In an important Islamic collaborative venture planted near the heart of Europe, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and al Qaeda have together created a new Muslim Balkan army. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that close to 20,000 fighters, battled-hardened veterans and eager young recruits, are already under arms, with more joining up all the time.
Saudi, Iranian and Iraqi intelligence services and al Qaeda operations officers in Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Albania are quietly assembling this force in a corner of Europe, while US-UK Special Forces go hunting for al Qaeda fighters in the mountains of western Afghanistan and the lawless Pashtun enclaves of Pakistan. The new force is well-trained and equipped with the finest modern weaponry, including missiles and artillery, although it still lacks armored units and an air force. But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources reports young Muslim recruits are being sent to train as pilots, some reported to be signing up at private flying schools in eastern Europe, especially in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
The Islamic planners of the new force took to heart the lessons of the war in Afghanistan. They have made sure that, in the Balkans, no bases or training camps are identifiable as such, as were the al-Qaeda facilities in pre-war Afghanistan. Commanders and officers stay well out of the limelight, never seen by the media.
Recruitment is effected through Muslim cultural societies set up for boys aged 15 to 16 as annexes of the hundreds of new mosques mushrooming at an incredible rate, with the help of deep Saudi pockets, around Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia. Pakistan provided the the prototype. Military training is incorporated in the curriculum of the Balkan medressas, or religious schools, creating a recruiting pool for the Muslim army, just as Pakistan’s medressas were tapped for fighting men by the Taliban and al-Qaeda on the eve of last October’s US invasion of Afghanistan.
The potential numbers are formidable. Macedonia and Kosovo each has a population of around 1.8 million inhabitants. In the former, 35 percent are Muslim while in the latter the population is virtually 100 percent Muslim, after the ethnic Albanians drove out the native Christian Serbs. Most of the Muslims are of Albanian descent. Since Balkan Muslims go in for huge families, the percentage of teenagers in the general population is among the highest in the world, close to half. The Balkan Muslim army can therefore call upon a reservoir of three quarters of a million potential teenager recruits, compared with the 1.4 million Muslim extremists of all ages in Pakistan.
The Gulf sponsors do more than sink funds in their Islamization program for the Balkans. A constant flow of personnel comes and goes. Each mosque has its Saudi imam, who takes orders from Saudi intelligence. The military instructors are Iranian and Iraqi officers, as well as al Qaeda commanders who fought the Americans in Afghanistan. They keep a close eye on the youngsters’ cultural and athletic pursuits and mark out the best and brightest for potential military careers. At the age of 17, the youngsters are integrated into a secret military organization and given three training sessions a week on subjects like urban warfare, various weapons systems, the manufacture of explosive devices, bombs and mines, ways of demolishing tanks and aircraft and night combat.
Two months into their military regimen, the young recruits begin to be paid a fixed salary of roughly $500 to $700 a month, a fortune in the Balkans where unemployment is rife. Not surprisingly, Muslim youngsters are flocking in their tens of thousands to the cultural societies centering on the mosques, hoping to be recruited and earning a wage.
Three months into their training, at the end of stage one of the program, the young boys are given uniforms and weapons, which they take home and hide. They are taught that their wages depend on perfect obedience to their instructors and religious mentors, and that they are subject to being called up for active duty at any time of the day or night by means of a messenger whom they know or identify by a pre-determined code word.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the Macedonian capital of Skopje, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Iraqi officers and al Qaeda personnel oversee the main courses, after which the recruits are given their own commands.
Hundreds of officer instructors are on the move constantly between the Balkans and the Middle East. Until recently, they were careful to reach their destinations by indirect routes and not draw attention to themselves, especially from agents of the US intelligence services attached to US Special Force contingents based in Kosovo and Bosnia. In the last few weeks, however, they are throwing caution to the winds, freely using Skopje’s international airport for their comings and goings. They have become brazen enough for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Pazdaran) to set up a logistical command center in the Iranian embassy in Skopje for coordinating the swelling movements of officers and Muslim army soldiers in and out of the region.
So hectic is the activity around the project that hardly a flight touches down in Macedonia from the Middle East or western Europe without its complement of Iranian, Iraqi and Saudi Arabian military instructors, planners and organizers. The last group consists mostly of Saudi al Qaeda followers who fought in Afghanistan. Armed with the papers of various UN welfare or cultural NGOs, they move without restriction around Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania, carrying large sums of money to cover the burgeoning costs of the mosque-army project.
In line with classical intelligence precepts, each new arrival keeps to the sector of operation assigned him for his fake humanitarian or cultural project, showing no interest in any Islamic project. However, sources following the progress of the Islamic incursion of the Balkans told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that these movements are carefully choreographed from the combined Islamic logistical center at the Iranian embassy in Kosovo. There is no inter-communication between these staff additions, classified information does not flow between the sectors and full intelligence compartmentalization is achieved.