Sandzak, Serbia, 07.01.2017: We should not be fooled into thinking there is anything strongly ethnic to any secular identity that Muslims declare. Religious identity in Islam is at the same time political identity. Ethnicity is a Western concept. In the world of Islam, tribal connections run strong but ethnic identities are a part of a fictional narrative with which to dupe unsuspecting Western eyes. The latest flashpoint for Islamic political activism has become the southwestern Serbian province of Sandzak bordering Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro. It’s now acting as a cultural and political land bridge between Bosnia and the Albanian zone of the Balkans (Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia). It used to be among the most docile Muslim regions of the Balkans. But not anymore. In a sign of the developing cooperation between the moderate appearance of Islam (more westernized-secular in appearance) and the radical core of Islam (aggressive in Islamicized appearance, staffed by some unadulterated Islamic activists seeking a global Jihad of conquest) – a new ethnoreligious nationality of “Sandzak Bosniaks” was declared 26 years ago (at the time of the breakup of Yugoslavia during the wave of nationalist and pan-islamic social outbursts that shook to the core the old secular Yugoslav federation). Just as Arab nationalism was a phase on the road to pan-Arab Islamism of the present day, so also these seemingly ethnic identities in the Balkans were a phase on the road to a new Balkan pan-Islamic uber-identity that will eventually unite Albanians, Slavs and Turks under the black and green banners. Turks themselves are a blend of these same racial strains.
The Serbian Moslems of Sandzak province, who declared themselves to be a new nationality of “Sandzak Bosniaks”, defined this new secular identity as something of an extension of another (artificial) nationality – the novel ethnoreligious nationality of Moslem “Bosnian Bosniaks” (which was created by the Communists under Tito). So, the Sandzak Bosniaks are making themselves ethno-politically aligned with the Bosnian Bosniaks next door, just across the Serbian border – although, in reality, this is merely a clever secular way to help regional Slavic Muslims unite AS MUSLIMS more tightly across the Serbian border. We have seen this before as a purely cunning political development through which a religious-ideological identity declares itself to be an ethnic unit – and then uses this more democratically acceptable facade of identity as a vehicle leading to an entrance into the democratic mainstream so it could promote the larger agenda, or a cause of Islam, under the guise of secular identity. Having a secular appearance is not the same as having a secular purpose. After 25 years of a charade of “Sandzak Bosniak” identity politics – the chipping away of the secular facade has become painfully clear with every additional activity on behalf of Islamic terrorism in the province. The tendency to networking with Muslims worldwide is now firmly entrenched there. In the 1990’s the “Sandzak Bosniaks” were contributing volunteer fighters to Bosnia to fight against the Serbs, the Croats, and other Christians there. Fast forward by 20 years, in the second decade of the 21st century, the Sandzak Bosniaks are contributing fighters to the Syrian battlefields where they join any radical groups (ISIS, al-Nusrah, etc.) that would take them on the path of holy war. How secular is that?
The Serbian province of Sandzak is riddled with shelters, safehouses and secret prayer campgrounds in which the imported Arab and Asian terrorists and terror sympathizers mix and match with local Slav Muslim hosts who are close-minded enough to listen to and associate with them. Unsurprisingly, the sect of Islam brought by outsiders is Salafi-Wahabi (the ruling ideology of Saudi Arabia, a country that pretends to be neutral in matters of the spread of terrorism around the world). In 2007, there was a major Serbian police operation (on Mount Ninaja) in which a battle was fought against an active terrorist cell that moved to Serbia from Kosovo (whose leader, Ismail Prentic, was killed then and there). According to the Serbian military analyst Milovan Drecun, 150 hardcore terrorists fled the 2007 police operation for Montenegro (around Lake Plav) and Kosovo, where local authorities were not policing the Muslim population. There they lay in wait for a more opportune time to strike. And now, fast forward 7-10 years, the expelled Wahabi terrorists have crept back into Serbia’s troubled Sandzak region. In the capital of this region, Novi Pazar, the authorities have announced indictments against the members of the local radical mosque group called “El Furkan”. This came as no surprise because in recent years this mosque was promoting radicalism openly on behalf of al-Qaeda and al-Nusrah (and ISIS) – even though this group was registered as a “peaceful Islamic NGO” (non-governmental organization)!? Moreover, this group was recruiting volunteers for Syria to go kill people like Syria’s Christians, like the truly moderate citizens of Syria [condemned as "murtad” or Islamic apostates] and Syrian government forces. This El Furkan mosque as well as mosques like that, filled with radical groups in Sandzak, routinely issues anonymous threats against the lives of police officials and judges in order to intimidate them into abeyance and abstention from engagement in their lawful tasks.
