Islamism and Islamic terrorism in the Balkans

There has been an increase in incidents involving alleged radical Islamism in the Balkans since the 1990s.[1]

Bosnia and Herzegovina


The Islamic Declaration by Alija Izetbegović (1925–2003) published in 1970, is an essay on Islam and modernization.[2] In 1983, 13 Muslim intellectuals were sentenced to prison on charges of Islamic fundamentalism.

The Party of Democratic Action (SDA), founded in 1990 and led by Izetbegović won the November 1990 elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[3] During the Bosnian War, Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) received financial aid from Iran and Saudi Arabia, and foreign fighters numbering up to 4,000 waged jihad in the war.[3] There were several strict Muslim special units in the ARBiH, such as the 7th Muslim Brigade, Black Swans, Green Berets, Green Legion, El Mujahid, and Patriotic League.[4] The Bosnian mujahideen (El Mujahid) was made up of foreign fighters and radical Bosniaks.[3] In 1995, Izetbegović invited the jihadists to leave the country in return for American peacekeepers, leading to his denouncement from other Islamists.[5]

In 1995, veterans of the Bosnian mujahideen established the Active Islamic Youth, regarded the most dangerous of the Islamist groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[6]


  • 1997 Mostar car bombing, organized by Ahmed Zuhair (Abu Handala),[7] a Saudi mujahideen that fought in Bosnia.[8] Handala was later arrested and detained in 2007 at Guantanamo.[9]
  • On Christmas Eve 2002, Muamer Topalović, a Wahhabist, killed three Bosnian Croat returnees in their home,[10] in Kostajnica near Konjic.
  • On 19 October 2005 Bosnian–Swedish Mirsad Bektašević was arrested during a police raid Sarajevo, together with a Danish citizen. A home-made suicide belt, 18 kilograms (40 lb) of factory-made explosives, timing devices, detonators and a Hi-8 videotape with footage demonstrating how to make a home-made bomb were found.[11] A video (to be published following planned attacks) of the two arrested, in ski masks, surrounded by explosives and weapons, was found, in which they say that they will attack sites in Europe to punish nations with forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.[12] They were suspected of planning a suicide attack against a Western embassy in Sarajevo.[13]
  • 27 June 2010 terrorist attack on Bugojno police station, in which IEDs exploded by the guard walls, killing one, seriously wounding one, and wounding several other policemen. The perpetrator Haris Čaušević, an ethnic Bosniak, was sentenced to 35 years. He has stated that he has no remorse.[14][15]
  • Mevlid Jašarević, a 23-year-old Serbian-born Bosnian, fired on the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo on 28 October 2011, resulting in one local policeman guarding the embassy being wounded in the arm, while the shooter was wounded by a police sniper.[16] On 24 April 2012 Jašarević was indicted by a federal grand jury in the D.C. on charges of attempted murder and other violations in connection with the attack on the embassy.[17] A Bosnian court sentenced him on 6 December 2012 to 18 years in prison.
  • Husein Bosnić "Bilal", a Bosnian Muslim cleric and unofficial leader of the Salafist movement in Bosnia, was arrested in September 2014 and is currently on trial for recruiting ISIS fighters.[18] In 2013 he called for a tax on non-Muslims (Serbs and Croats), modeled after Ottoman practises.[19] In his various khutbas, he also advocated the "victory of Islam", promoting war and bloodshed. Moreover, in 2012 he called for other Muslims to join the Jihad and to defend Islam, for which he was briefly arrested and soon released.[20]
  • On 27 April 2015, local Nerdin Ibrić (born 1991), attacked a police station in Zvornik. He killed one police officer and wounded two others before he was shot dead by other police officers. It was later found that Nerdin's father, Sejfo, was one of the victims of Bijeli Potok massacre that occurred on 1 June 1992, when 750 Bosniaks of Zvornik were separated from their families and killed by the police of Zvornik, with help of paramilitary units from Serbia.
  • Operation Ruben
  • 2015 Sarajevo shooting, in which a suspected Islamist killed two policemen.[21]


Wahhabist settlements


The Iztok neighbourhood of Pazardzhik, inhabited by Muslims (Romani), includes an Islamist community headed by unlicensed imam Ahmed Moussa.[22]


Kosovo has a mainly Muslim population.[23] The traditional Islam in Kosovo is the Hanafi school, described as 'liberal' and 'moderate'.[23]

Islamist volunteers in the Kosovo Liberation Army from Western Europe of ethnic Albanian, Turkish, and North African origin, were recruited by Islamist leaders in Western Europe allied to Bin Laden and Zawahiri.[24] Some 175 Yemeni mujahideen arrived in early May 1998.[24] There were also a dozen of Saudi and Egyptian mujahideen.[25]

Since the Kosovo War, there has been an increasing radicalization of Islam in Kosovo.[23] Wahhabism, which is dominant in Saudi Arabia, has gained a foothold in Kosovo through Saudi diplomacy.[23] Saudi money has paid for new mosques, while Saudi-educated imams have arrived since the end of the war in 1999.[23] During UN administration, Saudi Arabian organizations sought to establish a cultural foothold in Kosovo.[26] 98 Wahhabist schools were set up by Saudi organizations during UN administration.[27] Hundreds of Kosovo Albanians have joined jihad in the Middle East.

