“According to the figures of our intelligence agency we have some 3,000 Wahhabi followers in Bosnia, but that does not mean they are all terrorists,” Bosnian Security Minister Sadik Ahmetovic said.
“However we cannot exclude that there are individuals among them … who could at a certain point commit terrorist acts,” he added, insisting that Bosnia’s police have the capacity to deal with the menace.
Bosnian Muslims, some 40 percent of a population estimated at 3.8 million, are generally a moderate Sunni community.
During the bloody 1992-95 inter-ethnic war a number of foreign Islamic fighters joined forces with the Bosnian Muslim army. They introduced Wahhabism, also referred to as Salafism, to Bosnia and built a small following.
Currently there are some twenty radical Islamic groups in Bosnia, estimates Ahmet Alibasic, a professor of the faculty of Islamic sciences at the University of Sarajevo.
Seven suspected Islamic radicals were detained in February in Gornja Maoca, a remote northeastern hamlet seen as a key location for Bosnian followers of Wahhabism.
The men were accused of “endangering the territorial integrity” of Bosnia and confined to house arrest but have not been formally charged.
Contacted through an intermediary, the leader of Gornja Maoca’s Salafist community refused to talk to AFP. The imam who reads the important Friday prayers at Sarajevo’s Saudi-funded King Fahd Mosque, known to attract Salafists, also refused to comment for this article.
In front of the mosque heavily bearded men in traditional Islamic calf length trousers and long shirts, a style not worn in Bosnia before the advent of radical Islam in the 1990s, sell shawls, books on Islam and DVDs with sermons or glorifying the mujahedin, or Islamic fighters.
“We are not Wahhabites or Salafists. We are Muslims, that’s all. Here (in Bosnia) people invent a lot of things,” a young vendor who refused to give his name told AFP.
In the neighbourhood around the mosque several women can been seen wearing the niqab, a face-covering veil, a rare sight in Bosnia.
Vlado Azinovic, a professor of international terrorism at the University of Sarajevo, told AFP that the Bosnian Salafist movement is not homogeneous. “I don’t think there is a Bosnian coordination centre” for local movements which are “divided“, he said.
He warned that the late June attack on a police station in the central city of Bugojno, in which an officer was killed, should be a “wake-up call” to the Bosnian Islamic Community, the official organisation that oversees Muslim religious life in the country.
He urged the body to take “a firm stance”.
Related: Divided Bosnians go to the polls.