Operation CUT: Bosnia versus the Islamic State

Early this morning, more than a hundred Bosnian special police raided thirteen different locations around Sarajevo, the capital, arresting eleven suspects on a raft of terrorism charges. Those taken into custody are considered affiliates of the Islamic State, the notorious ISIS, and are believed to have recruited personnel and raised funds for the terror group.

This Federal Police action, termed Operation REZ (Cut), followed surveillance on fifteen suspected ISIS affiliates, including the eleven arrested today. Police seized ISIS paraphernalia as well as considerable amounts of electronic media for analysis.

Today’s developments are significant for several reasons. In the first place, on a per capita basis Bosnia-Hercegovina has supplied more fighters to ISIS than any other European country. Hundreds of Bosnians, most of them young, have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight under the group’s black banner. This is so out of control that Sarajevo has criminalized going abroad to wage jihad, or recruiting others to do so, and recently convicted four Bosnians on such charges.

Bosnia’s problems with radicalism and terrorism are serious and growing. Back in 2007, when I published a detailed book, based on my personal experience in the Balkan counterterrorism business, exposing the key role of Bosnia in the Global Jihad, it was met with disbelief and even spurious charges of “Islamophobia.” These days, with the threat obvious to all but the willfully blind, my viewpoint has become mainstream, as evidenced by a new FRANCE24 documentary exposing the rising Salafist wave in Bosnia.

On cue, jihad-deniers in Bosnia have denounced today’s raids as “Islamophobia,” while the father of one of the arrested men says this is all a misunderstanding and his son has nothing to do with radicalism, much less terrorism.

Several of the raids were staged around Rajlovac, a Sarajevo suburb where last month a Salafist gunman murdered two off-duty Bosnian soldiers. It is believed that today’s sweep is tied to that incident.

There are rumors that the Federal Police action was aimed at preempting a terrorist attack in Sarajevo — which, if true, is an important, indeed ominous, development. For more than twenty years, jihadists have used Bosnia as a safe area to train, raise funds, and plot terrorism elsewhere. The country, as I recently explained about Canada, is considered something of a “safehouse” for radicals, a permissive environment for their clandestine activities, and terrorism committed there is considered off-message by both ISIS and Al-Qa’ida.

Hence recent incidents of jihadist terrorism in Bosnia — last month’s Rajlovac incident, the murder of a policeman in Zvornik in April, the October 2011 shooting at U.S. Embassy Sarajevo, and the June 2010 fatal bombing of a police station in Bugojno — were committed by “lone wolves,” some of them mentally unstable, without direction from terrorist higher-ups.

Given the enormously fragile condition of Bosnia, which seems stuck in permanent political paralysis, intractable poverty, and interminable interethnic bitterness, it would take very little terrorism there to cause a serious political crisis, so let’s hope jihadists, organized and trained by ISIS, don’t start attacks on Bosnian soil.

UPDATE (22 DEC, 1710 EST): There are more reports based on unnamed security sources that the arrested men were planning a New Year’s terrorist attack in Sarajevo, but no details of that have been confirmed. We can confirm that the arrested men are Elvir Muratović, Kemal Murić, Semir Salković, Bilal Dervišić, Zulfo Alajbegović, Edin Tabaković, Darko Peco, Elvir Mašić, Adis Kešan, Nermin Ćuprija and Admir Ahmetović.

Today, in Belgrade, Milorad Dodik, the president of Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serbian entity, played up the arrests to highlight the Salafist threat to his country. Dodik asserted that Bosnia has 3,500 people who are ready to carry out terrorist attacks in the country. Since he regularly plays up the jihadist threat for effect, and is close to Vladimir Putin, Dodik’s assertion can be dismissed as serious analysis. That said, even if he is off by ninety percent and Bosnia has “only” 350 terrorism-inclined radicals, given the country has fewer than four million citizens, that’s a shocking number all the same.

UPDATE (25 DEC, 1340 EST): Bosnian prosecutor Dubravko Čapara has confirmed the existence of a terrorist plot to execute a mass-casualty bombing on New Year’s Eve in Sarajevo. The plan intended to kill a hundred or more civilians. Eight of the arrested men were involved in this plot and, since the explosives to be used in the attack have not been located by the police, Čapara has requested a one-month detention period for them so Bosnian authorities may complete their investigation. The men to be held for a month are Muratović, Murić, Salković, Alajbegović, Tabaković, Peco, Mašić, and Kešan.

This is developing story, watch for more. In the meantime, my book remains the go-to work on this subject, and I’ve added a great deal of free content here for those seeking background information on this knotty problem:

Operation BENELUX: More Bosnian Terror on March 13, 2015

Bosnia’s Jihad Comes to America on February 10, 2015

Operation DAMASCUS: The Italian Job on November 15, 2014

Operation DAMASCUS, Part II on November 13, 2014

Iran’s Secret New Balkan Spy-Terror Offensive on October 24, 2014

Operation DAMASCUS on September 10, 2014

Bosnia and the Global Jihad Revisited on August 23, 2014

Vienna Calling: How Austria Became a Hub of Global Jihad on August 22, 2014

Austria and the Bosnian-Syrian Jihad Connection on July 1, 2014

Bosnia tells Iranian spies to leave …. to no avail on May 7, 2013

How Iranian intelligence trained Bosnian terrorists on April 13, 2013

Uncovering Iran’s Espionage-Terror Apparatus in the Balkans on November 4, 2012