In rebuilt Bosnia, no terror toehold
Bosnia-Herzegovina's postwar success is a nation-building model.
Just four years ago, driving into town from Sarajevo's Butmir Airport meant driving past bullet-riddled terminal buildings, neighborhoods of burned-out single-family homes, and partially collapsed commercial buildings before arriving at the foot of the skeletal remains of the 22-story office towers that preside over the city center.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Today travelers pass through an airport of glass and polished marble, neighborhoods of new and rebuilt houses, apartment blocks, and commercial buildings, including the rehabilitated office towers, sheathed in mirrored glass. With each passing month, fewer physical reminders of the 1992-95 war remain, and, on the surface at least, Sarajevo again resembles a normal peacetime city.
While world attention has been focused on Iraq and the Middle East, the international reconstruction effort in Bosnia has begun to bear fruit, and not just for Bosnians. As the country's infrastructure, border patrol services, and national governing institutions have been rebuilt, experts say it has become a less attractive potential host for global terrorist networks like Al Qaeda, which seek out "weak states" with porous borders, ineffective governments, and sympathetic locals.
"If I were a terrorist group member I would think twice about coming to this country," says Senad Slatina, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, a conflict- resolution organization based in Brussels, noting the presence of 10,000 NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia. "On top of that, Bosnian Muslims are so European that the radical form of Islam has absolutely no chance of spreading here."
The eight-year international reconstruction effort in Bosnia shows both how long it can take to rebuild a fractured nation - and how eventual success can help fight the war on terror.
During Bosnia's long war - in which ethnic Serbs and later, Croats attempted to seize large portions of the country and cleanse it of all Muslims, or Bosniaks - hundreds of mujahideen, or Muslim militants, from the Middle East and north Africa trained and fought alongside Bosniak forces. Some 200 of them stayed in Bosnia, as did a number of questionable Islamic charities that US officials say are linked to international terrorist networks.
US concern over these groups increased after Sept. 11, 2001. In October 2001, Bosnian officials arrested six Algerian humanitarian workers and turned them over to the US, which is holding them in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Police raids on suspicious Islamic charity groups here in 2002 reportedly turned up weapons, explosives, forged passports, and, in one case, letters from Osama bin Laden.
But Western officials here say that Bosnian officials - including Bosniaks - have been extremely cooperative in monitoring and investigating individuals and groups suspected of terrorist links. Most of the suspicious charities have been shut down, they say, while Bosnian authorities and NATO peacekeepers keep close tabs on mujahideen, many of whom have married Bosnian women and settled in rural areas.
"There is no evidence that there are or were Al Qaeda camps in Bosnia," says a Western diplomatic source here. "Al Qaeda is not here now, but it certainly could be here if we don't keep our eyes on it."