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.
An 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.
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://188.8.131.52/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
Eschatological beliefs and ISIS
There is no single definition of terrorism which might be accepted fully; however, terrorism normally emerges when disempowered communities try and combat what they perceive as injustice and oppression on this planet. Emerging as asymmetrical warfare between state and non-state actors, international norms of War are violated by focusing on civilians and exploiting media exposure to create fear.
Throughout history, it has spread in various forms ranging from secular terrorism to religious extremism. In today’s world, the most deadlykind of terrorism was created by using Islamic state narrative prompted underneath the umbrella of eschatological beliefs.
By definition, eschatology is part of theology concerned with the final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity. Followed by all religious theologies including Muslim, Jews, Christians, Hinduism and Zoroastrians, the apparent fall of the last stronghold of the Islamic state was no surprise to terrorism scholars.
After the fall of Aleppo, Raqqa and the Syrian city Dabiq last October; consequently, Islamic State (IS) demolished the 842-year old Al Nuri mosque.
However, apocalyptic beliefs were not widespread throughout the Middle-East before the U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003.It was the military invasion that radically transformed the landscape of eschatological ideologies, resulting in widespread apocalyptic thinking.
One such Sunni Salafist caught up in this groundswell of apocalyptic was Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, a bloodthirsty madman; even Osama bin Laden (OBL) didn’t agree with his brutal tactics war agenda of beheading the shite Muslim. Zarqawi became the leader of Al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq after he fled from Afghanistan.
Zarqawi followed an apocalyptic extremist ideology while OBL had a less grandiose view about an imminent end to the contemporary world. For example, before the U.S drone strike on Zarqawi in 2006, Zarqawi famously acknowledged that “the spark has been lit here in Iraq and its heat will continue to intensify by Allah’s permission until it burns the crusader’s armies in Dabiq(Syria)”.
Having strategically less significance, Dabiq was a small Syrian town but IS used it for their political interests. Mainly because this city is where the battle called Armageddon will happen according to eschatological beliefs. Most importantly, ISIS is still operating its propaganda magazine named Dabiq.
After Zarqawi died, a man named Abu Ayyub al-Masri having close ties with Al Qaeda took over charge of Middle East operations in Iraq, during his tenure the group was re-branded as the Islamic State of Iraq. In line with Masri’s political aims, his primary apocalyptic focus was the appearance of the Mahdi(messianic figure in Islam) who is referred to in the Prophecies as the leader of the battle of Armageddon in Dabiq.
Even though Masri made a number of strategic decisions based on his eschatological convictions. On the whole, the Islamic state of Iraq has been using this propaganda to maximize the recruitment process in their organization.
As a result, they have gained a cosmic fan following all over the world including the Middle East, Europe, America and Asia. Since Masri’s death in the Iraqi city of Tikrit in 2010, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi took over the charge of this“black banner army”. Syrian civil war, resulted in formation of Al-Qaeda affiliate now known as the Fateh al-Sham group.(Al-Nusra front)
In 2013 Baghdadi shocked the world by announcing that Al Nusra front is now under command and control of ISI(Islamic State of Iraq) right after this merger it became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria(Levant). Baghdadi announcement was forming a caliphate just like Ottoman Empire, albeit ISIS never recognized the Ottoman Empire as legitimate.
Nevertheless, Baghdadi smartly maintained the eschatological beliefs even after the death of Masri, though the focus had been changed under the leadership of Baghdadi.
With continuous shifts in political stance of ISIS, there is a huge possibility that it will have new targets in the coming future. For example, since it began to lose territory, it sharply changed its strategy from inward state building to outward foreign attacks with the help of lone wolves or small groups.As a result, this technique started a new phenomenon more like transnational terrorism.
Openly calling the younger generation as the cubs of the caliphate, these methods for inculcating radicalization were found to have direct links with the American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Finally, the self-proclaimed caliphate of ISIS collapsed in both Syria and Iraq. However, this does not mean it will not re-emerge in the future there are a lot of ISIS sleepers cells and supporters across globe.
