Austria and the Bosnian-Syrian Jihad Connection

For years, the most important center for Salafi radicalism and terrorism in Southeastern Europe has been Austria’s capital Vienna, which is not actually in the Balkans. Thanks to liberal asylum laws and a generally permissive attitude about radicalism – as long as the terrorism is directed elsewhere – the picturesque city of the waltz and the Blue Danube has become a preeminent hub for the Salafi jihad.

Austrian officials have tried to keep this story quiet, since it hardly helps the country’s image, but security officials have long been aware of the extent of the problem, and that it is growing. Indeed it’s hiding in plain sight. The country’s most notorious Salafi mosque sits directly across the street from a major Defense Ministry facility in downtown Vienna. On occasion, press stories have popped up that indicate that something’s going wrong in this prosperous country. In April, two Austrian teenage girls of Bosnian heritage ran off to Syria to marry jihadists, after undergoing sudden radicalization – there was a media sensationMevlid Jašarević, the young man who shot up the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo in October 2011, though born in Serbia, actually grew up in Vienna, and was radicalized much more there than anywhere in the Balkans. Going back to the 1990s, many major cases of terrorism and radicalism in Southeastern Europe actually have significant ties to Austria, particularly Vienna.

This fact now seems to be something that Austrian officials are no longer hiding from publicly. In its just-released annual report for 2013, Austria’s domestic intelligence agency, the mouthful Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung – BVT for short), there is bureaucratic language but little mincing of words. Some choice quotes: “Religiously motivated extremism and terrorism – above all of Islamic character – as well as Salafi-jihadi groups continue to present a great potential threat…The number of young radicalized followers of violent Salafism continues to rise. In this context, the conflict in Syria is of urgent relevance for Austria, since systematic efforts are being made within [Austria] to radicalize and recruit people for the war in Syria…The conflict in Syria has become very popular among violent extremist Salafis. The spectrum of recruits to the conflict in Syria is broadly ethnically diverse. The motivation, however, seems to be uniformly jihadi.”

Moreover, the BVT’s report points a finger directly at the Western Balkans – meaning Bosnia, mostly – and its nexus to Austria as the critical connection in the rise of radicalism and the movement of young volunteers to Syria to join the jihad:

The Western Balkans security-related relevance for Austria is particularly due to the development of Islamism in the former Yugoslavian Republics and is nourished by a bad political and economic situation. In 2013, further radical-Islamist villages were founded, especially in Bosnia-Hercegovina, where the principles of a democratic and open society are strictly denied. During the past years it was found that people from various European countries, including Austria, were traveling to these villages. In this context, a potential threat is posed by the creation of subculture groups or strictly separate communities which could provoke indoctrination and the recruitment of new members. In 2013, it was established that Jihadist fighters from the Western Balkans travelled to Syria. The fact that activists on the Balkans are networking with and are concretely linked to groups in (Western) Europe, there is a significant reference to Austria. This reference becomes particularly evident in the recruitment and travelling of European or Austrian fighters going to Syria via the Western Balkans.

This unclassified statement leaves out any detail, but the plain fact is that years of playing insufficient attention to the problem have led to the situation today, where Salafi radicalism has been nurtured in Austria to cause serious problems in the Balkans, and now there is ample and dangerous cross-fertilization. Jihadi “villages,” whose members travel frequently between Bosnia and Austria, are a growing problem – the settlement near the Bosnian town of Gornja Maoča is the most notorious, but one of many – and represent a threat to peace and order in Europe and beyond. It is good to see Austrian authorities begin to openly state the extent of the problem they face.

(Note: the 2013 annual report focuses heavily on Salafi radicalism but also addresses a wide range of counterterrorism and counterintelligence issues that fall under the BVT’s purview, including left- and right-wing radicalism, espionage, including the Snowden-derived “NSA espionage affair,” as well as an executive summary in English.)



16 comments on “Austria and the Bosnian-Syrian Jihad Connection”
  1. One fears that these 5th column groups exist throughout the EU and the US. Now what to do about them?

    1. 20committee says:

      Isn’t that the question! FBI, et al, have it under tighter control in the US than the Europeans do; there the problem is quite serious, defying easy solutions.

      1. Want2no says:

        Might difference in immigration policies and laws in the US and Europe also be a factor?

      2. 20committee says:

        One factor among many, IMO.

  2. Want2no says:

    It seems that, for a long time, many western European countries dealt with Muslim extremism by either ignoring it or pacifying it. I guess that, for a number of reasons, that isn’t working out so well any more.

  3. SamuelBurke says:

    Have you ever heard of Prof Pape?

    According to Prof Pape who has charted suicide bombers since the first known case which is as extreme an event as there could be, and tried to understand the underlying causes for these actions suggests a different approach to disincentivize its practice.

    ‘Jordan and Pape argue that bin Laden’s death offers an opportunity to make additional strides against al-Qaeda by removing American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Their prescription is based on their research, which suggests that over several decades and in many countries, suicide terrorism as a tactic has been fueled largely by regional hostility toward occupying military forces.

    “To strike an even more devastating blow against al-Qaeda’s recruitment,” Jordan and Pape wrote in a May 4 op-ed for The Atlantic, “President Obama should begin major military withdrawals now while the group is reeling from the changes in the Arab world and from the loss of bin Laden.”

    1. 20committee says:

      I’m afraid I, like most people involved in counterterrorism, don’t find Prof Pape very persuasive:

  4. SamuelBurke says:

    U.S foreign policy is too much of a man to stop and ask for directions, we’ll just keep driving around looking for our destination going on hunches.

    A lot of innocent soldiers die while our leaders learn their lessons from the history they believe they are making.

    This below is a famous quote direct from the heart of Mordor when the Orcs were at the gates.

    “The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”[2]

    Now ain’t that nice.

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