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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Analysis: Bosnian stability at stake
Bosnian Muslims mark the 6th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre
Many Bosnian Muslims felt abandoned by the international community during the war
By the BBC's Alix Kroeger in Belgrade

The commander of Nato's peacekeeping forces in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Lieutenant-General John Sylvester, says there is no threat to the country from Muslim radicals.


There are mujahideen in Bosnia - no one knows exactly how many

But not everyone is convinced.

Since the attacks on the US on 11 September, attention is now focusing anew on Bosnia's possible links with Osama Bin Laden.

'Active cells'

Bosnia is one of 19 countries listed by the US State Department as having active cells of Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Was Bin Laden given a Bosnian passport during the 1992-95 war? No, says Bosnia's foreign minister.

The mujahideen Zenica division
Hundreds of mujahideen fought in the Bosnian war
In any case, he adds, Bosnia has changed its passport system twice since then. A passport from 1993, say, would no longer be valid.

The government has reviewed its records on the 11,000 people naturalised as Bosnian citizens during and after the war - about 420 originally came from Islamic countries.

But some of those records may be less than complete.

Suspect arrested

On 8 October, Bosnian police arrested a man suspected of links to Bin Laden.

Bensayah Belkacem was arrested after a tip-off from US intelligence that he had made a phone call to one of Bin Laden's top aides.

Nato soldier
The S-FOR stabilisation force has arrested several suspects
Belkacem holds a Bosnian passport, but his other documents give different ages and places of birth. Some say Yemen, others Algeria.

He was arrested in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, a base for mujahideen during the war.

Several people - from Bosnia, Jordan, Egypt and Pakistan - have been detained over the past few weeks. All have been released and the foreigners deported.

There are mujahideen in Bosnia - no one knows exactly how many. Estimates range from several dozen to 400 or more.

They came from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Most of them married Bosnian women and settled in the country after the war.

They were granted citizenship by the Muslim-dominated wartime government.

Secular society

Most Bosnian Muslims are determinedly secular.

But during the Bosnian war, when the West imposed an arms embargo, it was the Islamic countries, especially Iran, who gave the government army the guns they asked for.

Many Bosnians felt abandoned by the international community and a minority turned to radical Islam.

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times newspaper claimed that dangerous Islamic extremists travel in and out of Bosnia at will.

The article quoted a former senior US State Department official who described Bosnia as "a staging area and safe haven" for terrorists.

It documented several incidents in which foreign nationals with Bosnian passports tried to launch actions against Western targets, including US military installations in Germany and Los Angeles Airport.

And last week the chief United Nations war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said she had turned over information to the United States on "people who were staying in Bosnia in connection with terrorist groups."

Threat of rumours

But there is another threat to Bosnia - the possible use of allegations about terrorism both to discredit the Muslim population, and to stir up fear among Bosnian Serbs and Croats.

US warplane
The escalating conflict has renewed attention on Bosnia's possible Bin Laden links
Before and during the Bosnian war, Bosnian Serb nationalists in particular mobilised their own people to fight with scare stories about Islamic fundamentalists.

If they did not arm themselves against the Muslims, they were told, the mujahideen would slit their throats and rape Serb women.

Such rumours still hold currency today in nationalist circles.

International officials have sought to play down these fears.

"The danger of having Bosnia, with a majority Muslim population, involved in the conflict within the community of Islamic countries is overestimated," said Bosnia's chief international mediator, Wolfgang Petritsch in a recent newspaper interview.

Possible benefit

But there may be one benefit for Bosnia in all this.

Two weeks after the attacks on America, representatives from Bosnia's state government and its two ethnically based entities met in Sarajevo to discuss increasing security measures both in-country and at the borders.

It was the first such meeting since the end of the war without the presence of international officials.

It ended with unanimous agreement - another first.

It has taken the perception of an external threat to bring Bosnia's old enemies together.

See also:

08 Oct 01 | South Asia
US declares strikes 'success'
20 Sep 01 | Americas
The trail to Bin Laden
05 Oct 01 | Americas
The investigation and the evidence
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