To conclude, terrorist outfits come and go, but the ultra-modern variation within this museum of eschatological ideologies is an Islamic state. Disseminated with eschatological ideologies, a few of them tried to convey about the apocalypse to exploit it. Therefore, terrorist outfits have reassessed current affairs and spread mis-interpretations of eschatological beliefs to further their own agenda.
Despite falling attacks, ISIL terrorists remain ‘global threat’
Though attacks were down last year, a new United Nations report to the Security Council on Monday shows that ISIL is still a global threat, despite evolving into a “covert” terrorism network, with countries continuing to face challenges from the growing scourge of violent extremism.
“Despite the more concealed or locally embedded activities of ISIL cells, its central leadership retains an influence and maintains an intent to generate internationally-directed attacks and thereby still plays an important role in advancing the group’s objectives,” explained Vladimir Voronkov, who heads the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT).
“This is exacerbated by the challenge of foreign terrorist fighters who either are leaving conflict zones, or those who are returning or who are about to be released from prison. In this context, radicalization in prison settings, is seen as a particular challenge in Europe and Iraq,” Under-Secretary-General Voronkov added.
He said that so-called “frustrated travelers” were adding to the complexity of the threat, namely fighters who’d failed to reach main battlegrounds, but been diverted instead elsewhere, either by ISIL commanders or of their own volition.
The report notes that the “centre of gravity” of the organization, known in the Arab world as Da’esh, remains in Iraq and Syria, with up to 18,000 remaining in the ranks, including some 3,000 foreign fighters.
“In terms of ISIL’s financial strength, the report notes that despite some loss of revenue due to territorial setbacks, ISIL could sustain its operations through accessible reserves, in cash or investment in businesses, ranging between $50 and $300 million. ISIL cells are also reported to generate revenue through criminal activities”, explained Mr. Voronkov.
The document, the eighth report on ISIL – which proclaimed its so-called caliphate across northern Syria and Iraq in 2014 – was prepared on behalf of the UN Secretary-General by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, in close collaboration with the UNOCT and other UN entities and international organisations.
After being driven from its city strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa, intense fighting in recent months has left Da’esh defending a small enclave against US-backed fighters in eastern Syria, close to the Iraqi border. According to news reports, around 600 terrorist fighters continue to battle with coalition forces, which have labelled this the “final battle” to crush ISIL.
Challenges faced by Member States
The UN analysis shows that Member States continue to face tremendous challenges across the world in tackling the threats posed by ISIL, with the threat level continuing to expand. This is especially true in North, West and East Africa as well as in Central Asia. Training camps have been identified in Afghanistan, and in South-East Asia, where women and youth are increasingly mobilized for terrorist operations across the region.
The head of CTED, Michele Coninsx, highlighted three of those major challenges faced by Member States:
The “destructive legacy” left in Syria and Iraq, most noticeable in the high number of families who remain internally-displaced due to the destruction of homes and infrastructure overall: She noted that “reconstruction will take many years and will require significant resources, as will restoring and reconciling communities after so many years of conflict.”
The growth in the number of terrorist suspects and offenders in custody: The risk posed by such prisoners is difficult to assess and manage.
ISIL’s ability to exploit new technologies and find innovative ways to finance itself and find new recruits: Ms. Coninsx noted for example the risks linked to anonymous technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrencies, and other internet-based ways of avoiding detection.
The UN’s support to Member States
For several years, various parts of the UN have supported Member States in the fields of prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration (PRR) of former fighters; international judicial cooperation; countering terrorist financing; border management and law enforcement; countering terrorist narratives and engaging communities to prevent violent extremism.
Specifically, explained CTED’s Executive Director Coninsx, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and UNOCT are leading a joint project to provide tailored capacity-building assistance to prison staff.
In the Lake Chad Basin, she said CTED and UNODC are working to provide Member States with technical expertise to develop comprehensive strategies to prosecute, rehabilitate and reintegrate persons associated with the Boko Haram extremist group.
Other initiatives include the development of a practical guide for requesting electronic evidence across borders, and the deployment of a specialized consultant to support Iraq in its efforts to develop a holistic and comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.
“The Secretary-General has stressed that despite recent successes against ISIL / Da’esh and its affiliates, the threat posed by returning and relocating fighters, as well as from individuals inspired by them, remains high and has a global reach,” stressed Mr. Voronkov. “I would therefore emphasize, the recent ISIL losses should not lead to complacency at any level,” he concluded.
