Balkans: Islamism gains ground

Militant Islam gains ground in the Balkans – GLG News:
Jasmin Merdan, a young Bosnian who wrote a book after disassociating himself from Wahhabis groups in Bosnia, warned that “they express their convictions with violence, introduce anarchy in mosques and preach intolerance.” Women in the Albanian city of Skadar have reportedly started covering their heads or wearing the niqab, a full body covering that hides everything but the eyes, in newly found religiosity.

The video posted on YouTube is one of several produced by home grown jihadists in the Balkans and circulating in the region. “Oh Osama, annihilate the American army. Oh Osama, raise the Muslims’ honor,” a group of Macedonian men chant in Albanian on the video. “In September 2001 you conquered a power. We all pray for you.” Similar songs calling on Southeastern European Muslims to join the jihad have been produced in Bosnian.

Governments and security forces fear that that increased Wahhabi activity will produce committed jihadis that could destabilize already fragile nations in southeastern Europe and, in the case of Bulgaria – where one sixth of the country’s 7.6 million people is Muslim – produce a pool of jihadists whose EU passports would grant them easy access to Western Europe and allow them to blend into society.

…Bulgaria is the only EU member whose Muslim population are not recent immigrants. Most Bulgarian Muslims like those elsewhere in the Balkans are descendants of ethnic Turks who arrived during five centuries of Ottoman rule.

…The analysts say militant Islam is gaining ground on the fringe of a more general return to religion in the Balkans. Several thousand Orthodox Christian Bulgarians demonstrated in Sofia recently demanding that religious instruction be made compulsory in schools – a demand supported by mainstream Muslim organizations. 

Muslim organizations are believed to have spent large amounts of money over the last decade to build some 150 new mosques and educational centers in predominantly Orthodox Bulgaria. A minority are believed to promote Wahhabism.

Analysts say that radical Islam has gained ground in southern and northeastern Bulgaria where militant Islamists, according to former Bulgarian chief mufti Nedim Gendzhev, are seeking to create a “fundamentalist triangle” in areas of Bosnia, Macedonia and Bulgaria’s Western Rhodope mountains.

…Bulgarian authorities last year arrested a mayor and a village teacher in the south of the country on charges of preaching radical Islam. In 2003, authorities shut down several Islamic centers because they were financed by Saudi-funded Muslim groups believed to have links to militant Islamic organizations and “to prevent terrorists getting a foothold in Bulgaria.” Some analysts estimate that 3,000 young Muslims have graduated from militant schools still operating in Bulgaria; it was not immediately clear what they went on to do following their graduation.

…(In Bosnia) Gornja Maoca was home to some 30 families who lived by strict Shariah laws, organized schooling in Arabic for their children outside the state system and opposed the primacy of Bosnia’s mainstream Islamic Community. Nusret Imamovic, the town’s self-proclaimed Wahhabi leader, endorsed suicide attacks on the group’s Bosnian language website, saying they should be launched only in “exceptional circumstances.” The site features statements by al-Qaeda and Islamic groups fighting in the Caucasus and celebrates suicide bombers as joyful Muslims.

Serbian officials say 12 alleged Wahhabis convicted last year to prison terms of up to 13 years for planning terrorist attacks, including on the US Embassy in Belgrade, had close ties to their brethren in Gornja Maoca. One of the convicted, Adnan Hot, said during the trial that Imamovic was one of only three Muslim leaders that he followed. Four other Wahhabis were sentenced in a separate case to jail terms of up to eight years on charges of planning to bomb a football stadium in the southern Serbian town of Novi Pazar.

In Macedonia, Suleyman Rexhepim Rexhepi, head of the official Islamic Religious Community (IVZ), recently called on the government and the international community to crack down on increasingly influential Wahabbi groups. Rexhepi is locked into a bitter battle with Ramadan Ramadani, the imam of the Isa Beg mosque in Skopje, that has caused a rift in the country’s Muslim community

Background:
Bulgaria: Extremist imam arrested linked to Saudi extremist Al Waqf Al Islami Foundation.
Bosnia: Wahabbism spreading, experts say.
Macedonia: “Wahabbism is becoming a concern but doesn’t represent a security threat”.

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