Macedonia Encapsulates Abiding Threat

One year after the September 11 hijacking suicide calamities in New York and Washington may be too soon for a clear verdict on the Bush administration’s war on global terror.

Most of the processes set in motion in the first heat of shock are still inchoate.

Even the view from Kabul is far from clear. The provisional regime established by the West’s great hope, Afghan fashion plate Hamid Karzai, is looking a bit disheveled in the face of challenges by warlords who may or may not be loyal to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda – which, in turn, may or may not have been defeated. This week saw an upsurge of anti-Western violence in Afghanistan, including a car bomb in downtown Kabul which killed upward of a dozen people and an attempt on Karzai’s life in Kandahar. The bullets aimed at him struck his armored car and his American bodyguards opened fire on the assailant.

In neighboring Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf’s control does not extend to the lawless, semi-autonomous tribal regions on its northwestern border, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are bunched together in quasi-colonies, their new bases of operation.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s analysts have therefore homed in on a relatively low-profile trouble spot as a vantage point for a fair perspective on America’s interim anti-terror balance sheet.

Surprisingly, the breath-taking vistas of a tiny picture corner of Europe, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, may be the best place to sit back and gauge the state of a world changed forever by 9/11; in particular, its border areas with Kosovo and Albania.

Behind its serene visage, a majority of Macedonia’s just over 2 million inhabitants – 67 percent Greek Orthodox and 23 percent ethnic Albanian Muslim – live with a creeping peril. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terrorism sources describe a hostile enclave running from Crna Gora and Sar Plan near Tetovo in the north to the divided lake districts of Ohrid and Prispankso Ezero in the south, spanning 2,700 square kilometers (1,400 square miles), where any Western intruder risks disappearing without trace or turning up dead.

American peacekeepers and their allies in the war against terrorism — the British, French, Dutch, Australians and Russians – have learned that venturing into these badlands is as dangerous as a visit to Kandahar or east of Kabul and Bagram.


New Islamist army on the march?


The enclave is ruled over by five allied groups, each with its own turf:

— The Albanian Liberation Army, a substantial number of whom are Albanian-Americans, under the control of the Albanian mafia – the major partner, and Sigurimi, the Albanian State Security Service – that was once trained by the CIA. For the moment, the two are partners.

— A group of 600 to 900 young Saudis, aged between 16 and 25, made up of Islamic radicals, GIS general intelligence operatives and al-Qaeda fighters, who were dispatched to Macedonia from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Lebanon, Chechnya and Central Asia.

— Some 1,200 to 1,600 Iranians. Save for a handful of religious volunteers, most are Pazdaran, ie Iranian Revolutionary Guards, assigned to Macedonia by the force’s special security and intelligence agencies.

— Between 200 and 300 Lebanese Hizballah extremists, mostly from the Shiite group’s special security division. They are under the command of secretary-general Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and the Iranian Shiite terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyeh.

— At least 70 to 120 Iraqi agents. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, Saddam Hussein’s undercover men began trickling into Macedonia from August 10 via Athens and Sofia, Bulgaria – all members of the crack, super-secret al Amn al-Khas, or 14th Directorate, the special presidential security agency serving directly under his orders All are fluent in Balkan languages, as well as English and German.

Saddam reserves his 14th Directorate for highly classified, sensitive operations outside Iraqi borders. One of its past missions was the failed attempt on the life of the first President George Bush during his visit to Kuwait in April 1993.

The Iraqi agents are scattered around the enclave, while the other four groups have each commandeered its own slice of the territory, their unofficial boundaries well known to the local ethnic Albanian populace. Non-Albanians were “ethnically cleansed” from the area, their property confiscated and homes expropriated or destroyed. The remaining ethnic Albanians couldn’t be more pleased. The interlopers maintain security and public order without levying taxes. Instead, they hand out to the locals monthly stipends ranging from $150 to $350, requiring in return only that they come every day to pray at the new mosques built with Iranian, Saudi and Iraqi money.


Bin Laden T-Shirts for free


The top floor of these two-storey mosques serves for prayer meetings; educational and medical services are provided downstairs. Most of the small children and youngsters in villages and towns in the area wear tee shirts with a picture of bin Laden which are handed out free of charge.

Young ethnic Albanians are easily recruited to the imported flag. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-intelligence sources hear that the lower floors of the new mosques are recruitment centers for local youngsters, who are drafted into the Albanian Liberation Army or local militias run by outside agents, depending on their medical fitness. Both are given on-site training in terrorist tactics, the use of weapons and explosives and urban and mountain warfare.

