated.
What there was, anyway, in the Afghan Intelligence Services before the Soviet invasion?
The first governments that had just come to power, after Russia’s arrival, organized four agencies: Kargarano Amniyati Mu’asasa (KAM), i.e. the “Workers’ Intelligence Service”;Da Afghanistan da Gato de Satalo Adara (AGDA), i.e. the “Agency for Safeguarding Afghan Interests”, Amin’s real longa manus, and the aforementioned WAD and KhAD.
The President of the time, Noor Tarakai, had little power, while Hafizullah Amin made sure that both the Communist Party (or, more precisely, the Afghan People’s Democratic Party) and the Agencies were divided in two, always following the policy line of the Khalq and Parcham factions.
The Khalq (meaning “masses” or “people”) was directly supported by the USSR. It was largely made up of Pashtuns and was particularly popular among the working classes.
The very superficial Marxism shown by the faction was often only a way to defend the Pashto world from the pressures of other ethnic groups.
The Parcham (meaning “flag”) was the most widespread faction of the party in the urban classes and in the middle and upper classes.
Eternal separation between rural and urban areas, a typically Maoist and classic crux of every practical and extra-Western interpretation of Marxism-Leninism.
The Parcham reunited laboriously with the Khalq faction during the 1978 Revolution, but it really came to power only after the Soviet operation, the local coup, i.e. Operation Tempest 333 of December 27, 1979, when the Alpha divisions of the KGB quickly took the Tajbeg palace and assassinated Hafizullah Amin.
Meanwhile, it was Amin himself who had ordered the assassination of his predecessor, Mohammed Taraki.
In the intermediate phase of his regime, Amin also had many Afghans assassinated – and not only his known opponents.
A possible, future “Cambodian” twist of Afghan Communism? Probably so.
At that juncture the USSR intervened since it did not want ideological deviations or Afghan approaches to Chinese Communism, as practiced in Vietnam or, precisely, in Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia. Hence Operation Shtorm 333 was carried out which, apart from Amin’s assassination, lasted approximately three months, to definitively “settle” the remaining issues.
With specific reference to the Afghan intelligence services, Hafizullah Amin mainly used the AGSA, but also the KAM, only to settle his scores. The two agencies, however, received technical assistance and training from East Germany and the USSR.
Nevertheless, the shift between the different ethnic groups is precisely the key to understanding the Afghan intelligence services prior to the U.S. and NATO operations. I believe that, in any case, ethnic factionalism – probably dating back to the old political-tribal faith – was the key to the functioning of the new Afghan Intelligence Services, even during the naive Western administration.
In January 1980 the KHaD fully replaced the KAM.
Furthermore, the KHaD was placed outside the administration of the Interior Ministry, dominated by the Khalq and then immediately transferred to the office of the Prime Minister, who later also became National Security Minister.
The Directors of the Afghan Intelligence Services always reported directly to the KGB and, in 1987, the standard situation was that the Afghan Intelligence Service employed almost 30,000 operatives and officials and over 100,000 paid informants.
Each element of the Afghan Intelligence Service had at least one KGB “advisor” behind them. As also shown in Syria, Russia paid but did not trust it too much.
Between 1983 and 1993, the Pakistani Intelligence Service ISI -established by a British officer – trained, with the support of CIA, almost 90,000 Mujahideen to send them fighting the USSR in Afghanistan.
The KHaD had also the statutory obligation to “defend the Communist regime” and “unite all Afghan ethnic groups under one single political system”, especially in collaboration with the Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs.
Again in the 1980s, the KHaD always had both East German and Soviet instructors and numerous secret mass executions took place.
About 60,000 Afghans were sent to the USSR between 1980 and 1984.
Again in those years, as many as 10,000 KHaD officers received special training from the KGB.
In an old confidential document, CIA also estimated that the total cost of the Soviet engagement in Afghanistan was over 15 billion roubles, plus additional 3 billion roubles for the period when it did not directly occupy Kabul.
Since currently the 1979 rouble is still worth 22.26 Euros, in principle we can calculate a Russian occupation expenditure of 233 billion and 930 million, plus the extra three billion roubles.
The KHaD also created tribal militias on the borders, while the KGB organized the internal tribes on its own, mainly for sabotage and to spread dezinformatsjia.
After the USSR’s final collapse and the arrival of the United States, however, a new Afghan Service, the NDS, was immediately created.
It was made up mainly of former KHaD agents and Mujahideen. Indeed, there was no other population available.
