Profile: Alija Izetbegovic
Positions that Alija Izetbegovic has held:
- President of Bosnia (1990-1996)
Alija Izetbegovic was a participant or observer in the following events:
Alija Izetbegovic. [Source: US Defense Department / Helene C. Stikkel]Alija Izetbegovic is elected leader of Bosnia, which is still a republic within the nation of Yugoslavia. He wins the vote because Muslims have a plurality of about 40 percent in the republic. During World War II, Izetbegovic supported the Handzar divisions organized by the Nazi SS. After the war, he was sentenced to three years in prison for his wartime activities. He wrote a controversial Islamic manifesto in 1970 entitled “The Islamic Declaration.” [New York Times, 10/20/2003] In it, he called for “political revolution” and wrote, “There can be no peace or harmony between the ‘Islamic religion’ and non-Islamic social and political institutions.” He also wrote, “Our objective is the Islamization of Muslims” and “Our motto is to have faith and fight.” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 45] In 1983, the Communist government of Yugoslavia sentenced him to 14-years in prison on charges of conspiring to create a Muslim state, however he was released in 1988. The New York Times will later say that the “Muslims of Bosnia were overwhelmingly a secular people. [But] in his strong religious faith, Mr. Izetbegovic was the exception rather than the rule.” He win remain the leader of the Bosnian Muslims through the rest of the 1990s. [New York Times, 10/20/2003]
Lawrence Eagleburger sends Warren Zimmerman to Sarajevo to encourage Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic to renege on an agreement brokered by Lord Carrington that would have prevented the breakup of Yugoslavia. Because of this and other similar incidents, Sir Alfred Sherman, a close colleague of Margaret Thatcher and a staunch US Cold War ally, later describes American intervention in the Balkans as a policy of “lying and cheating, fomenting war in which civilians are the main casualty, and in which ancient hatreds feed on themselves.” [Sherman, 3/2/1997]
Hasan Cengic. [Source: Dani]The SDA, the ruling party of Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic, decides in private meetings that war in Bosnia is inevitable. They begin forming their own paramilitary force called the Patriotic League, which answers to Izetbegovic and his party, not the Bosnian government as a whole. Hasan Cengic, a radical militant imam, is given control of the Patriotic League and begins arming it. The Bosnian Muslims have no armed force at all at this time while the Yugoslavian army they face is very large and well supplied. Cengic travels to many countries arranging secret arms deals to supply the new force, planned to be 30,000 soldiers strong. By the end of the year, he arranges deals with Slovenia, Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 70] Cengic’s efforts will be the start of an illegal arms pipeline into Bosnia of massive proportions (see Mid-1991-1996).
Elfatih Hassanein (center). [Source: Magyar Iszlam]In 1987, a Sudanese man named Elfatih Hassanein found the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). By mid-1991, Bosnian President Izetbegovic contacts Hassanein, who he has known since the 1970s. The two men agree to turn TWRA from an obscure charity into what the Washington Post will later call “the chief broker of black-market weapons deals by Bosnia’s Muslim-led government and the agent of money and influence in Bosnia for Islamic movements and governments around the world.” A banker in Vienna will later call Hassanein the “bagman” for Izetbegovic. “If the Bosnian government said we need flour, he ran after flour. If they said we need weapons, he ran after weapons.” [Washington Post, 9/22/1996; Schindler, 2007, pp. 148] The TWRA is controlled by a committee composed of Hassanein and:
Hasan Cengic. He is in charge of arming a Bosnian militia run by the SDA party (see June 1991).
