Bosnian Authorities Plan to Deport Former Islamic Fighters

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 35

Bosnian authorities have announced plans to deport 50 naturalized citizens, mostly former Islamic fighters, according to a Bosnian commission for citizenship revision, which also reportedly acknowledged that among those slated for deportation is one with suspected links to al-Qaeda. Thus far, the commission has revoked 120 citizenships, approximately 100 of them former fighters who came to Bosnia from Muslim countries during the 1992-1995 civil war to fight on the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) side. Their citizenships have been revoked on the grounds of giving false personal information, such as dates and places of birth, in their citizenship applications. There are 350 more cases currently under investigation. The commission started its work in February on the revision of 1,500 naturalized citizens who obtained citizenship during the war.

Although the commission would not discuss the case with The Jamestown Foundation, a source close to the investigation said on condition of anonymity that the Bosnian authorities do not know the whereabouts of the majority of those slated for deportation. All naturalized Bosnian citizens were given until early July to provide all documents used to gain Bosnian citizenship, but only a few dozen showed up. As such, the authorities only have addresses listed on citizenship applications that are up to 10 years old (Nezavisne Novine, September 7).

The head of the revision commission, Vjekoslav Vukovic, told a press conference in Sarajevo on September 5 that one of the persons whose citizenship was revoked was on the UN list of al-Qaeda supporters. Vukovic refused to name the person in question or to reveal his whereabouts, or whether his whereabouts are known by the authorities (Oslobodjenje, September 7). Indeed, an anonymous source from Bosnia’s federal anti-terrorism squad said dozens of Bosnian passport bearers believed to have close ties with Osama bin Laden were arrested since 2001 elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia.

On an April UN Security Council terrorism blacklist, there are three naturalized Bosnian citizens, all with Tunisian origins. Tunisian nationals Ayadi Chafiq, Khalil Yarraya and Mehrez Ben Mahmoud arrived in Bosnia in 1992 at the start of the war and obtained citizenship in 1997 and 1998. While Yarraya’s whereabouts are unknown, Bosnian authorities believe that Chafiq lives in Western Europe, while Mahmoud was arrested in Turkey in 1999 and deported to Italy.

Out of 6,000 Arab volunteers who arrived during the early stages of the war, the Bosnian Foreign Ministry estimates that about 1,000 of them remained in the country as naturalized Bosnians. Many received new passports under new, often Bosnian names, making their previous records difficult to trace. In late 2001 and 2002, the Bosnian government revoked 140 citizenships of former Islamic fighters, but only a few were actually tracked and deported, while the location of the majority is still unknown. In 2001, federal police concluded a year-long investigation into the issue, culminating in Sarajevo canton prosecutors charging several high-ranking officials for abuse of their positions in connection with the granting of citizenships to Islamic fighters. Those charged include former Bosniak intelligence chief Bakir Alispahic, Sarajevo Canton Interior Minister Ismet Dahic and 18 other officials.

In the meantime, although both the local and mainstream international media have largely ignored the issue, it could come to a head if representatives of the former Islamic fighters, who view themselves as heroes of Bosnia, make good on their threats. Al-Hussein Imad (also known as Abu Hamza), for example, is a Syrian-born Islamic fighter who fought in Bosnia and faces deportation. He is not currently being held by authorities (Terrorism Monitor, June 15). Hamza, the informal leader of the former mujahideen community in the central Bosnian village of Bocinja, has threatened protests, blockades and other forms of unrest to protest the government’s deportation policies.