AIM: start

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 friends."

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.

Arbnora Berisha