All of them are important members of Izetbegovic’s SDA party, and all but Ljevakovic were codefendants with Izetbegovic in a 1983 trial. Most payments require the approval of three of the five, except for amounts greater than $500,000, in which case Izetbegovic has to give approval. The corruption from these higher-ups is said to be incredible, with up to half of all money passing through the TWRA going into their pockets. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 148-152] The TWRA is based in Vienna, Austria, and Izetbegovic personally guarantees Hassanein’s credentials with banks there. Soon, machine guns, missiles and other weapons are being shipped into Bosnia in containers marked as humanitarian aid. Hassanein is a member of Sudan’s government party and a follower of top Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi. Just like al-Turabi, he works with bin Laden and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. He becomes the main agent in Europe for marketing and selling video and audio tapes of Abdul-Rahman’s sermons. In March 1992, the Sudanese government gives him a diplomatic passport and he uses it to illegally transport large amounts of cash from Austria into Bosnia without being searched. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 140-141] The Saudi Arabian government is the biggest contributor to TWRA, but many other governments give money to it too, such as Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Brunei, Turkey, and Malaysia. Bin Laden is also a major contributor. [Washington Post, 9/22/1996] Author John Schindler will later note, “Relations between bin Laden and TWRA were close, not least because during the Bosnian war the al-Qaeda leadership was based in Khartoum, Sudan, under the protection of the Sudanese Islamist regime that was the ultimate backer of Hassanein and his firm.” TWRA also works closely with the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and most other charity fronts in Bosnia. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 151-152] A later study by the Bosnian government with help from Western intelligence agencies will determine that at least $2.5 billion passed through the TWRA to Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. The study will call the TWRA “a group of Bosnian Muslim wartime leaders who formed an illegal, isolated ruling oligarchy, comprising three to four hundred ‘reliable’ people in the military commands, the diplomatic service, and a number of religious dignitaries.… It was this organization, not the Government [of Bosnia], that controlled all aid that Islamic countries donated to the Bosnian Muslims throughout the war.” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 149-150]
Entity Tags: Omar Abdul-Rahman, Osama bin Laden, Dervis Djurdjevic, Alija Izetbegovic, Elfatih Hassanein, Hassan al-Turabi, Third World Relief Agency, Irfan Ljevakovic, Husein Zivalj, Hasan Cengic, International Islamic Relief Organization
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In a meeting held in Lisbon by the European Community, top Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, top Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic, and top Bosnian Croat leader Stepan Klujic sign an agreement to partition Bosnia into three ethnically based divisions which would form a loosely joined independent confederation. But the New York Times will later report, “A few days later, influenced by what he saw as an encouraging conversation with Warren Zimmermann, the United States ambassador, [Izetbegovic] changed his mind.” The Bosnian Muslims and Croats then quickly hold a referendum on the issue of Bosnian independence which passes by 99 percent on March 1, but the Bosnian Serbs boycott the vote. [New York Times, 10/20/2003] Then, on March 18, the same three leaders hold another meeting in Lisbon and again agree to the partition plan. But the New York Times will report a year later, “On returning to Sarajevo, Mr. Izetbegovic was encouraged by United States and European Community diplomats to choose instead a sovereign Bosnia and Herzegovina under his presidency, saying that was justified by the referendum on March 1 on independence.” [New York Times, 6/17/1993] War will break out one month later (see April 6, 1992). The final agreement at the end of the war three years later will closely resemble the agreement almost signed before it began (see December 14, 1995).
Lord David Owen arrives in Sarajevo as the new European Union peace negotiator. Owen is initially seen as anti-Serb and had recently advocated Western air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs. He is outraged that his arrival coincides with a Serb bombardment of the Kosevo Hospital in Sarajevo, Bosnia. But within hours, he learns that the incident was actually provoked by the Bosnian Muslims. He will later say, “The UN monitors actually saw the Muslim troops enter the hospital and, from the hospital grounds, firing at Serb positions. Then the mortar was packed up and removed as the television crew showed up. A few minutes later a retaliatory fire of course landed in or near the hospital and all was filmed for television.” UN Gen. Philippe Morillon immediately writes a letter to Bosnian President Izetbegovic: “I now have concrete evidence from witnesses of this cowardly and disreputable act and I must point out the harm such blatant disregard for the Geneva Convention does to your cause.” But the letter and information about the incident is not made public and the Serbs are the only ones blamed for the incident. Owen will later say, “I asked Morillon why didn’t he make this public, and he shrugged his shoulders [and said], ‘We have to live here.’” [Rothstein, 1999, pp. 176, 188]
Bin Laden visits Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic in Sarajevo. He sponsors some fighters from Arabic countries to fight on the Muslims’ side in Bosnia. [New York Times, 10/20/2003] Izetbegovic gives bin Laden a Bosnian passport the same year as a gesture of appreciation for his support (see 1993). A CIA report in 1996 will conclude bin Laden did visit the Balkans region in 1993, though it will not definitively state he went to Bosnia. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 176, 340] Bin Laden will also visit Izetbegovic in 1994 (see November 1994 and 1994).
Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic grants Osama bin Laden a Bosnian passport “in recognition of his followers’ contributions to Mr. Izetbegovic’s quest to create a ‘fundamentalist Islamic republic’ in the Balkans,” according to an account in a Bosnian newspaper in 1999. [Ottawa Citizen, 12/15/2001] Renate Flottau, a reporter for Der Spiegel, will later claim that bin Laden told her he had been given a Bosnian passport when she happened to meet him in Bosnia in 1994 (see 1994). [Schindler, 2007, pp. 123-125]
The caption for this picture published in newspapers on December 11, 1995, reads, “One of the Bosnian Army Muslim brigades marches through Zenica in a demonstration of strength by 10,000 soldiers.” [Source: Reuters] (click image to enlarge)The number of Mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia plateau at around several thousand.
Estimates of mujaheddin numbers in Bosnia vary from as few as a couple of hundred to as many as 4,000. However, most put the number somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000. The difficulty in pinning down an exact figure stems from fact that there are a variety of foreign mercenary groups in Bosnia and it is not entirely clear who is and who isn’t mujaheddin. Furthermore, these groups are not all present in Bosnia at the same time. According to Cees Wiebes, a professor at Amsterdam University, mujaheddin forces in Bosnia are not controlled by Bosnian authorities, but rather by their countries of origin, Islamic militant organizations, and criminal organizations. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 207-208] While the mujaheddin’s presence in Bosnia is said to be of only limited military value, they are considered a valuable “political tool” for obtaining the support from Arab countries. According to a UN report, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic sees the fighters as “a conduit for funds from the Gulf and the Middle East.” [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 208, 215]
Renate Flottau. [Source: Public domain]Renate Flottau, a reporter for Der Spiegel, later claims she meets Osama bin Laden in Bosnia some time in 1994. She is in a waiting room of Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic’s office in order to interview him when she runs into bin Laden. He gives her a business card but at the time she does not recognize the name. They speak for about ten minutes and he talks to her in excellent English. He asks no questions but reveals that he is in Bosnia to help bring Muslim fighters into the country and that he has a Bosnian passport. Izetbegovic’s staffers seem displeased that bin Laden is speaking to a Western journalist. One tells her that bin Laden is “here every day and we don’t know how to make him go away.” She sees bin Laden at Izetbegovic’s office again one week later. This time he is accompanied by several senior members of Izetbegovic’s political party that she recognizes, including members from the secret police. She later calls the encounter “incredibly bizarre.” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 123-125] A journalist for the London Times will witness Flottau’s first encounter with bin Laden and testify about it in a later court trial (see November 1994). Members of the SDA, Izetbegovic’s political party, will later deny the existence of such visits. But one Muslim politician, Sejfudin Tokic, speaker of the upper house of the Bosnian parliament, will say that such visits were “not a fabrication,” and that photos exist of bin Laden and Izetbegovic together. One such photo will later appear in a local magazine. Author John Schindler will say the photo is “fuzzy but appears to be genuine.” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 124-125, 342] According to one account, bin Laden continues to visit the Balkan region as late as 1996. [Wall Street Journal (Europe), 1/11/2001]
In a 2004 book, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will mention that by 1994, bin Laden’s name “popped up in intelligence in connection with terrorist activity” in Bosnia. “European and US intelligence services began to trace the funding and support of [mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia] to bin Laden in Sudan” and to support networks in Western Europe. However, he also says that “What we saw unfold in Bosnia was a guidebook to the bin Laden network, though we didn’t recognize it as such at the time.” He states that “The hard-pressed Bosnians clearly wished they could do without these uncontrollable savages, but Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic decided to take aid where he could.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 96, 137] Author John Schindler, who was involved in the Bosnian war as an NSA intelligence officer, will later note Clarke’s comments and say, “even professional counterterrorists, not usually a wishful thinking bunch, have shown an unwillingness to admit that [Bosnia] invited the mujaheddin, for political as much as military purposes, and that they were quite welcome guests of [Izetbegovic’s ruling party].” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 191]
Eve-Ann Prentice. [Source: BBC]In 2006, London Times reporter Eve-Ann Prentice will testify under oath during Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s international war crimes tribunal that she saw Osama bin Laden go into a meeting with Muslim Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic. Prentice was there with Der Speigel reporter Renate Flottau waiting for an interview with Izetbegovic when bin Laden walked by (see 1994). Prentice will later recall, “[T]here was a very important looking Arabic looking person is the best way I can describe it who came in and went ahead just before I was supposed to go in to interview, and I was curious because it obviously looked as if it was somebody very, very important, and they were shown straight through to Mr. Izetbegovic’s office.” Curious, Prentice asked around and found out from Flottau and another eyewitness that the person was bin Laden, then Prentice confirmed this for herself when she later saw pictures of bin Laden. Interestingly, the judge at Milosevic’s trial will cut off questions about the incident and there will be no mentions of it by journalists covering the trial, though a transcript of the exchange will eventually appear on the United Nation’s International Criminal Tribunal website. [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, 2/3/2006] Prentice apparently will no longer be reporting by 2006, but in 2002 she mentioned in passing in a Times article, “Osama bin Laden visited the Balkans several times in the 1980s and 1990s and is widely believed by Serbs to have aided Muslims in the Bosnian war and the Kosovo conflict.” [London Times, 3/5/2002] Bin Laden also visited Izetbegovic in 1993 (see 1993).
