A number of developments in early September put the spotlight back on to B&H’s militant Islamist movement. Given the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it is worth going over these things in detail.
Among the developments were 1) the release of B&H’s main Wahhabi Islamic recruiter, Bilal Bosnic, from prison; 2) the arrest of Jasmin Mulahusic, an internet troll for the ruling Party of Democratic Action (local acronym: SDA) with known associations to various Al Qaeda figures; and 3) the indictment of Sena Hamzabegovic, a Bosnian female ISIS supporter accused of raising over a hundred thousand euro to support the activities of B&H ISIS volunteers in Syria and Iraq.
Little has been reported on BiH’s militant Islamist movement over the past few years; this should not, however, be taken as a sign that it has disappeared or is no longer a threat. During 2013-15, when the international community was concerned about the threat of ISIS-sponsored violence in both the Middle-East and in Europe, outsiders placed intense pressure on B&H authorities to crack down on ISIS sympathizers within the country.
Instead of disappearing, however, B&H’s militant Islamists have most likely decided to go underground and lay low, becoming sleeper cells that can be activated wen it is time for them to become operational again. Consequently, the following developments are worth paying attention to:
- The release of Bilal Bosnic: On September 7th, one of BiH’s most prominent Wahhabi leaders, Bilal Bosnic, was released from prison after serving seven years for inciting terrorism.
During the Bosnian jihad, Bosnic had been a member of the El Muzhahedin Battalion, an Al Qaeda formation within the so-called “Army of Bosnia & Herzegovina.”
After the war, Bosnic became one of B&H’s most prominent Wahhabi leaders, widely known for his radical sermons, often posted on social media sites such as Youtube. In one such sermon, Bosnic claimed that everything “from Prijedor to the Sandzak” belongs to Muslims. In another sermon, Bosnic argued that non-Muslims in Bosnia should be required to pay the jizya, a poll tax imposed on non-Muslims in “Islamic” countries.
Bosnic was also a frequent advocate of religious violence; thus, in one sermon he told followers that “the bloodletting has only begun and will not stop, Allah knows best, until the victory of Islam comes.” Similarly, in another sermon Bosnic instructed his followers that “We have to love the one who loves Allah, and hate the one who hates Allah. We have to hate infidels, even if they are our neighbors or live in our homes.” The Youtube spot of this sermon had been viewed over 8,400 times before it was removed after Bosnic’s arrest.
Thanks to the large number of ISIS volunteers Bosnic recruited both in Bosnia and further afield, such as in Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland, he was dubbed by Italian media as “ISIS’ headhunter in Europe.”
In September 2014, in an operation code-named “Operation Damask” Bosnian police arrested sixteen individuals, including Bosnić. The apprehended individuals were accused of financing and publicly supporting terrorist activities, organizing terrorist groups, and recruiting individuals to fight in Iraq and Syria. Adding to the urgency of arresting Bosnić was undoubtedly the fact that he had recently voiced his support for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State.
Worryingly, it appeared that Bosnic had some support within local security structures; for instance, a protected witness in the case against Bosnić testified that local police were tied to groups involved in sending recruits to Iraq and Syria, and who allowed jihad volunteers to cross the Bosnian border.
Recent developments in Afghanistan have undoubtedly been a source of encouragement to Bosnic. Apart from being a preacher, Bosnic was also a self-styled singer and musician. In one of his songs Bosnic sang:
The beautiful jihad has risen over Bosnia
And the Bosnian started calling ‘Allah Akbar” and praying
America had better know I am performing da’wa
God willing, [America] will be destroyed to its foundations
If you try to harm the mujahideen once more, oh infidels,
Our Taliban brothers will come from all over,
And they will sentence you with their swords.
America and all the other tyrants had better know
that all the Muslims are now like the Taliban,
Jihad, Jihad, oh Allah, will be the redemption of the believers.
Allah Akbar. Allah is my Lord.
Listen, all my brothers, believers from all the world,
With explosives on our chests we pave the way to Paradise.
It should be noted that the international authority in B&H, the Office of the High Representative (OHR) completely ignored, or at least refused to report on, the activities of people like Bosnic or other Bosnian militant Islamists. Thus, developments such as Bosnian Wahhabi leader Nusret Imamovic being named a “global terrorist” by the U.S. State Department, Bosnian Wahhabi leader Bilal Bosnic being arrested for recruiting volunteers for ISIS in Bosnia and throughout Western Europe, and Bosnian suicide-terrorist Emrah Fojnica killing over twenty people in Baghdad, never merited any mention whatsoever in OHR’s semi-annual reports to the UN Security Council.
- The Arrest of Jasmin Mulahusic: On September 4th, Jasmin Mulahusic, a member of the Bosnian Salafi movement with dual Bosnian-Luxembourg citizenship, was arrested at the border crossing at Bosanski Brod.
For years, Mulahusic has operated as an internet troll for the SDA, frequently fabricating stories and doctoring photographs which he then posts on the internet to attack and discredit the SDA’s political opponents.
According to a U.N. Security Council report, Mulahasic has been connected to a number of suspected terrorists across Western Europe.
Mulahusic was arrested based on a warrant issued by the B&H Prosecutor’s Office, in which he was accused of promoting national, religious, and racial intolerance. He was, however, released after only a couple of days.
- The Arrest of Sena Hamzabegovic: On September 7th, alleged Bosnian ISIS supporter Sena Hamzabegovic was charged by the B&H Prosecutor’s Office of raising approximately 115,000 Euro between 2013 and 2018 to finance terrorist activities by Bosnian ISIS volunteers in Syria and Iraq. Hamzabegovic reportedly made several trips to Syria to deliver the monies personally.
During ISIS’ heyday in 2013-2016, experts claimed that Bosnia & Herzegovina provided the highest number of ISIS volunteers, per capita, of any country in Europe, and that financial/legal regulations in BiH were so lax (or perhaps sympathetic to) the militant Islamist movement that ISIS operatives were actually instructing supporters and donors to funnel their contributions through Bosnia. For instance, in the UK most of the most of the funds collected for ISIS were reportedly laundered through Islamic State agents in Bosnia via Moneygram, and a study on terrorism finance reported that ISIS had put out instructions that donations were to be routed through Bosnia or Turkey (with Bosnia considered the safer option). Indeed, the situation became so bad at this time that the European Commission placed Bosnia in a group of countries (including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and North Korea) which whose anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism regimes (AML-CFT) posed “significant threats to the financial system of the Union.”