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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Friday, December 30, 2005


South Asia Analysis Group
Paper no. 306
03. 09. 2001
by B. Raman

The Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the militant wing of the Pakistan-based Markaz Dawa wal Irshad (MDI), has been behind most of the recent incidents of terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). It describes its objective as three-fold: firstly, to "liberate" J&K and have it merged with Pakistan; secondly, to similarly "liberate" Hyderabad and Junagardh, which it considers as rightfully belonging to Pakistan, and have them brought under Pakistan's sovereignty; and, thirdly, to "liberate" the Muslims living in other parts of India and create two more "homelands" for the Muslims of the sub-continent, one in North India and the other in the South.

The LET, along with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), both of them of the Afghan war vintage, was also in the forefront in organising assistance for the Muslim separatists of Southern Philippines, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya and Dagestan. Since the early 1990s, both the organisations had been collecting funds for the Muslim separatists in these areas, smuggling to them arms and ammunition and had even sent their own cadres to fight for the separatists.

An assessment disseminated in October,1994, by a news organisation called Compass had stated as follows: "Arab "Afghans" have been moving further afield as well. Some are in Bosnia, helping fellow Muslims fight the Christian Serbs. Between 200 and 300 of these veterans of the Afghan war, including non-Arab Muslims, are based in Zenica in Bosnia, where they are widely feared. Hundreds of "Afghans" have made their way to Bosnia. The number of non-Bosnian Muslims in the military is estimated at between 500 and 1,000 from a dozen countries in the Middle East. From all accounts, they have fought with some distinction. Some 300 "Afghans," organized into a unit known as "the Guerrillas," operate with the Bosnian 3rd Corps in Zenica. Algerian leader Kamar Kharban, a veteran of the Afghanistan war, has visited Bosnia several times over the last two years.

"The 'Afghans' and other Muslim volunteers have also been a source of friction with the Bosnians, who are largely secular Muslims. The outsiders' religious zeal and arrogant commitment to their holy war has angered their hosts. But many of the volunteers represent wealthy organizations or countries whose support the beleaguered Bosnians count on. The "Afghans" are believed to have been behind the murder of British aid worker Paul Goodall on Jan. 27, 1994, near Zenica. Three Muslim volunteers, all Arabs carrying fake Pakistani passports, were shot dead by Bosnian military police at a roadblock near Sarajevo. Three others were arrested by police for questioning in the murder. The Al-Kifah, or Struggle, Refugee Center in New York, which used to recruit and raise funds for Mujahedeen headed for Afghanistan, last year announced it was switching its operations to Bosnia. It was established in the mid-1980s by Egyptian Mustafa Rahman as a joint venture with Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, spiritual leader of Gamaat al-Islamiya. "

In 1996, in a book titled "Offensive In the Balkans", Mr. Yossef Bodansky, Director of the Republican TASK FORCE ON TERRORISM AND UNCONVENTIONAL WARFARE of the US House of Representatives, wrote as follows on the "Bosnian Jehad":

"...The build-up of new Islamist units was completed in Bosnia- Herzegovina in the Spring of 1995. These forces are closely associated with the Armed Islamist Movement (AIM) and Islamist international terrorism, and include the first organized deployment of MARTYRDOM FORCES (THAT IS, SUICIDE TERRORISTS), both veteran Arabs and newly trained Bosnians.

"These new activities were conducted under the guidance of the new Islamist headquarters in Teheran and Karachi, decided upon during the Popular Arab Islamic Conference (PAIC) convened in Khartoum in the first days of April 1995. The Conference decided to establish "new Islamist representative offices" for the international Islamist movement. The new regional center in Tehran will be responsible for Islamist activities (training, equipping, operational support, etc.) in Bosnia-Herzegovina (as well as other politically-sensitive hot spots), while the comparably new center in Karachi would be responsible for Islamist activities in Albania (and Kosovo). Furthermore, this overall Islamist effort and build-up is not just to cope with the situation in the Balkans, but also to be used as A SOUND BASE FOR THE ISLAMISTS' ABILITY TO EXPAND OPERATIONS INTO WESTERN EUROPE - mainly France, the UK and Germany...

