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Tehran’s men in Sarajevo

August 9, 2012

My book Unholy Terror exposed the taboo subject of the global jihad and its substantial relationship to Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH). It upset more than a few people, who didn’t want to hear that Bosnia’s Muslims included, as well as many victims of aggression, more than a few friends of Al-Qai’da and Iran. I elaborated in detail the very close relationship between leading circles in Sarajevo and Tehran, going back to 1990. Tehran and its intelligence services were early supporters – with money and influence – of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which has ruled the Muslims in BiH for most of the last two decades.

As the book explained, the U.S. and NATO cracked down on the very close linkages between the SDA and Tehran beginning in late 1995, when Western military forces entered BiH as peacekeepers, and hundreds of Pasdaran operatives began leaving the country. But they never left altogether, even following a second DC-mandated crackdown after 9/11. The SDA has always had a soft spot for Tehran, even for its unsavory intelligence services, whom more than a few Bosnian Muslims view as friends who helped them during the 1992-95 civil war.

Looks like it musta been a tough meeting.

What’s happened in the five years since Unholy Terror appeared? It seems that the SDA has been up to its old tricks, sounding pro-Western in public while remaining uncomfortably close to the Iranians in private. Now, with a potential war with Iran looming, the U.S. and its European allies, who have done so much to help the Bosnian Muslims for a generation, have had enough. As reported by the Sarajevo daily Dnevni avaz, last week Patrick Moon and Nigel Casey, the American and British ambassadors to BiH, jointly read the riot act to Sadik Ahmetovic, the country’s powerful security minister, telling him that the SDA and Sarajevo must sever their secret ties – espionage, political, financial – with Tehran. While official Sarajevo said the meeting was cordial, apparently it was good deal more confrontational than that.

Communist counterspy or jihadist spymaster? Depends who’s asking, on which day.

For over 20 years, the SDA has included its influential Security Board, headed by Bakir Alispahic, the former head of Sarajevo’s intelligence service and a man long considered dangerously radical by the U.S. and NATO; the Board has an intelligence function and controls a good deal of the party’s activities and serves as the clandestine channel with Tehran (as well as a whole raft of suspect jihadist organizations). Ahmetovic is a member too, as is Fikret Muslimovic, BiH’s true eminence grise and the man who engineered the alliance with Iran back in the early 1990s, when he created the SDA’s intelligence apparatus. Muslimovic was a career Yugoslav military counterintelligence officer and convinced Communist who spent the 1980s locking away Islamic radicals in BiH, yet who upon Bosnian independence in 1992 suddenly became an Islamic hardliner and advocate of linkages with Iran and Al-Qa’ida … sometimes it’s better not to ask too many questions.

In recent years the SDA has tried to steer away from its “Iranian line”, without success. According to Sarajevo sages, the SDA is coalescing around Bakir Izetbegovic, the son of the late president Alija Izetbegovic – the old man considered a secular saint by many in the West but also a convinced Islamist by Iran, an odd amalgam to pull off. Izetbegovic Junior has a long-honed reputation for crime, corruption and radicalism considered impressive by Bosnians, who set that bar pretty high.

Sarajevo officially has been given a warning to reset its course in a European and Western direction as war with Iran looms. Hard decisions will have to be made by the SDA. They have been repeatedly deferred for nearly two decades but can be avoided no longer. If the Bosnian Muslims opt to stick with Iran as tensions rise, the ramifications for them and all Europe may be dire indeed.

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