Investigation into Backgrounds of Bosnians Involved in Vienna Plot

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 4 Issue: 32

Austrian authorities have found no evidence that two Bosnian men arrested earlier this month in connection with an attempted attack on the U.S. Embassy in Vienna had connections with radical Muslims from the former Yugoslavia. Certain circumstances, however, lead a trail that analysts say could suggest the attack was not an anomaly.

On October 1, 42-year old Asim Cejvanovic, from the Vienna suburb of Tulln, was arrested after attempting to enter the U.S. Embassy in the Austrian capital carrying a backpack filled with grenades and nails. He fled the scene after the backpack triggered a metal detector and was apprehended shortly afterwards. The backpack contained two grenades (without detonators), plastic explosives and bits of metal. A search of his apartment that same day turned up around two kilograms of explosives. It remains unclear how Cejvanovic obtained the explosives. His relatives and friends describe him as mentally unstable and prone to occasional violent behavior as a consequence of his wartime experiences in Bosnia. His mother, Suhreta, who lives in northern Bosnia, said her son had received psychiatric care in the past. Cejvanovic was wounded in Bosnia in 1992 and was transported, with his mother, to Croatia and later to Vienna for medical treatment (Dnevni Avaz, October 3). Austrian police and prosecutors have so far refrained from labeling the incident a terrorist attack and are pursuing the case as an anomaly perpetrated by a mentally unstable individual. However, a recent development has shed suspicions on that approach.

During initial questioning, Austrian officials said Cejvanovic appeared highly confused, but placed responsibility on another Bosnian man, his neighbor Mehmed Djudjic, whom Cejvanovic said had given him the explosives and instructed him to enter the U.S. Embassy. Djudjic was arrested and questioned, and he denied any involvement in the incident. According to Cejvanovic, Djudjic gave him 20 euros and the backpack, saying that he should give it to a man named “Tom” from the embassy, who would use the nails for building a house. Djudjic admitted only to giving him the money. While Cejvanovic appears to be mentally unstable and police have been unable to directly link him to any radical Islamist groups, Djudjic’s background is different. His relatives told Bosnian media that he turned to traditional Islam after a 2003 car accident and when visiting Bosnia would spend much of his time with members of the radical Wahhabi movement (Oslobodjenje, October 6).

Djudjic was seen in Bosnia most recently in April, for the funeral of Wahhabi leader and self-proclaimed sheikh Jusuf Barcic, who died in a car accident at a time when he and his followers were trying to occupy buildings belonging to the Islamic community in several Bosnian cities. Barcic’s main financier and ideological leader was former Bosnian cleric Muhamed Porca, who runs his own Islamic community in the Austrian capital. In his preaching, he calls for the creation of a parallel radical Islamic community in Bosnia. After finishing studies in Saudi Arabia in 1993, Porca spent two years as imam in Vienna. He then returned to Bosnia for a short before finally settling in Vienna.

During the arrest of Cejvanovic, police also found a book entitled Namaz u Islamu, a work published by Porca only in Vienna. The book sets out to explain why moderate Muslims must return to traditional Islam, as in Saudi Arabia (ISA Consulting, October 5). Also, three teenagers, all Austrian citizens of Arab origin, arrested last month in connection with a video posted online threatening Austria and Germany with suicide attacks unless they withdraw from Afghanistan, had attended Porca’s sermons (Nezavisne Novine, October 6). Some Bosnian Islamic community officials also accused Porca of organizing and financing visits to Bosnia for radical Muslims from Germany and Austria for the purpose of recruiting more members to the Wahhabi movement. Bosnian Islamic community officials and media named another Vienna-based Bosnian cleric, Adnan Buzar, as financier of the Wahhabi movement. Buzar is the son-in-law of Palestinian Sabri al-Banna, also known as Abu Nidal, the founder of the Fatah Revolutionary Council and the most wanted international terrorist in the late 1980s and killed in Iraq in 2002.

In Serbia, media named the leader and financier of the rapidly growing Wahhabi movement in the Muslim majority Sandzak region and Montenegro as Nedzad Balkan, alias Ebu Muhammed, another Vienna-based cleric and leader of the Sahaba Mosque. Ebu Muhammed also assisted Porca with the publication of Namaz u Islamu. Balkan, along with six other Wahhabis, three of them Austrian citizens, was involved in the beating of a Bosnian Serb in the Bosnian city of Brcko in 2006. After a short trial, the seven were given symbolic sentences on parole and some of them returned to Vienna.

Since the incidents with Barcic, the moderate Islamic community in Bosnia has stepped up its struggle against the Wahhabi movement. The community’s head, Reis-ul-Ulema Mustafa Effendi Ceric, has called on Austrian authorities to take steps to prevent the activities of radical Islamic groups there. He has also suggested that problems with radical Muslims in Bosnia have been imported from other countries, primarily Austria. Nevertheless, speaking to Bosnian media, the director of the Bosnian Security and Investigation Agency, Sead Lisak, said that there was no evidence that the two men arrested in Vienna had connections with radical Muslims being monitored by the agency.