"Meanwhile, the leadership of the Armed Islamic Movement (AIM) was formally notified in mid-May 1995 that the "Mujahedin Battalion is an officially-recognized army battalion of the Bosnian army. It is comprised of non-Bosnian volunteers, called ANSAR, along with Bosnian Mujahedin. The formal name of the unit is "Armija Republike BiH, 3 Korpus, Odred el-Mujahedin". The commander, an Egyptian "Afghan", was identified as "Ameer Kateebat al-Mujahedin Abu al-Ma'ali" - a religious-military title and a nom the guerre. The Islamist force is based in Travnik and Zenica areas in central Bosnia...

"...The Khartoum, Sudan-based National Islamic Front (NIF) - the political umbrella organization to which AIM answers - did not take long to look for the appropriate solutions for the challenges in Bosnia- Herzegovina...

"...Being a theologically driven movement, the NIF supreme leadership sought legal precedents to serve as a guideline for the nature of jihad which they believe should be waged in Bosnia, Palestine, and Kashmir. In mid-August 1995, Khartoum informed the AIM senior officials in the front line - in such places as Sarajevo, Muzzaffarabad (Pakistan), and Damascus - of the precedent found.

"The NIF leadership pointed to the text of "fatwa" originally issued by the Islamic Religious Conference held in El-Obaeid, State of Kordofan (Sudan), on April 27, 1993. It is presently used in Khartoum, at the highest levels of NIF, as the precedent-setting text for legislating relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in areas where the infadels are not willing to be simply subdued by the Muslim forces. The following places - Palestine, Bosnia, and Kashmir - are stated explicitly as areas to where the principles outlined by this fatwa are most applicable.

"...Meanwhile, Sarajevo's apocalyptic view of the future fits closely with the Islamists' growing anticipation of "gloom and doom" in their relations with the West...

"...The AIM senior officials in Sarajevo reported in mid-May 1995 the completion of "a new camp called Martyrs' Detachment", in order to absorb many newly-arriving Mujahedin. These SUICIDE TERRORISTS, including at least a dozen Bosnian Muslims, graduated from an intensive course in training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the early Spring of 1995. These Bosnians along with Arab "Afghans" were deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina for both operations in the Balkans as well as, should the need arise, operations in Western Europe (specially France, the UK, Italy, and Belgium). ("Afghan" is the term used to describe those fighters trained and tested in the Afghanistan civil war. Most are of Arab, North African or Pakistani origin).

"High-level Arab sources in the Middle East stressed that these Bosnia-based Mujahedin, especially the suicide terrorists, are being organized as a new force, forming a center for operations throughout Europe. Moreover, by the Summer of 1995, the Islamist infrastructure in Bosnia-Herzegovina had already constituted the core of a new training center for European Muslims."

The first report to emerge on the "Arab-Afghan" Mujahideen presence in Bosnia, was an interview accorded to the "Time" Magazine by one Commander Abu Abdel Aziz in 1992. It included a picture of the commander in his henna-dyed beard and Afghan style fatigue. After the "Time", "al-Sharq al-Awsat", a Saudi-owned, London-based daily, ran a front-page story on Abu Abdel Aziz and his activities in Bosnia.

In August 1994, "Al-Sirat Al-Mustaqeem (The Straight Path)", an Islamic journal published in Pakistan (Issue No. 33), carried an interview with Abu Abdel Aziz. The journal, without identifying his nationality, reported that Abu Abdel Aziz spoke perfect Urdu and that he had spent extended periods in Kashmir. Abu Abdel Aziz's forces were, unlike other Islamic freelancers, part of the seventh battalion of the Bosnian Army (SEDMI KORPUS, ARMIJA REPUBLIKE BH, it was said.