The Service, however, was known to be bad or even very bad: its operatives and analysts were selected only on a tribal level or by simple political affiliation.
They never went to school for education and training. They had no serious training centres and they did not professionally check their networks of informants.
Even the United States, however, spent a lot of money in Afghanistan: the Congressional Research Office has calculated a 1.6 trillion dollar spending in Afghanistan and Iraq only for the “War on Terror”.
The Afghan Service costs the USA 6.4 billion dollars every two years.
And spending always tends to increase, regardless of the poor results reached.
What about China? First of all, China wants the political stability of Afghanistan, which is a neighbouring and Islamic country. In particular, it controls Kabul to prevent Uyghur jihadism from finding a safe and secure place there. It prevents the Uyghurs from having contacts with the Taliban. It has already happened.
Everything will happen when the United States definitively leaves Afghanistan, since China now regards that country as an essential pawn in its relationship with India, while – through Pakistan – China strengthens its relations with the Taliban, which the Chinese view as the next and inevitable masters of Kabul. This forecast is really easy to make.
Moreover, China provided 70 million per year to the Afghan government to support its counter-terrorism efforts, while there have long been Chinese soldiers in Badakhstan and, above all, in the Wakhan Corridor, where it is said that China has already created a military base and has even already deployed a brigade of the People’s Liberation Army.
China has also put pressures on Kabul for Afghanistan to accept its satellite positioning system, instead of the GPS developed and managed by the United States.
Some Chinese troops, however, have also been stationing in Tajikistan for long time, again to protect the Wakhan Corridor.
Since his rise to power in 2014, however, also Ashraf Ghanihas thought to immediately improve his relations with China so as to use, first of all, China’s influence on Pakistan to avoid the Pakistani support to the Taliban – which is unlikely – as well as ensure that China begins to invest significantly in Afghanistan, now that the civil and international war is on the wane.
The China-Pakistan Corridor, one of the first axes of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative, is now worth 62 billion U.S. dollars of costs alone.
There is also a new railway line leaving from the port of Gwadar, the axis of China’s projection, and arriving in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan and beyond.
In 2016 China also signed an agreement with Afghanistan for the Belt & Road Initiative, with the promise of 100 million U.S. dollars for infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, which have not been provided yet.
Trade between Afghanistan and China is fully asymmetric and, until Afghanistan is completely pacified – certainly by others and not by China -we believe that that the issue will not be very relevant, at least for China.
And until the triangulation between the Taliban, Pakistan and China – which has still many doubts about the reliability of the Pakistani “students” operating in Afghanistan (precisely, the Taliban) -is not even clear, the Afghan economic revival – if at China’s expense – will be slow or unlikely.
The way in which the Chinese intelligence services operate
Since the time of Empress Wu Chao, who created the first Chinese intelligence service in 625 A.D., much has changed, but we could also say that some traits have not completely changed, as we might believe at first sight.
Later there was China’s extraordinary adventure in the modern world, which began with the fall of the last Emperor Pu Yi, who was also guilty of collaborationism with the Japanese in Manchukuo and ended his days artistically drawing the phrase “today the people are sovereign” at the court of Mao Zedong.However, as early as 1934, the British intelligence Services deciphered MASK, the code used by the Komintern to encode information from Moscow to Shanghai which, at that time, was the CPC’s pole.
However, it was in 1957 that the United States began to fly its U-2s over China, starting from Peshawar.
In 1966, two years after the beginning of the Great Cultural and Proletarian Revolution, there was the great purge of the intelligence services in China carried out by the very powerful Kang Sheng. He was the mover of the fall of Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and Lin Biao, but then he was associated with the “Gang of Four” and hence suffered the usual damnation memoriae. A man of Mao Zedong who knew too much, but died in his bed.
Then, as is well-known, in 1971 Li Biao was killed while fleeing to the USSR with his plane.
Not surprisingly, again in 1971, Kissinger began to deal secretly with China. Lin Biao’s death was the seal on the definitive strategic separation between China and the Soviet Union – which was what the United States was interested in.
In 1973 the first CIA “station” was created at the U.S. liaison office in Beijing, while China took the Paracel Islands and CIA left its main station in Taiwan.
In 1975 the first Chinese Electronic Intelligence satellite (ELINT) was launched, but the following year saw the death of Zhou Enlai, the true master of Chinese foreign policy and Kissinger’s friend who protected Mao from his mistakes.
