The Scotsman

November 30, 1998, Monday Pg. 7

US TACKLES ISLAMIC MILITANCY IN KOSOVO

Chris Stephen In Pristina

THE United States has asked Kosovo's ethnic Albanian rebels to distance themselves from so called Mujahideen fundamentalists, amid reports that Islamic extremists are arriving to fight in this war-torn province.

KLA leaders have accepted the US request, prompted by fears in Washington that the war in Kosovo will provide fertile ground for Muslim fundamentalists to take root.

Fundamentalists are well established in Albania, despite several raids by the CIA and Albanian security forces that seized five key members of Islamic Jihad and other Middle Eastern groups this summer.

Now a joint CIA-Albanian intelligence operation has reported Mujahideen units from at least half a dozen Middle East countries streaming across the border into Kosovo from safe bases in Albania.

The American request came at an October meeting of US envoys with the leaders of the ethnic-Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army at their headquarters in Geneva.

A senior KLA source told The Scotsman that the group agreed to the request: "It's a clear position; we don't want anything from these people," he said. "Even before they (the US) told us to be careful from them, we'd had this firm understanding."

Approximately a quarter of KLA members are Roman Catholics, and the organisation has insisted throughout this year's fighting that its war with the Serbs, who are Orthodox Christian, is nationalist, and not religious.

But Albanian intelligence services report an influx of Muslim extremists from a variety of countries into Kosovo. "We have information about three or four groups, there are Egyptians, Saudi Arabians, Algerians, Tunisians, Sudanese," said Fatos Klosi, director of the Albanian intelligence service.

The US request was top of a "shopping list" the KLA says the Americans gave it.

As well as refusing offers of help from the Mujahideen, the KLA says it agreed not to use terrorist tactics such as car bombings against the Serbs outside Kosovo.

It also promised not to foment revolt among the ethnic Albanian majority in neighbouring Macedonia.

The KLA is coy about saying what it got in return. So far the answer is very little. The US still says the group cannot be included in peace talks on Kosovo's future until it renounces violence.

But behind the rhetoric, the US is worried that unless it makes concessions, it might drive the rebel movement into the arms of the fundamentalists.

One vital concession to the KLA came earlier this year, when it had the unusual honour of being take off a register of organisations the US defines as "terrorists".

This is a valuable asset, not just in terms of public relations.

It also makes fund-raising among ethnic Albanians abroad much easier.

For the Americans, giving the KLA tacit support is a tightrope.

Shunning it might drive them into the arms of fundamentalists such as Osama Bin Laden -blamed for bombing US embassies in Africa this summer -whose men are already operating in Albania.

But supporting them could give a shot in the arm for the KLA's aim of full independence for Kosovo -something the West fears might fuel uprisings in other parts of the world.

For the moment, the US appears to be leaning on the side of support. Most observers in Kosovo think the current lull in fighting has more to do with winter weather than the ceasefire brokered under threats of NATO action in October.

The majority Albanian population remains committed to independence, and the Serb leadership remains committed to stopping that, with both sides rearming and planning for fighting in the spring.

It is also unclear if the KLA's Geneva leadership really controls all the rebel units on the ground, many of whom follow competing political factions.

How many Islamic volunteers are in Kosovo is equally uncertain. Few have been sighted by the western monitors in the province.

The full strength and political sway of Mujahideen units will only become clear when the spring arrives and warriors again pull the covers from their guns.


AP 11-29-98

Report:
Bin Laden operated terrorist network based in Albania

AP: Report: Bin Laden operated terrorist network based in Albania

5.11 p.m. ET (2212 GMT) November 29, 1998

LONDON (AP) The man accused of orchestrating the U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa operates a terrorist network out of Albania that has infiltrated other parts of Europe, The Sunday Times reported.

The newspaper quoted Fatos Klosi, the head of the Albanian intelligence service, as saying a network run by Saudi exile Osama Bin Laden sent units to fight in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

Bin Laden is believed to have established an Albanian operation in 1994 after telling the government he headed a wealthy Saudi humanitarian agency wanting to help Albania, the newspaper reported.

Klosi said he believed terrorists had already infiltrated other parts of Europe from bases in Albania. Interpol believes more than 100,000 blank Albanian passports were stolen in riots last year, providing ample opportunity for terrorists to acquire false papers, the newspaper said.

Apparent confirmation of Bin Laden's activities came earlier this month during the murder trial of Claude Kader, 27, a French national who said he was a member of Bin Laden's Albanian network, the newspaper ssid.

Kader claimed during the trial he had visited Albania to recruit and arm fighters for Kosovo.

U.S. authorities believe bin Laden, a Saudi exile and militant Muslim, masterminded the bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

Three alleged co-conspirators are already jailed in New York.