In the interview, he made the following points:

* "I was one of those who heard about Jihad in Afghanistan when it started. I used to hear about it, but was hesitant about (the purity and intention of) this Jihad. One of those who came to our land (presumably Saudi Arabia) was sheikh Dr. Abdallah Azzam. I heard him rallying the youth to come forth and (join him) to go to Afghanistan. This was in 1984 -- I think. I decided to go and check the matter for myself. This was the beginning (of my journey with) Jihad. Then the conquest of Kabul came.
* "A new Jihad started in Bosnia, (we moved there), and we are with it. As to Arab Mujahideen (in Bosnia), they do not have a separate battalion. There is a battalion for non-Bosnian fighters. Arabs are a minority compared to those of the Mujahideen (gathered from around the World). This battalion is under a unified command and is called Kateebat al-Mujahideen (Mujahideen Battalion), Odred "El-Mudzahidin" as they call them in Bosnian. Militarily, it has a link to the Bosnian government under the general command of the Bosnian Armed Forces. It is in fact part of the seventh battalion (SEDMI KORPUS, ARMIJA REPUBLIKE BH) of the Bosnian Army. I am a field commander under the "General Unified Armed Command". We have full jurisdiction in the region we are responsible for (Editor's note: Mostly central Bosnia). The general command of the Muslim forces wants to see results, it does not dictate strategy or action.

* "I met several prominent Ulema. Among them Sheikh Nasir ad-Din al-Albani, Sheikh Abdel Aziz Bin Baz and Sheikh Muhammad Bin Otheimin and others in the Gulf area. Sheikh Nasir ad-Din al-Albani is one of the great Ulema of this time and one seeks guidance in the light of his knowledge and view. (I say) in my last meeting with him, he was supportive of Jihad in Bosnia-Herzeg (as a religious duty). However, he told us not to attack - that is we, the Arab Mujahideen - since we were the smaller host The Sheikh was afraid we might get killed in large numbers if we engaged people in the fight. However, he requested that we dig in and be at the most advanced defense-lines (Khat ad-Difa` al-Awwal) to defend those persecuted.

* "The rest of the Ulema support Jihad by any means (defensive or offensive). You must understand that - militarily speaking - the number of those killed in defense is (far) higher than those killed in attack. This is due to the fact that in attack, clashes and skirmishes take place between Mujahideen and Kuffar (non-believers). The Kafir (unbeliever) does not throw himself arbitrarily in the cross-fire for fear of killing his companions. This fact lowers the number of the dead and this is the most important fact of the matter.

* "Jihad in Kashmir is still going on. It is healthy. Our Kashmiri brothers have achieved a lot. Some of our Mujahideen brethren, whether Arab or (Ajam non-Arab), such as the Pakistanis and our brethren from South-East Asia, have also helped. Their actions have been very successful, especially in the lands under Indian government control. Mujahideen execute hit-and-run operations. However there is a lack of support by Islamic governments and a lack of media coverage by Islamic outlets, on the level of atrocity and destruction by the non-believers in those lands. "

Subsequently, this Abu Abdel Aziz appeared at a conference of the LET at its headquarters in Muridke, near Lahore, in November,1994. He was introduced to the audience as an Indian Muslim living in Saudi Arabia, who was playing a heroic role in helping the Muslims of Bosnia in their fight against the Christian Serbs and in helping the Kashmiris fighting against the Government of India.

Other reports indicated that in May 1995, like-minded fundamentalist groups formed a "Rapid Deployment Force" called "Katiba al –Mujahideen (Batallion of the Mujahideen) at a meeting held in the Philippines. The meeting was attended among others by al-Sheikh Abu Abdul Aziz, described as the Chief Commander of the 7th Brigade of Muslim forces in Bosnia, Salamat Hashan, the Chairman of the Moro Islamic Front (Philippines), Abdul Karim, Chairman of the Islamic Front (Eritrea) and Prof. Hafiz Mohd Saeed, Amir MDI (Pakistan). The meeting chalked out the following objectives- (a) nationalities and frontiers on the basis of races was an un-Islamic perception; (b) to work in support of Muslims in all those parts of the world where action was being taken against them; (c) the Mujahideen of the newly formed Katiba Al-Mujahideen would carry out militant operations and fight in Kashmir to eliminate un-Islamic perceptions of nationalities and frontiers.

Abu Abdul Aziz had disappeared from public view since 1998. There were rumours in Islamic circles in Pakistan that he had been arrested by the Saudi authorities, apparently because of his suspected links with Osama bin Laden, who is against the Saudi monarchy.

The Indian media has reported on August 30 about the arrest by the Hyderabad Police of one Abdul Aziz alias Ashrafi, who had fought in Bosnia and Chechnya. It needs to be verified whether the arrested person could be identical with the individual described in this article.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: corde@vsnl.com)
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