Terrorists Threaten Europe from Balkan Safe Haven

The turning of a blind eye in certain, select cases has produced some strange anomalies in the global war on terror. debkafile‘s counter-terror experts note some striking instances.
The most recent was the case of the North Korean cargo vessel, intercepted by a Spanish warship on terrorist patrol in the Arabian Sea on December 10, and found to contain 12 dismantled Scud-type Scud missiles well concealed under 40,000 bags of cement. The vessel was boarded by US explosives experts. The communique reporting the incident stated that the missile cargo’s destination was “unknown” – possibly Yemen or al Qaeda, but not Iraq.
The odd thing is that, while the North Korean vessel was expected, it was not allowed to dock at its port of call and thus solve the mystery of its destination.
The likely reason for this omission is simple: Yemen is a valuable ally in the US-led coalition against international terrorism. Its government allows US special forces to hunt al Qaeda fugitives on its soil. At the same time, on the side, Yemen is also deep in arms trafficking. The Red Sea republic has grown into a key under-the-counter Middle East-East Africa center for buying, selling – but mostly smuggling, weapons of war. The North Korean freighter was stopped before it reach port – both to prevent the cargo from reaching the wrong hands and so as not to land the helpful Yemeni authorities in hot water.
Prague is another case in point. President George W. Bush, in the Czech capital last month for an important NATO conference, which was dedicated inter alia to international cooperation for the stamping out terror, was prevented by a terrorist alert from going to Radio Liberty studios for a scheduled interview. The interview took place in his hotel room. Similarly, Israeli tourists flocking to Prague were cautioned last week to be on guard against an active terrorist danger.
debkafile‘s counter-terror experts stress that the threat does not come from distant lands but from next door, the Balkans. There, as in Yemen, the blinkers are on.
Take the case of Macedonia.
All Skopje has become accustomed to seeing a 45-year old man clad in a long white robe and flak jacket pushing his cart around the food shelves of the big Vero department store almost every Wednesday or Thursday of the week. Two hand grenades are stuck in the jacket’s front pockets and a Kalashnikov automatic rifle slung across his back. Most of Vero’s customers and staff know him to be one of 30 wanted top al Qaeda and Hizballah operatives hiding in the Crna Gora mountains north of the capital, near the Kosovo border. The Macedonian army and NATO forces policing the Kosovo Macedonia frontier have thrown out an extensive dragnet for their capture. Yet none of the hunters has ever waylaid the frequent shopper or followed him to his hideout.
Again, the reason is simple. Those 30 terrorists are under the protection of Ali Ahmeti, formerly a key commander of the National Liberation Army (NLA), who went into national Macedonian politics by running for election on September 15 at the head of the new Albanian Democratic Party. The European Union-brokered Ohrid peace accord, signed in 2001 to halt ethnic Albanian insurrectionist violence, provided for its ringleader to enjoy a power sharing arrangement in Macedonia. In return, he pledged to renounce civil strife and turn his back on organized crime and his Islamist terrorist associations.
Ahmeti was also supposed to hand over the names of the 30 terror chiefs hiding in the hills.
The Albanian rebel chief, since gaining his seat in parliament, has not honored a single one of his promises. He did not disarm his militia and, while handing over 30 names, which still have to be checked, he claimed he never agreed to their detention.
Moreover, since the signing of the Ohrid accord, the guerrilla leader turned politician has opened the door wide to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda and allied terrorist groups from the Middle East. Neither Macedonian police officers nor international peacekeepers dare venture into parts of Tetovo and most of the villages strung along Macedonia’s western frontier. The coalition of Islamist terrorists who rule that area pose a rising threat of extremist Muslim penetration to other parts of former Yugoslavia and their European neighbors, while turning Macedonia into their launching pad for terrorist attacks across Europe.
However, the European governments who brokered the accord are restraining NATO and Macedonian forces from going after the al Qaeda and Hizballah leaders, fearing the Macedonian government will fall and the country revert to civil bloodshed between Macedonian Slavs and militant Albanians.
In any case it might be too late for a limited operation. Local Skopjans report that the 30 wanted men have multiplied, joined in their Crna Gora mountain enclave by a small army of some thousand fighting men, who can be heard practicing in the use of automatic weapons, grenades and explosives.
Al Qaeda’s reach from Skopje to Karachi, southern Pakistan, was highlighted on December 5, when the Macedonian honorary consulate building was blown up. The bodies of three Pakistanis were found, all murdered before the explosion. Their deaths are regarded as revenge for the deaths of seven Pakistanis suspected of plotting terrorist attacks on Western embassies in Skopje on behalf of al Qaeda. Macedonian police hunted them down last April and killed them in a gun battle north of Skopje.

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