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Bosnia rules to revoke citizenships of mujahideen

The Bosnian government is bringing to a close five months of work reviewing how some 1,500 people - most of them fighters who came to Bosnia from Muslim countries during the 1992-1995 war - gained Bosnian citizenship. The review of these naturalized citizens coincides with the country's first-ever terrorism trial, which has sparked concerns that mujahideen who stayed on after the war here could be involved in a European terrorism cell.

The 1,500 naturalized Bosnian citizens were given until last week to provide all documents used to gain Bosnian citizenship between 1992-1996. Though the results of the review have not been made public, ISN Security Watch has learned though a high-ranking police source close to the investigation that the review commission has already ruled to revoke the citizenship of 38 people, while a similar ruling is expected for 23 others in the coming days.

According to the police source, as many as 40 percent of the 1,500 naturalized citizens in question will lose their status and be deported to their countries of origin with no right to appeal.

"Those people gained Bosnian citizenship by wartime regulations and there were major [.] abuses. There have been several revisions of their citizenships, but there has never been the political will to act until the US embassy here and the international community started pressing the issue," the police source said.

Vjekoslav Vukovic, president of the review commission, confirmed for ISN Security Watch in a telephone interview that dozens of citizenships had been revoked, but he refused to provide any further details, including whether any of them were suspected of involvement in terrorism or other crimes in Bosnia.

"The citizenships have been revoked in cases where the procedure was clearly violated - false personal data, falsified documents, fictitious addresses, etc," Vukovic said.

Al Hussein Imad (also known as Abu Hamza), the informal leader of the former mujahideen community in the central Bosnian village of Bocinja, has threatened that any move to revoke citizenships of people from Muslim countries could results in protests, blockades and other forms of unrest.

The Syrian-born Abu Hamza is also among those who are facing deportation. He arrived in Croatia in the early 1990s as a student and moved to Bosnia at the beginning of the war. Investigators say he lied on his citizenship application.

According to anonymous sources within the international community here, Abu Hamza is believed to have recently formed an organization called "Ansarija" to provide legal assistance to former mujahideen threatened with deportation to their home countries. Many of them are expecting prison sentences in their countries for membership in banned groups and other crimes.

For example, in 2001 Bosnian authorities arrested two members of the Egyptian group al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya - Imad al-Misri and Al-Sharif Hassan Sa'ad - and extradited them to Egypt that same year. Egypt earlier had sentenced al-Misri to death in absentia for criticizing the regime.

Soon after the authorities announced plans to review 1,500 citizenships given to Islamic fighters, Abu Hamza announced that they would apply for asylum in Bosnia based on the fact that they could face prison, torture or death sentences in their countries of origin. In response, last month the Bosnian government sent amendments to the Citizenship Law to parliament, banning applications for asylum for those whose citizenships have been revoked for five years.

Wartime mujahideen legacy

When the war ended in Bosnia in 1995, many mujahideen were forced to leave and the US administration urged Bosnian authorities to close all military camps under Arab supervision and to disband all mujahideen units.

All foreign fighters were to leave Bosnia within 30 days of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war. However, most managed to gain citizenships in those 30 days.

The Bosnian Foreign Ministry believes that about 1,000 of them remained in Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica and a handful of villages.

The majority of the Al Mujahideen brigades came from countries in the Middle East. Many received new passports under new names, which makes their previous records difficult to trace.

By 1999, Bosnia was under increased US pressure to gain control of its mujahideen, who were suspected of using their adopted country as a springboard for terrorist activities in Europe.

Until 2001, Bosnian officials hesitated to act against these Muslim fighters who had fought against the Bosnian Serbs in the bloody war, balking at tough border controls that would have hindered major smuggling operations. However, in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the US stepped up pressure on the issue and found cooperation among the moderate parties that briefly won control of the Bosnian government. That cooperation has continued even with the nationalist parties that won back control in later years.

The Bosnian government has responded with rapid arrests, detentions and deportations that often have been criticized by human rights groups.

In October 2001, the Bosnian government revoked some 100 citizenships, but only a few were tracked and deported, while the location of majority is still not known. In 2002, there was another revision where 41 citizenships were revoked, but the whereabouts of those individuals was not known.

Europe and the US are concerned that Bosnian authorities lack the resources to track down those whose citizenship is in question. Those concerns have intensified in the wake of arrests in the past eight months of some 40 terror suspects believed to be linked in a cell that stretches from Canada to Bosnia.

Prosecutors believe Islamic veterans of the Balkan wars have since formed cells, recruited new fighters and plotted crimes and terrorist attacks in the Middle East as well as in Western Europe, Canada and the US.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, one of the masterminds of the 11 September attacks, was wounded in the Bosnian war.

Two Bosnian passports belonging to naturalized Egyptians were found in a suspected al-Qaida safe house in Kabul.

Abuse of power

In 2001, following several arrests and revoking of citizenships, Sarajevo canton prosecutors charged several high-ranking officials for abuse of position in connection with the granting of citizenships to Islamic fighters.

Those charged include former Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) intelligence chief Bakir Alispahic, Mirsada Zutic-Beganovic, executive at the Sarajevo Canton interior ministry, Sarajevo Canton interior minister Ismet Dahic, and 18 other officials.

A police source told ISN Security Watch that the majority of illegal naturalization occurred while those three were in power. They were charged for giving false documents to Islamist extremists coming into Bosnia.

Federal police investigators filed charges against them again in 2004 for granting citizenship to 741 people of African and Asian origin. The case is currently investigated by Bosnian state organized crimes prosecutor.

Charitable fronts

At the same time, Bosnia is dealing with another wartime leftover suspected of links to Islamic extremism.

According to the international community, Islamic charities that aided Bosnian citizens during the war have now aligned themselves with extremists - a charge the charities vehemently deny.

In early 2002, the Bosnian government launched an investigation into 20 charities, closing 12 of them down for suspected links to extremism.

In 2004, the authorities disrupted the operations of the Al-Furqan, Al-Haramain and Al-Masjed al-Aqsa charity foundations and Taibah International - organizations listed by the UN as having direct links with al-Qaida.

However, various nongovernmental organizations that have been identified as supporting terrorist activities have maintained their presence in Bosnia.

Late last month, Bosnian prosecutors confirmed they were investigating several other charities suspected of having links to organizations financing international terrorist groups. Among them are the Kuwaiti-based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), United Arab Emirates-based Dar el Bir, the Kuwait Joint Relief Committee and the International Islamic Relief Organization Igasa.

In 2002, the US froze the assets of the RIHS in an attempt to crack down on terrorist financing.

Local media quoted prosecutors as saying that investigators had evidence that RIHS transferred US$17.5 million to its Bosnian branches between 2002 and 2005 and that the Bosnian branch neither maintained records of the transfers nor submitted audits to the government.

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