In 2006, popular Sarajevo magazine Slobodna Bosna will report that Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic received nearly $200,000 from Yassin al-Qadi, who will later be officially designated a terrorist financier (see October 12, 2001). Bosnian authorities reportedly discovered the money transfer from a British bank while investigating the Muwafaq Foundation, a charity headed by al-Qadi. The investigation also learned that Muwafaq channeled $15 to 20 million to various organizations, and at least $3 million of that went into bank accounts controlled by Osama bin Laden. [AKI, 9/8/2006] Muwafaq reportedly helped finance the mujaheddin during the Bosnian war, especially supporting a mujaheddin brigade fighting for Izetbegovic’s government that was also called Muwafaq (see 1991-1995).
As part of the peace agreement ending the Bosnian war (see December 14, 1995), all foreign fighters are required to leave Bosnia by this time, which is thirty days after the signing of the peace agreement. Effectively this refers to the mujaheddin who have been fighting for the Bosnian Muslims. [Time, 12/31/1995] However, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic kicks out the Serbians living in the small village of Bocinja Donja 60 miles north of the capital of Sarajevo and gives the houses there to several hundred mujaheddin. Most of them marry local women, allowing them to stay in the country (see January 2000). [Washington Post, 3/11/2000]
NATO troops patrol the village of Bocinja Donja in 2001. [Source: NATO / Paul Hanson]In the wake of the failed al-Qaeda millennium bomb plots, US investigators will discover that a number of suspects in the plots have connections to an obscure village in Bosnia named Bocinja Donja. At the end of the Bosnian war in late 1995, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic kicked out the Serbians living in this small village 60 miles north of the capital of Sarajevo and gave their houses to about 100 former mujaheddin who fought in Bosnia. Most of them married local women, allowing them to stay despite a treaty requiring all foreign fighters to leave Bosnia. In contrast to the rest of Bosnia, the village is governed by strict Islamic law. Suspects who lived in or visited the village include:
Karim Said Atmani. A former roommate of Ahmed Ressam, he is believed to be the document forger for Ressam’s group that attempted to bomb the Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999). He was a frequent visitor to Bosnia until late 1999. [Washington Post, 3/11/2000]
Khalil Deek. Suspected of masterminding the Los Angeles airport plot (see December 15-31, 1999) and a Jordanian millennium plot (see December 11, 1999), Deek was investigated by US intelligence since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s) but inexplicably never even watchlisted until 2004 (see Spring 2004). Deek’s brother says Khalil lived in Bosnia for a while, working for a “Muslim relief organization.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2000; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] He worked for the IARA, which reportedly funneled weapons and recruits into Bosnia (see Early 1990s).
Hisham Diab. While he has not been explicitly connected to this village, he fought in Bosnia and was Deek’s next door neighbor and close al-Qaeda associate all through the 1990s (see March 1993-1996 and December 14-25, 1999), so presumably they spent time in Bosnia together. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
Hamid Aich. He lived in Canada and is connected to Ressam’s group (see December 21, 1999). He also will openly live in Ireland and apparently fund a wide variety of militant groups and plots there before escaping to Afghanistan just before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001).
Other mujaheddin connected to this village are wanted by authorities in other countries for other alleged crimes. A senior US official will say, “We have been concerned about this community for years. We flushed out a lot of them [after the end of the war].… [But] we find the whole group of them a threat, and we want them out of there.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2000] Others tied to the millennium plots have ties to Bosnian war generally because Ressam belonged to a group of armed robbers called the “Roubaix gang” that trained in Islamic camps in Bosnia. [Los Angeles Times, 1/13/2000] Izetbegovic will step down as leader of Muslim Bosnia in October 2000. [New York Times, 10/20/2003] In late 2000 and early 2001, the mujaheddin will gradually be moved out of the village and replaced by the original Serbian inhabitants.
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