The combined strength of the five alien contingents occupying this region of Macedonia is estimated by Intelligence agencies as ranging between 12,000 and 20,000 highly trained and well equipped fighting men and officers, who are thought to be drafting around a total of 700 to 900 young locals each month. The ranks of the militant Islamic movement in the heart of Europe are thus swelling month by month.

The Albanian Liberation Army and Albanian mafia cells set up in every community have spread a security umbrella over the entire enterprise. These “minders” make sure Macedonia’s border to Kosovo in the northwest remains open and that international peacekeepers, American, Russian, NATO and UN, are kept out. They also keep the Macedonian army confined to the eastern region, at arm’s length from the Islamist enclave.

In this way, an anti-West Muslim coalition force formed of Saudis, al Qaeda, Hizballah and Iranians has got away with conquering a territory of several thousands of square miles in the middle of Europe – and building an Islamic legion – under the noses of an international force assigned to keeping the peace in the stormy Balkans.

And the buildup continues under one guise or another.

For instance, DEBKA-Net-Weekly ‘s intelligence sources have learned of an application from the Iranian embassy in the Macedonia’s capital of Skopje to the Macedonian Science Ministry for entry permits for 1,200 Iranian “students”, claiming Serbia admitted 1,600 Iranian students-visitors last spring. In answer to the query from Skopje, Serbian officials confirmed the information but added that every last Iranian “student” had disappeared weeks after their arrival.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly can disclose that the Iranian tourists were in fact elite Revolutionary Guardsmen, who lost no time in heading out of Belgrade for Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Albania. The Macedonians therefore rejected the Iranian application, prompting a row with Teheran, which soon found alternative routes for slipping hundreds of its operatives into the protected Islamic enclave of Macedonia.


Xmas gift for Europe – narcotics


Intelligence sources consulted by DEBKA-Net-Weekly are not clear what the five groups intend doing with this mushrooming Islamist army. All five are clearly acting under orders from their respective intelligence masters at home. They also wonder about the smooth, untroubled functioning of this religious-military-intelligence body, although it is run by elements sent out by different national agencies.

The overriding impression gained by our sources – from dozens of interviews with escapees from the badlands who came out one piece – is of a single controlling hand, a higher authority which activates all five groups, whether foreign or indigenous. They believe a command center, somewhere outside the mountains of Macedonia, hands down orders, funnels money and weapons and synchronizes the different groups’ activities, binding them into a harmonious shared enterprise.

Our sources on the ground report that the local commanders and operations officers report in at this command center at least once a week, to commune and synchronize their activities. In between those visits, the Saudis, Iranians, Iraqis, al Qaeda men and Albanian mafia hoods operate in utter secrecy, maintaining total telephone, radio and communication silence. When essential messages are to be sent, couriers are employed, usually women or youngsters. However, the four foreign groups are in constant touch with their headquarters, whether in Tehran, Baghdad, South Lebanon, the Gulf, Central Asia or Pakistan, by way of local or regional links of some kind..

A certain amount of communication appears to go through the Internet, encrypted in a manner that has so far defeated intelligence agencies’ efforts at interception.

Extremely tight electronic surveillance of the five groups operating in Macedonia points to their commanders and operations officers taking delivery of orders every few days. However, from the second half of August, the surveillance monitors picked up unusual bustle. They believe it was set up by instructions to al Qaeda personnel to take out of storage some 200 tons of heroin and opium hidden in a local Macedonian village or hiding place in the mountains. The narcotics were smuggled into Macedonia in the winter via Central Asia, Bulgaria and Croatia. Al Qaeda chose Macedonia as its central transit point for drug smuggling into Europe because it is already the main conduit for South American cocaine and heroin destined for Western Europe.

The enormous Macedonia drug cache, destined to be Osama bin Laden’s Christmas-New Year gift for Western Europe, may account for the UN and other reports published this week that his organization is again flush with funds and free to strike. US intelligence learned of the order to begin moving out the drugs from local informers who reported a general call-up of al Qaeda, Hizballah, Iranian and Saudi operatives and hirelings to load up the narcotics for transfer from their hiding places to the Albanian mafia for shipment to West European markets.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Western Europe report that the Albanian mafia this year completed its takeover of 75 percent of London’s brothels and prostitute smuggling traffic. The brothels serve also as distribution centers for the al Qaeda drugs brought out of Macedonia.

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