Recent incidents in two Bosnian cities between Bosnian Muslims and a group of radical Islamists illustrate just how deep their mutual animosity runs. The incidents also finally expose the names of some of the ringleaders of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Wahhabi movement, some of whom are linked to international terrorist networks. A month ago, Jusuf Barcic, a Bosnian national and self-proclaimed sheikh, and his followers tried to enter the Careva (Czar’s) mosque in Sarajevo on several occasions. Barcic is an aggressive preacher calling for a return to traditional Islam, which is supported by the radical Wahhabis in Bosnia. To prevent problems, local Islamic authorities, who banned the Wahhabi movement a decade ago, are keeping the mosque under lock and key for the first time in its 500-year history.
The incidents did not begin in the capital, Sarajevo, but rather several months ago in Barcic’s hometown of Kalesija, in northeastern Bosnia, when some 150 followers of Barcic—mostly Bosnian nationals, but also naturalized citizens from Islamic countries—occupied a building belonging to the Islamic community to preach their faith, an act which differs from usual Islamic practices of Bosnian Muslims. Local Muslims sealed the mosque where Barcic’s followers lived and Barcic used for his teaching. A fight broke out after the locals threw out the Wahhabis’ belongings from the mosque and set fire to them. The fight was broken up by special police forces. The locals point out that Barcic has been calling them infidels for years and asking all the local women to cover themselves with scarves. He has been telling them that they are not allowed to play music in their homes and that they should hardly ever leave their homes at night (Dnevni Avaz, March 11). Barcic, a former cleric, started preaching radical Islam after he returned from schooling in Saudi Arabia in 1996. In 2001, a local court sentenced him to seven months in jail. Barcic has also collected a number of outstanding traffic tickets, but since he does not accept the civilian government and its laws as legitimate, he refuses to obey the laws, including stopping at red lights, according to a public police report.
It appears, however, that Barcic was not the organizer of the incidents in Sarajevo and Kalesija. Instead, new information shows that a man always seen close to Barcic, Karray Kamel bin Ali, is the mastermind behind the recent incidents. Kamel bin Ali, alias Abu Hamza, is Tunisian born, but has Bosnian citizenship. He and Barcic shared prison time together, and he was released several months ago. Wartime commander of the mujahideen unit in Bosnia, Abu Hamza became known to the Bosnian public after he murdered Egyptian Hisham Diab, alias Abu Velid, in 1997 in the central Bosnian city of Zenica. After managing to evade arrest for three years, Abu Hamza was finally brought down in Germany in 2000 and deported to Bosnia, where he was sentenced to seven years in prison. An investigation into the case, however, showed that the real Hisham Diab was still alive and an active member of an organization called “New Jihad” and a former close associate of the radical Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The identity of the person Abu Hamza killed in Zenica remains unknown.
According to police information, Abu Hamza arrived in Bosnia at the beginning of the war in 1992, and obtained Bosnian citizenship after marrying a Bosnian woman. A Bosnian police source, close to the investigation of Abu Hamza, told The Jamestown Foundation on March 15 that Abu Hamza was part of a 15-20 member group of Egypt’s militant Gama’a al-Islamiyya that arrived in Zenica and Travnik in 1992. During his stay in Bosnia, Abu Hamza used several names and falsified documents. He used the names: El Akil Abdellah Ahmed, born in Yemen; Bega Kamel, born in Libya; and five other names with Yemeni and Libyan documents each with different places of birth and dates. While in prison, Abu Hamza saw several different criminal investigations launched against him, including one for the murder of a Bosnian Croat policeman and another for the torturing of non-Muslim refugee returnees.
In 2001, Italy sent a request for his extradition, but Bosnian authorities refused because of Abu Hamza’s Bosnian citizenship. The Bosnian police source said that Italy sought Abu Hamza’s extradition for the suspected planning of suicide attacks in Italy, including one plot to kill the Pope during his visit to Bologna in September 1997. For the same crimes, Italy also requested the extradition of Abu Hamza’s associates, also naturalized Bosnian citizens, which included Tunisian Khalil Jarray and Yemeni Saleh Nidal, both members of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA). The two were arrested by international forces in Bosnia on terrorism charges, but were quickly released after Italy failed to send enough details to sustain their warrants. Their whereabouts are now unknown. The two suspects held Bosnian citizenship until 2001 when it was revoked by the government in Sarajevo.
Still, police believe that the main financier behind Barcic’s group is a former Bosnian Muslim cleric, Muhamed Porca, who heads a Vienna-based Islamic community administrative unit. Porca, who was Barcic’s colleague from his studies in Saudi Arabia, calls for establishing a parallel Islamic community in Bosnia, which would lean toward radical Islam. Last year, Porca donated a car to Barcic, which was confiscated by police after traffic incidents and irregular documents, according to a source in an anti-terrorism federal police unit.
The incidents, though not terribly significant in and of themselves, could be indications of a developing situation in which Bosnia will see an intensified struggle between members of the radical Wahhabi movement and moderate Bosnian Muslims. This development coincides with a recent statement by the grand mufti of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric, in which he suggested that all problems with radical Muslims in Bosnia are imported from radical Muslims of other countries. On March 6, Barcic’s father, Salih Barcic, told the Sarajevo Weekly, Start, that Wahhabis here must “either respect Bosnian Muslims or to go back to Saudi Arabia.”