The Jerusalem Post September 14, 1998, Monday

Kosovo seen as new Islamic bastion

Steve Rodan

BATROVCI, Yugoslavia - The line of cars at this Serbian border town forms early in the morning as travelers head west from the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade toward Croatia and Bosnia. The Yugoslav security officers are thorough, checking each passenger and rummaging through the trunk of every vehicle.

Many of the travelers are Moslems, and the adults wait quietly at the terminal as their children play tag between lines. A few years ago, these people would have been virtually indistinguishable from the thousands of others who crisscross the region.

But today Islamic pride has arrived. Many Moslems have grown beards. Drivers have placed large decals with the Islamic crescent on the back window.

And with money coming from such countries as Iran and Saudi Arabia, being a Moslem means having options.

Diplomats in the region say Bosnia was the first bastion of Islamic power. The autonomous Yugoslav region of Kosovo promises to be the second. During the current rebellion against the Yugoslav army, the ethnic Albanians in the province, most of whom are Moslem, have been provided with financial and military support from Islamic countries.

They are being bolstered by hundreds of Iranian fighters, or Mujahadeen, who infiltrate from nearby Albania and call themselves the Kosovo Liberation Army.

US defense officials say the support includes that of Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi terrorist accused of masterminding the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

A Defense Department statement on August 20 said Bin Laden's Al Qa'ida organization supports Moslem fighters in both Bosnia and Kosovo.

The growing Islamic fundamentalist presence is an issue rarely voiced in public. The Arab and Islamic world form a huge part of the current and potential market for many of the countries in Central Europe, and highlighting their involvement in the violence in Kosovo is simply bad business.

But the growing support of Iran in Central Europe and the Balkans is regarded as the biggest threat to the region, with the possibility that it can spill over into Western Europe.

"If we isolate the Moslems in Bosnia, then they themselves can be a threat neither to the Federal

Republic of Yugoslavia nor to the wider region," Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic said in an interview. "They could be a threat if they gain support from other Moslem national movements or Moslem states."

Yugoslav officials and, privately, many foreign diplomats link the Iranian-backed Bosnian regime to the current rebellion in Kosovo. They say the Iranian success in maintaining a presence and influence in Sarajevo led Teheran to quickly adopt the KLA.

The KLA strength was not the southern Kosovo region, which over the centuries turned from a majority of Serbs to ethnic Albanians. The KLA, however, was strong in neighboring Albania, which today has virtually no central government.

The crisis in Albania led Iran to quickly move in to fill the vacuum. Iranian Revolutionary Guards began to train KLA members. Iranian and Saudi representatives opened foundations to provide patronage. An Islamic bank was launched in the Albanian capital of Tirana. In Skadar, Iranian agents opened the Society of Ayatollah Khomeini.

In the Kosovo town of Prizren, Islamic fundamentalists formed a society funded by the Iranian Culture Center in Belgrade. Selected groups of Albanians were sent to Iran to study that country's version of militant Islam.

So far, Yugoslav officials and Western diplomats agree that millions of dollars have been funnelled through Bosnia and Albania to buy arms for the KLA. The money is raised from both Islamic governments and from Islamic communities in Western Europe, particularly Germany.

Since April, Yugoslav officials say, the KLA has smuggled arms and ammunition in from Albania. They say attempts to smuggle several cannon - meant to launch large- scale strikes against Yugoslav forces - were unsuccessful.

The ramifications of the Iranian campaign has been felt throughout the Middle East. Both Israel and Turkey, for example, have been alarmed by its success in gaining influence in both Bosnia and Albania and have been busy trading intelligence on developments in the region.

"Iran has been active in helping out the Kosovo rebels," Ephraim Kam, deputy director of Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said. "Iran sees Kosovo and Albania as containing Moslem communities that require help and Teheran is willing to do it."

But much of the training of the KLA remains based in Bosnia. Intelligence sources say mercenaries and volunteers for the separatist movement have been recruited and paid handsome salaries of DM 3,000-DM 5,000 (NIS 6,800-NIS 11,400) a month.

The trainers and fighters in the KLA include many of the Iranians who fought in Bosnia in the early 1990s. Intelligence sources place their number at 7,000, many of whom have married Bosnian women. There are also Afghans, Algerians, Chechens, and Egyptians.

A US congressional analyst said much of the Iranian training and arms smuggling in Bosnia takes place near the contingent of US peacekeeping troops. He said the Clinton administration is fully aware of Iranian activities in Bosnia and Kosovo, but has looked the other way to maintain the 1995 Dayton Accords.

"The administration wants to keep the lid on the pot at all costs," the analyst said. "And if that means that Iran benefits and operates freely in the region, so be it. Needless to say, the Europeans have been quite upset by this."