The Armed Forces returned to power: with the support of all the military, Deng Xiaoping quickly put Hua Guofeng aside and became the CPC Secretary, but reforms were still being studied. Initially Deng was not as reformist as currently believed in the West.
Hence in Deng’s reformist phase, the U.S. diplomatic recognition was shifted from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China – and that was China’s real goal at the time.
Shortly afterwards, China also opened diplomatic offices in the United States.
In 1981, however, the Americans developed programmes for controlling the Chinese agents operating in the USA, while Deng Xiaoping himself started China’s nuclear rearmament.
The China National Nuclear Corporation was established in 1988.
Ten years later, in 1999, the Chinese Armed Forces built a base for intercepting military signals in Cuba but, in 2002, the Chinese cyber attacks on some U.S. networks – known as TITAN RAIN – began, while the FBI even opened a liaison office in Beijing, with assignments also extended to Mongolia.
In 2004, China put the Nanosatellite I into orbit, but there was also a further cyber attack – probably of Chinese origin – on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command, as well as on the Naval Ocean Systems Center, and finally on the space and strategic installation in Huntsville, Alabama.
In 2010, Google suffered an AURORA cyber attack. A long, powerful and initially uncontrollable attack.
Probably also Symantec, Northrop Grumman, Morgan Stanley and Dow Chemical were hit by AURORA cyber attacks – albeit this fact is not confirmed.
Hence data collection, mainly economic and technological intelligence for China, but also a complex relationship with the United States to be penetrated informally, but not to be damaged too much.
In any case, the reins of the Chinese Service (or rather, the intelligence services) were held by the State Security Ministry.
A legal difference should be underlined: while, legally speaking, the KGB was a Central Committee’s Department, the Communist China’s intelligence Service was a real Ministry.
The Interior Ministry was represented by the Public Security Ministry but, in general terms,it should be said that – unlike the old Soviet ones – the Chinese intelligence Services are less obsessive in their relationship with possible “sources”, anyway preferring ethnically Chinese people.
Furthermore, the Chinese Foreign Service seems to prefer sources that – unlike what happened with the Soviet KGB – have no money or personal crisis problems, which become dangerous or ambiguous.
Again unlike the old Soviet ones, the Chinese intelligence Services do not willingly pay for news and information. They do not blackmail and they do not extort. Quite the reverse. They do not pay at all. If anything, they help Chinese abroad for relatives or other matters.
Hence rarely do the Chinese intelligence Services pay for the data they receive.
The Chinese intelligence Agencies are therefore interested in people who,only rarely, come within the range of attention of the enemy intelligence Services. Operationally speaking, this is an excellent choice.
Again unlike the old Soviet ones, China’s intelligence Services do not organize rezidenture abroad. They also rarely hold clandestine meetings and almost never use covert communications.
“The floating bird is existence, if it dives it is non-existence”. The mind is like the moon: it is reflected in the water at a speed that man does not perceive. The mind should not be stopped, but left free to grasp the void, the invisible, the Nothing.
The Chinese intelligence Services, however, organize closed areas where a “source” finds itself – with its pace and needs – providing the materials needed by the Chinese government.
The width of the network, however, is such that the slow and non-invasive pace of Chinese operatives is capable of reaching the same – or even larger – quantity of sensitive material collected by a Service that does not follow the Tao, i.e. the natural flow of events and people.
Moreover, the Chinese intelligence Service often operates with real academics, real students, real journalists and very real businessmen.
The cover is often irrelevant, but also very true. Indeed, it is considered a cover attracting excessive interest – like jealousy which, as Karl Kraus used to say, “is a dog’s bark which attracts thieves”.
Obviously, in this respect, the Chinese intelligence Services have a significant advantage, since they can legally use real journalists and real academics, while in the West – including in Italy – it is forbidden to use “journalists, clergymen, parliamentarians and town councillors” as agents. Stupidity has been tormenting the intelligence Services with a ferocity worthy of a better cause.
Hence no one who can really be useful. This leads the Western intelligence services to fabricate useless complicated “stories” that are often easily discovered by the adversaries.
Not to mention the forty-year defamation of the intelligence Service – as is the case in Italy – which causes other damage.
For the intelligence Services, the Chinese technological companies operating in the West must be economically self-sufficient and, indeed, make profit, without weighing on the Service’s or State’s coffers.
An often predatory “Western-style” profit is also allowed, at least as long as this does not negatively affect intelligence operations.
