WED, 09 JAN 2002 22:35:14 GMT
Humanitarian Workers Arrested in Kosovo
AIM Pristina, December 27, 2001
Are there or are there not "cells" of international terrorism in Kosovo?
This was a much debated issue after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and
Washington, which after slipping out of focus for awhile have once more
been brought up in the wake of a NATO-led KFOR operation in Pristina and
Djakovica. The operation resulted in the arrest of three members of the
Global Relief Foundation, on suspicion of participation in organizing
and planning terrorist attacks. The operation was shrouded in secrecy
and KFOR officials showed much restraint in releasing details of the
event. They only said that the arrested were citizens of an Arabic
country and that incriminating material was found on them, including
posters of the most wanted terrorist in the world Ossama bin Laden. Two
of the three were later identified as Iraqi activists and the third was
only described as an Arab.
Local workers were taken aback by these allegations and said they had
"noticed nothing that could confirm such claims."
It seems, however, that NATO Secretary General George Robertson once and
for all ended these dilemmas when he said at a NATO meeting that "cells
of the Al Qaeda terrorist network have been discovered in Kosovo as
well," corroborating his claims by the arrests made by KFOR. He also
stressed that NATO troops in cooperation with civilian bodies will
continue to be on the lookout. Analysts believe that the mention of
terrorist cells in Kosovo should be understood as a warning to the U.N.
Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which has allowed "the infiltration of
Islamic terrorism elements via Islamic humanitarian organizations."
UMNIK, on the other hand, claims it lacks a secret service that could
serve to prevent such infiltration. One of the organization's spokesmen
said that "judging by information provided by the secret services of
various countries active in Kosovo, there is no major terrorist
organization operating there." KFOR meanwhile only confirmed that three
persons had been detained as part of a large operation aimed at curbing
terrorism, launched simultaneously in Kosovo, Bosnia, and the U.S.. All
other developments, however, are not being disclosed to the public.
So far, international terrorist activities in Kosovo had been mentioned
solely by Belgrade and Skopje, each in accordance with their needs of
the time. Serbian Deputy Premier Nebojsa Covic even said that "there are
hundreds of little bin Ladens in Kosovo," and UNMIK described such
statements as insincere, incomprehensible and extreme.
Albanian representatives, on the other hand, said such statements were
dangerous and could only boost ethnic tensions and further destabilize
Kosovo. Ibrahim Rugova, president of the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo,
labelled this as "Serb propaganda that has been in progress for a whole
century. As in the past ten years, their only wish is to smear
Albanians," he added. Rugova also stressed that "there isn't and there
has never been anyone connected with terrorists of bin Laden's kind.
These are the same charges that were voiced in the recent past,
particularly during the war in Kosovo, when Serbian political circles
claimed mujahedeen were fighting for the Kosovo Liberation Army."
Foreign and domestic analysts said claims of the type were an attempt to
take advantage of the situation created in the wake of the Sept. 11
attacks. They warned that "such allegations were made by Serbia as early
as 1999, by then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, now facing war
crimes charges. According to them, Covic's statement was but an attempt
by certain circles to use the American tragedy for their own goals.
Former U.S. assistant secretary of state James Rubin said in an
interview with a Pristina daily newspaper that "Albanians are
pro-Western, and those who link them to bin Laden are not America's
Be it as it may, the arrest of three Arabs in Kosovo does not implicate
Albanians as being part of a terrorist network. This was confirmed by
senior NATO officials who said that there was no enmity in Kosovo
towards NATO and that if there are people there who might be linked with
Islamic international terrorism, this does not mean that this is what
the majority of Kosovo citizens feel, because they clearly showed their
attitude towards terrorism. It seems that NATO still remembers the
period immediately after Sept. 11, when Kosovars openly demonstrated
their pro-American and anti-terrorism stance. In that period increased
intolerance towards people from the East was observed. Windows on
buildings housing Islamic humanitarian organizations were shattered, and
many young people showed scorn for people wearing beards and clothes
characteristic of Arabic countries. Ethnic Albanians, despite the fact
that they are Muslims, cannot and will not protect any adversaries of
their "saviors" -- NATO and the U.S.
Still, international officials' concern over the possibility of
infiltration by radical Islamic elements dates from the period prior to
Sept. 11. The porousness of Kosovo's borders have always created room
for activities by various groups, especially under the cover of
humanitarian work. Girls dressed in Islamic fashion riding in expensive
cars and men also dressed in Islamic robes wearing oriental beards were
a sign of organized attempts to create as wide a circle of followers of
Islamic holy law as possible. This caused concern and even prompted
groups of young people to fiercely respond because they do not want to
be identified with the East.
Domestic observers, however, claim that such behavior fostered by huge
sums of money granted by certain organizations, lack the proportions
that would indicate their involvement in violent activities, and even
less in the international terrorist network. The western intervention in
Kosovo came timely enough to pre-empt any possibility for Albanians to
be tempted by some appealing assistance from the East, which they
would accept only in desperation over their poverty.