Still, intelligence sources said, the Iranians have acted cautiously. They say they first arrived in Kosovo early this year and formed a commando unit in May in the town of Donji Perkez. The unit consisted of 120 men divided into seven groups. They included Albanian, Bosnian, Macedonian, and Saudi nationals. The commander was an Egyptian called Abu Ismail, who served in an Iranian Mujahadeen unit in Zenica, Bosnia.

The Iranian fighters were first kept separate from others in the KLA. In late July, the fighters from Macedonia and Saudi Arabia were ordered to withdraw into Albania. The reason was that the sponsors concluded that they were not being used properly. At the Yugoslav and Macedonian border, some of the fighters were captured and interrogated by authorities.

Yugoslav officials and regional diplomats expect to see the Bosnians continue to embrace the Iranians. They see Bosnia, as well as some officials in Croatia, as intending to change the terms of the US-sponsored Dayton Accords that establish the new borders of the former Yugoslavia and maintain an international presence in the region.

The changes being demanded by some key figures in Bosnia include transforming the federation from a multiethnic into an all-Islamic country.

"It was clear to everybody that the implementation of the Dayton and Paris accords would not go smoothly," Bulatovic, the Yugoslav defense minister, said. "Our position is that the Dayton Accords must be implemented as written. If there are renegotiations, it would jeopardize peace and stability in Bosnia."

Yugoslav officials said their crackdown in Kosovo has been successful in stabilizing the province. They said the KLA has drastically reduced its activities and most of its members have fled to Albania.

UN officials said 14,000 residents of Kosovo have crossed into northern Albania, while another 20,000 people driven out of their homes remain in the Serbian province.

The result, the officials said, is that some leaders of the ethnic Albanian community have signalled that they are ready to negotiate an end to the fighting. Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova, who last year pledged to reject any solution short of independence, has begun to talk to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. At the same time, KLA political representative Adem Demaqi has warned that a guerrilla war would soon be launched.

The officials expect that US pressure will lead to an agreement to hold elections in Kosovo, establish an autonomous government, and approve a plan to reconsider the issue of independence in another 3-5 years.

They expect the agreement to be accompanied by a lifting of all sanctions against Yugoslavia, which from 1992 has been unable to take a seat in the UN or receive credits from international institutions, such as the World Bank.

At the same time, NATO will play a large role in the area. Members of the alliance are drafting plans to rebuild Albania's 5,000-member military and maintain a large presence in the country.

But the country is regarded as so divided and corrupt that few officials expect any significant amount of money to be given Tirana. A key step is expected to be the parliamentary referendum scheduled in November to approve the country's first post-communist constitution.

Few in the region, however, expect the prospective diplomatic settlement to do better than the Dayton agreement in imposing long-term stability in the region.

Even while some of these diplomats and officials blast Belgrade's crackdown on the Kosovo separatists, they insist that any settlement not include changes in Yugoslavia's current borders or a mere short-term presence of international troops.

"In my view, international support will be long term because the economic, regional, and religious (problems) are so high," Slovenian military chief of staff Brig.-Gen. Iztok Podbregar said. "This is not only the case in Bosnia, but also in Kosovo and Macedonia."



Sunday Times - London

Copyright 1998

Sunday, November 29, 1998

Bin Laden opens European terror base in Albania

Chris Stephen in Tirana

ALBANIAN authorities working with the Central Intelligence Agency claim to have uncovered a terrorist network operated by Osama Bin Laden, the Islamic fundamentalist accused of masterminding the African embassy bombings last August.

The network is said to have been set up to use Albania, a Muslim country, as a springboard for operations in Europe.

Fatos Klosi, the head of Shik, the Albanian intelligence service, said last week that Bin Laden had visited Albania himself.

His was one of several fundamentalist groups that had sent units to fight in Kosovo, the neighbouring Muslim province of Serbia, Klosi said. "Egyptians, Saudi Arabians, Algerians, Tunisians, Sudanese and Kuwaitis - they come from several different organisations."

Klosi said he believed terrorists had already infiltrated other parts of Europe from bases in Albania through a traffic in illegal migrants, who have been smuggled by speedboat across the Mediterranean to Italy in huge numbers. Interpol believes more than 100,000 blank Albanian passports were stolen in riots last year, providing ample opportunity for terrorists to acquire false papers.

Apparent confirmation of Bin Laden's activities came earlier this month when Claude Kader, 27, a French national and self-confessed member of Bin Laden's Albanian network, was jailed for the murder of a local trans lator. He claimed during his trial that he had visited Albania to recruit and arm fighters for Kosovo, and that four of his associates were still at large.