The Kosovo Police arrested some 40 suspected Islamist militants on 11 August 2014. These were suspected of having fought with Islamist insurgent groups in Syria and Iraq.[28]

By April 2015, a total of 232 Kosovo Albanians had gone to Syria to fight with Islamist groups, most commonly the Islamic State.[29] Forty of these are from the town of Skënderaj (Srbica), according to Kosovo police reports.[30] As of September 2014, a total of 48 ethnic Albanians have been killed fighting in Syria.[31] The number of fighters from Kosovo is at least 232 and estimated at more than 300 (as of 11 February 2016).[32]

A 2017 UNDP study shows that Islamic extremism has grown in Kosovo.[33]


Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq

ISIL terror cells

Groups of ethnic Albanians were arrested by police in November 2016 in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia for planning terrorist attacks.[34][35] They were coordinated by IS commanders Lavdrim Muhaxheri and Ridvan Haqifi, both Kosovo Albanians, and planned attacks on international and state institutions, ultimately with the intent to establish an Islamic state. They planned to attack the Israeli football team during a match in Albania, and potentially Kosovo government institutions and Serbian Orthodox Church sites.[36]

A group of ethnic Albanians, Kosovo-born immigrants to Italy, were arrested by Italian police in Venice on 30 March 2017 for planning blowing up the Rialto Bridge.[37]

Notable people

  • Shukri Aliu, Macedonian Albanian imam, ISIS recruiter
  • Mirsad Bektašević (b. 1987), Swedish alleged al-Qaeda internet recruiter
  • Bilal Bosnić (b. 1972), Bosnian Salafi leader, terrorist organizer
  • Haris Čaušević, Bosnian Islamist, terrorist (2012 Bugojno attack)
  • Almir Daci, Albanian ISIS commander and recruiter[38]
  • Ridvan Haqifi (1990–2017), Kosovo Albanian ISIS commander
  • Irfan Haqifi, Kosovo Albanian ISIS recruiter
  • Nerdin Ibrić, Bosnian Islamist, terrorist (2015 Zvornik attack)
  • Nusret Imamović, Bosnian Salafi leader
  • Mevlid Jašarević, Bosnian Wahhabist, terrorist (2011 Sarajevo attack)
  • Rexhep Memishi, Macedonian Albanian imam
  • Lavdrim Muhaxheri (1989–2017), Kosovo Albanian ISIS commander
  • Enes Omeragić, Bosnian Islamist, terrorist (2015 Sarajevo shooting)
  • Muamer Topalović, Bosnian Wahhabist, terrorist (2002 Kostajnica murders)
  • Zekerija Qazimi, Kosovo Albanian imam, ISIS recruiter


  1. "The Balkans - a hub of worldwide terrorist network?".
  2. Lebl 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 Farmer 2010, p. 126.
  4. Branislav Radeljić; Martina Topić (1 July 2015). Religion in the Post-Yugoslav Context. Lexington Books. pp. 8–. ISBN 978-1-4985-2248-9.
  5. Farmer 2010, p. 127.
  6. Deliso 2007, p. 18.
  7. Hećimović 2009, p. 185.
  8. Kohlmann 2004, p. 198.
  9. Schindler 2007, p. 266.
  10. Deliso 2007, p. 17.
  11. "Trio 'linked to terrorist films'". BBC News. 25 April 2007. Retrieved 4 July 2009.
  12. Krebs, Brian (5 July 2007). "Terrorism's Hook Into Your Inbox". Washington Post. Retrieved 4 July 2009.
  13. McGrory, Daniel (7 June 2006). "British computer whiz-kid exports terror via internet". The Times. Retrieved 27 December 2006.
  14. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  16. Mackey, Robert; Gladstone, Rick (2011-10-28). "Gunman Fires at U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo". The New York Times.
  17. "FBI — Individual Indicted in Connection with Machine Gun Attack on U.S. Embassy in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2011". Retrieved 2012-04-29.
  18. "Middle East Updates / Bosnian imam on trial for recruiting ISIS fighters".
  19. "Bosnian extremist wants to tax non-Muslims". B92.
  20. Sladojević, Dragan (18 February 2014). "Vehabijski vođa Bosnić »zvecka« sabljama!" (in Serbian). Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  21. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 Testa 2016.
  24. 1 2 Yossef Bodansky (4 May 2011). bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America. Crown Publishing Group. pp. 398–403. ISBN 978-0-307-79772-8.
  25. Lyubov Grigorova Mincheva; Ted Robert Gurr (3 January 2013). Crime-Terror Alliances and the State: Ethnonationalist and Islamist Challenges to Regional Security. Routledge. pp. 34–. ISBN 978-1-135-13210-1.
  26. Mincheva & Gurr 2013, p. 34.
  27. Mincheva & Gurr 2013, pp. 34–35.
  28. "Kosovo police arrest 40 for fighting in Iraq, Syria". Reuters.
  29. "Fight the Good Fight: With the Western Balkans at Peace, Some Go Abroad to Look for War". The Economist. 18 April 2015.
  30. "Vesti - 100 Albanaca sa KiM ratuje u Siriji". B92. Retrieved 2014-06-10.
  31. "Još jedan kosovski Albanac poginuo u Siriji" [Another Kosovo Albanian Killed in Syria] (in Serbian). Info.ks. 15 September 2014.
  32. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  33. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. Stanglin, Doug (17 November 2016). "Kosovo thwarts 'synchronized' Islamic State terror attacks". News. USA Today.
  35. Dearden, Lizzie (17 November 2016). "Isis attack on Israeli football team foiled by police at World Cup qualifier in Albania". World News. The Independent.
  36. "Lavdrim Muhaxheri, ISIS Warrior, Remains Threat to Kosovo". Balkan Insight. 18 November 2016.
  37. "Italian police ..." London: Telegraph.
  38. Missing or empty |title= (help)


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