Therefore, the Chinese companies using up technology and data – which are the primary material of current Chinese intelligence – must be the most obvious and natural enterprises, without hidden compartments or ambiguous operatives that the host country’s intelligence Services can discover – albeit possibly not so easily.
Another problem in the control of Chinese operations in the West is the difficulty – and, indeed, we could say the reluctance- with which our companies, including SMEs, report the often harshly blackmailing cyber attacks, or even the crises resulting from fraud and scams often carried out by managers and employees.
The obsession of being always listed on the Stock Exchange makes companies, including the small and medium-sized ones, excessively afraid of disclosing such adverse operations.
According to Leonardo-Finmeccanica, during the Covid-19 phase, there have been 230,000 malspam operations worldwide, 6% of which in Italy.
This year 51% of all Italian companies have suffered one or more significant cyber attacks, with a 125% average expansion for the domains called “Covid”.
In China, however, there has recently been a change of the State system.
While in the past, before globalization, also thanks to an “imperial” psychology, the Service had above all to defend borders and, to some respects, also the “purity” of the Chinese ethnic balance, today – considering the global economic role played by China – the Service has to deal with 1) the security of raw materials supplies from abroad and 2) the stability of the productive system in a phase of great social transformations.
Hence the necessary current complexity of the Chinese Party’s and State’s decision-making system: the top level is the National Security Leading Small Group (NSLSG), which also has many informal strategic decision-making mechanisms within the Chinese ruling class. An elite that has always been more informal than we might think.
Certainly, at institutional level, there is also the Politburo Standing Committee, but there is still Hu Jintao, a man still essential to the power architecture of Xi Jinping, who listens to him carefully.
There is also the Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group, which is less involved in relations with the United States – of which the aforementioned National Security Leading Small Group is in charge – but mainly controls the work of the Agencies and connects them.
In addition to the intelligence Services’ role, a fundamental role is also played by the various and often excellent academic and non-academic think tanks.
Also the results of these structures are assessed by the Small Groups.
But how is foreign policy decided in China?
First of all, there is the CPC but, more precisely, the “Politburo Central Committee”, in addition to the aforementioned Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC).
With its 204 members and 167 “alternate” members, the Central Committee meets once a year.
The “Politburo Central Committee” is composed of 25 members, elected by the Central Committee. It meets once a month and five of its members do not usually live in Beijing.
The PBSC, the Central Committee Standing Group for Foreign Affairs, meets once a week and has nine members.
The Meeting is often coordinated by the Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Office.
Within the Standing Committee, the Foreign Affairs Office has a specific area responsibility, but we should not think that Chinese Communism is authoritarian, at least in the childish sense of the term.
The bigger the issue, the wider and freer the discussion. The leader’s policy line is always to buildthe broadest consensus among his advisers.
With specific reference to the thorniest issues, the leader often appoints a “first collaborator” but usually the “central” meetings are routine for minor issues, even geopolitically, while the leader speaks and decides on the essential issues: the relations with the United States – still a constant obsession of the Chinese intelligence Service – with Japan, Taiwan or, most likely, the Russian Federation.
The policy line at the top of the decision-making system – and this also pleases Xi Jinping – is still the old and stable policy line developed by Jang Zemin, which was defined in 1999: “collective leadership, democratic centralism, individual preparation and decisions that always result from meetings”.
In this way, the Standing Committee and the Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Office prepare briefings and distribute them among the Central Committee’s offices.
Often there is no voting, but discussions are held until consensus is reached.
For example,a rare case of voting was when North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2009 and China had to decide whether to withdraw its support for the country. Seven negative votes were cast against support for North Korea.
The establishment of the aforementioned National Security Leading Small Group (NSLSG)mainly followed the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.
A fact that has marked China’s recent political history.
Hu Jintao, whom the PSBC defined as a “main personality”, leads a complex office: eight Ministers from the State Council; two from the Foreign Ministry; the National Security Minister; the Minister of Commerce; the Taiwan Affairs Office, the Office dealing with Hong Kong and Macao; the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and finally the Information Office.
There are also two Party’s bodies: the Propaganda Department and the International Department.
The Armed Forces are represented by the Defence Minister and the Chief of Staff.
Therefore, the Chinese intelligence Services have a completely different style and modus operandi compared to the Westerners’ intelligence practices. They also have a complex and technically refined organization of political control over the Services’ operations, and finally a different finalization of the Chinese Agencies’ operations in the West, at least for the time being.
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