Bin Laden is believed to have established an operation in Albania in 1994 after telling the government that he was head of a wealthy Saudi humanitarian agency keen to help Europe's poorest nation. "Terrorist organisations have taken advantage of peaceful Islamic charity and religious groups," Klosi said.

Albanian sources say Sali Berisha, who was then president, had links with some groups that later proved to be extreme fundamentalists. The Socialist party, which took over after Berisha's government was driven out by country wide rioting, has since co- operated closely with American officials.

American raids on Bin Laden's men in Albania have failed to halt their operations entirely, however. The Americans have withdrawn non- essential staff from the country and fortified their embassy, fearing it may be attacked.


Sunday Times - London

Copyright 1998

Sunday, March 22, 1998

Iranians move in

Uzi Mahnaimi, Cairo

Iranian Revolutionary Guards have joined forces with a Saudi millionaire to support the Albanian underground movement in Kosovo.

They hope to turn the region into their main base for Islamic armed activity in Europe.

According to a senior Egyptian security source, an agreement was signed in Tehran on February 16 with the Saudi Osama Bin Laden who also has links with Afghanistan's fundamentalist Taliban militia.

Bin Laden, 44, described by the US State Department as "one of the most significant sponsors of Islamic extremist activities", has begun extending his operations to eastern Europe. He has supported Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, the source said. Iran is keen to strengthen its presence in the region.

Bin Laden's activities appear to have been concentrated so far mainly in the Bosnian town of Zenica. Five Egyptian members of the al-Gamaa al-Islamiya movement, which killed 58 tourists in Luxor last November, have now moved to Kosovo.



The Times (London)

November 26, 1998, Thursday

US alarmed as Mujahidin join Kosovo rebels

BYLINE: Tom Walker

The arrival of Islamic fighters among the KLA augurs badly for a Balkans peace, reports Tom Walker in Malisevo

MUJAHIDIN fighters have joined the Kosovo Liberation Army, dimming prospects of a peaceful solution to the conflict and fuelling fears of heightened violence next spring.

The Islamic fighters created havoc in the war in Bosnia, where they were regarded as a serious threat to Western peacekeeping troops, especially Americans. Their arrival in Kosovo may force Washington to review its policy in the Serbian province and will deepen Western dismay with the KLA and its tactics.

For the Albanians, the Mujahidin represent a public relations disaster; for President Milosevic of Serbia, they are a propaganda coup, enabling his regime to portray the struggle in Kosovo as a form of holy war in which the Serbs are Europe's bulwark against Islam.

Although there are only a few dozen bearded young Mujahidin fighters, resplendent in new KLA uniforms, they are a startling sight in the snowbound villages of central Kosovo.

On an icy track near a KLA command centre yesterday, they loomed out of the mist on a trailer pulled by a tractor churning through the snowdrifts with snow chains, before they vanished again towards bases the armed rebels are building near the strategic town of Malisevo.

"Captain Dula", the local KLA commander, was clearly embarrassed at the unexpected presence of foreign journalists and said that he had little idea who was sending the Mujahidin or where they came from; only that it was neither Kosovo nor Albania. "I've got no information about them," Captain Dula said.

"We don't talk about it."

His comments exposed the factionalism of a guerrilla army with little overall interest in religious issues. Captain Dula, the brother of the village imam, said that he had no idea whether he was a Shia or Sunni Muslim. "You'll have to ask my brother about it," he said, erupting in laughter.

American diplomats in the region, especially Robert Gelbard, the special envoy, have often expressed fears of an Islamic hardline infiltration into the Kosovo independence movement. But until now there has been little evidence of Mujahidin fighters. The Serbs have displayed a few passports and identity papers which they say they found after their offensives near the Albanian border in the summer, and members of an indigenous Kosovan Mujahidin group were arrested in mosques around the industrial town of Mitrovica. The Yugoslav Army also exhibited Korans it said it had found hidden among arms smuggled across the border.

American intelligence has raised the possibility of a link between Osama bin Laden, the Saudi expatriate blamed for the bombing in August of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and the KLA. Several of Bin Laden's supporters were arrested in Tirana, the Albanian capital, and deported this summer, and the chaotic conditions in the country have allowed Muslim extremists to settle there, often under the guise of humanitarian workers. In Kosovo, US diplomatic observers are living in villages harbouring the Mujahidin, seemingly a recipe for disaster.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe may have to rethink its deployment of US "verifiers" over the coming months. It is believed that Kosovo's Mujahidin came via Bosnia, where many settled in rural areas after the war. Several groups are also held in Zenica prison by the Bosnia, which is anxious to distance itself from accusations of radical Islamic sympathies.

"I interviewed one guy from Saudi Arabia who said that it was his eighth jihad," a Dutch journalist said.