Impact of Death Penalty on reduction of Terrorism in Pakistan
Pakistan is the country which suffered the worst impact of terrorism. We suffered more than all the other countries of the world combined. Especially during the period of 2007- 2013, there were almost 730 terrorist attacks, causing thousands of death causalities and so many more injured. Only in the year 2012, the country witnessed 217 acts of terrorism.
Terrorism in Pakistan originated with the Afghan War in the 1980s when the US and its allies gathered “mujahideen” i.e. holy warriors, from all over the world. They trained them, armed them and funded them to be used in a proxy war against USSR. Extremism, Intolerance, Terrorism, and hate was promoted in Pakistani society. Traditionally, Pakistan was a peaceful and tolerant society. In the 1960s and 1970s, Pakistan was a paradise for western tourists. It was among one of the safest countries with an abundance of natural beauty and pleasant climate. Affordable cost of living had attracted many western tourists at that period of time. All religious factions were enjoying very cordial relations. Pakistan was a multi-ethnic society and was living in perfect harmony since ages. The Afghan War turned everything and the society faced increasing divide and intolerance.
In fact, after the withdrawal of USSR’s troops from Afghanistan, and lack of US interest from Afghanistan left the fighting forces directionless. Such fighters who were deemed heroes in the US and the western world were left jobless. They were not educated, trained for any skill, except for war and fighting. Their funding was also suspended. Under such scenario, they were left with no other option, except indulging in terrorism on behest of foreign agendas for easy earning of their livelihood.
After the 9/11 incident in 2011, these heroes trained and armed by US and Allies were labeled terrorists and war on terror was waged against them. Pakistan sided with the US and NATO during its war on terror and became the victim of terrorism.
On 17 December 2014, a major incident of terrorism happened in APS School, in Peshawar, northwest of Pakistan. It was a major act of terrorism where school children and teachers were martyred. The incident jolted the Government of Pakistan and the whole nation was united to fight against the menace of terrorism.
On 24 December the Prime Minister (PM) in a televised address to the nation announced the ‘National Action Plan’ (NAP) to deal with terrorism. According to the Interior Minister, the plan was prepared in the light of the decisions taken by All Parties Conference. For this purpose, the PM established the National Action Committee consisting of the members from all the political parties and decision were taken in the light of the recommendations of this committee. Prime Minister of Pakistan reached consensus over the issue of “National Action Plan” to fight against terrorism on war footings. Sufficient resources were allocated to fight against terrorism. Adequate legislation were formulated and relevant amendments were introduced to the judiciary, law enforcement organizations. Among many decisions, one of them was “setting up military courts” for tackling terrorism cases in the country, along with a wider plan to tackle terrorism. The death penalty was also approved for terrorists. Previously, the death penalty was banned in Pakistan and criminals were very confident that they can come out of jails after some time and again get involved in similar activities on a much larger scale. Slow access to justice has made it impossible to eradicate terrorism. Additional amendments were unavoidable.
Implementation of “National Action Plan” has shown great achievement and terrorism has been reduced to a huge extent. Death penalty to terrorists proved to be a key to success in eradication of terrorism in Pakistan. There is a comprehensive consensus among all political parties and the general public over the death penalty for terrorists.
Prime Minister of Pakistan has announced, “Continuation of Death Penalty” recently representing the voice of 220 million people of Pakistan. Being an elected Prime Minister, he has to represent the people of Pakistan. Pakistan is a free country and constitution of Pakistan ensures the freedom of expression to its citizens. We enjoy the highest degree of press freedom, however, only a few misuse it and work on the agenda of enemies of Pakistan.
I believe, Pakistan is very mature and civilized. We understand our situation and needs. We hope to decide our own destiny and make our policies indigenously to suit our needs. It is possible, after some time, when we have rooted out terrorism completely, we may ban the death penalty forever. I request the international community to strengthen Pakistan’s drive against terrorism, which are the enemies of humanity. Please extend your full cooperation and all possible support to make Pakistan successful against terrorism. I trust that our friends and civilized nations will come forward to support Pakistan. However, we are committed to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan absolutely.
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