Ominously, the new leader of the Sandzak Wahabis is one – Abid Podbicanin – who used to study in Saudi Arabia (where he was indoctrinated). Thence he was sent straight to the infamous Bosnian terror village boot camp run at Gornja Maocha (the subject of a prior article in this series) itself the object of Germany’s bleak First Channel TV report on Bosnian Islamism. In 2014, a member of Sandzak’s El Furkan mosque, by the name of Mevlid Jasarevic, was caught shooting bullets at the American embassy in Sarajevo. The entire sleeper cell of “El Furkan” rejoiced at the news of the shooting by one of their own. There is a local affiliate branch of this radical mosque located in Turkey, which was accepting volunteers sent by El Furkan from the Balkans on their way to Syria. Let us be clear about one important missing link regarding all these Jihadi activities in the Balkans: it is about Turkey stupid! The Turkish angle is essential to understanding these maneuvers by Islamists in the Balkans and in Syria. It is not clear how many volunteers Mr. Podbicanin recruited around the Balkans (and among the expat communities of Bosnians, Albanians in Western Europe) but estimates go as far as several hundred, including the 19-year old Mirza Ganic who was a good student in school but was turned into a Wahabi volunteer recruiting others from his computer in Novi Pazar, Serbia. He ended up killed in Syria. It is possible that Edis Bosnic of Gorna Maocha in Bosnia sent Abid Podbicanin to Novi Pazar in Serbia to continue with his clandestine terrorist activities.
Sandzak nursery of terrorists
An indictment against a group of Wahhabis, members of the Mosque of El Furkan, came as no surprise in Novi Pazar, where members of the radical Islamic groups, registered as a non-governmental organization, worked for years and were the most prominent branch of al-Qaeda and al-Nusra, but in recent months supplied a lot of soldiers from the former Yugoslavia to the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Activity of El Furkan particularly intensified after the discovery of a terrorist camp on the mountain Ninaja, where the Wahhabi leader Ismail Prentice was killed by Serbian police, wounding his associates Senad Ramovic and the arrest of ten most prominent Wahhabis, some of whom are still serving long prison terms in Serbia.
After numerous conflicts with other believers at Novi Pazar mosques and the statement of Mufti Muamer Zukorlic that Wahhabis want to kill him, the gist of the extremists, and now the jihadists, retired to “underground” and instead of being at the Arab mosque, which was their main venue, they began to gather in rented houses or other similar areas where they often held prayer readings with their “colleagues” from Gornja Maocha, Buzim and Sarajevo in Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo …. There were several visits of prominent foreign sheikhs… Just at that time in the village called Rasadnik there started to work this masjid (place of prayer) El Furkan and Wahhabis who were there gathered were led by Abid Podbicanin, a radical Islamist who once studied in Saudi Arabia, and then returned to Bosnia, where he spent some time in Gornja Maoca in a local Wahabi “camp”, and then, most likely by someone’s assignment, returned to Novi Pazar to spread radical Islam and recruit young Bosniaks for their organization.
Away from Novi Pazar El Furkan became famous three years ago when Podbicanin and his brutal colleagues, in front of the entrance to their headquarters, attacked a Sarajevo Federal Television crew, where they broke the camera, threatening a journalist and cameraman, promising to kill them should they return.
Activists from El Furkan were again in the focus of public attention when their comrade and “brother” Mevlid Jasarevic of Novi Pazar fired at the US embassy in Sarajevo. Abid Podbicanin then claimed that Jasarevic often stayed in El Furkan, but he refused to admit to any connection with acts that Mevlid committed in Sarajevo, Bosnia. On Sandzak’s social media sites, members and supporters praised the Jasarevic acts until he repented before the Sarajevo court and publicly abandoned his Wahhabi friends. Police in March of 2014 arrested two members of El Furkan, Izudin Crnovrsanin and Sead Plojovic, under suspicion of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), however, they defended themselves by saying that they only follow the path of Allah and that they have nothing to do with recruiting and sending fighters to Syria. They are still in custody.
The arrests of Crnovrsanin and Plojovic was the signal to Abid Podbicanin to disappear as soon as possible from Novi Pazar. According to information from the Wahhabi circles, he first returned to the known Wahabi stronghold of Gornja Maoca in Bosnia, where at one time he recruited fighters for Syria in Bosnia, Kosovo and Western European countries, and then arrived in Syria via Turkey where his associate Tefik Mujovic earlier organized a local branch of the mosque El Furkan. Just before the start of the US bombing of positions of ISIS, Abid made announcements using the Sandzak region’s popular Novi Pazar Internet portal “Sandzak-haber (http://sandzakhaber.net/) by sending video-message recorded in Syria in which he called the Muslims in Sandzak, Bosnia and around the world “to resist US aggression against Islam”, stressing that the US attack on ISIL will serve as God’s exam for him and his comrades to test how earnestly they believe in Allah. Nobody knows how many people Podbicanin and other activists of El Furkan recruited and sent as fighters to Syria and Iraq although it is estimated that just from Sandzak alone 50 jihadists were sent to ISIL, in addition to many other warriors whom El Furkan recruited in Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and countries of Western Europe.
A few leading Serbian-government friendly Muslim politicians in Sandzak had to get a permanent police escort in response to threats on their lives made by their radical fellow Muslims in the area. Lately, there was a family in Novi Pazar that received expressions of condolences for the loss of their son who was an immigrant in the Netherlands but who chose to volunteer in Syria and “die for faith”.
The type of the new Muslim immigrant is a quantity the West has never had to deal with before.
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