By Russ Read
The number one European supplier of ISIS fighters is not France, the U.K. or Germany … it’s Bosnia.
John Schindler, a former counter intelligence officer for the National Security Agency, describes on his 20 Committee blog how Bosnia-Herzegovina, a small Balkan country in Eastern Europe, has supplied more fighters to ISIS per capita than any other European country.
— John Schindler (@20committee) December 22, 2015
According to Schindler, “the country [Bosnia-Herzegovina], 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.”
“Western intelligence places the number of Bosniaks (i.e. Bosnian Muslims) who have gone abroad to fight with ISIS around 300,” Schindler, currently a national security contributor at Observer.com, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Though 300 may not seem like much, it should be noted that the entire country’s population numbers around 3.8 million, of which approximately 1.82 million are Muslim.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is located just to east of Italy across the Adriatic sea. The population of the Balkan country is highly diverse and includes a 48 percent plurality of Bosniak Muslims, 32 percent Serbs and around 15 percent Croats. The Ottoman Empire brought Islam to the region centuries ago and held the area until it was annexed by the Austro-Hungarian empire. The country existed as part of Yugoslavia throughout most of the 20th century until it proclaimed independence in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Following shortly, the Bosnian war erupted with the Muslim Bosniaks and Croats pitted against the Bosnian Serbs. The Bosnian Serbs were supported by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and would eventually conduct ethnic cleansing of the Bosniaks and Croats.
When asked why Bosnia has become a hotbed of ISIS support, Schindler says: “Salafi radicals built a strong infrastructure in Bosnia beginning in the early 1990’s, thanks to both Saudi and Iranian money and assistance, and now there is a robust, self-sustaining radical infrastructure in the country.” Salafism is a radical fundamentalist Sunni Muslim movement that has influenced several jihadists. Given the violent history of ethnic tension in the region, it comes as no surprise that Bosnia would be a ripe target for ISIS recruitment.
“[ISIS support] is aided by Bosnia’s incredibly serious socio-economic problems — youth unemployment exceeds 50% and the cumbersome political system, put in place by the West 20 years ago, is impervious to reform,” explains Schindler.
Scindler’s point on Bosnia comes as the country today engaged in what has been called ‘Operation CUT’, a series of raids against suspected ISIS supporters, particularly around the town of Sarajevo.
Some countries with large Muslim populations have become pseudo provinces of ISIS, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, Libya and the Sinai area in Egypt. However, Schindler does not predict ISIS supporters in Bosnia will follow the same trend as other ISIS affiliates.
“Salafi radicals, with cause, view Bosnia as a ‘safe space’ for them in Europe, a place to recruit fighters, train them, and raise funds for the jihad. Smart terrorists will not want to disturb that. But any serious Bosnian government crackdown, which we may be witnessing the beginning of now, could encounter serious pushback from the radicals. If so, all bets are off,” warns Schindler.
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