Albania – Salih Berisha‘ s partners: crimes, terrorist, top mafiosi

Salih Berisha Mafia Clan PD 

Spy Book Reveals Operational Details of 1998 CIA Balkan Counter-Terrorism Operation
February 4, 2011

A Special Report by Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso in Skopje

Buried deep within a comprehensive history of the CIA’s technical wizardry from the Cold War through to today’s war on terrorism are some intriguing, but overlooked disclosures: previously unknown details regarding a sensitive CIA clandestine operation against Islamic terrorists in the Balkans.

Although the country’s name is not specified in the book, an analysis of available data within the larger historical context indicates beyond doubt that the operation occurred in Tirana, Albania in October 1998, in a joint effort with a CIA station in Western Europe, and probably the one in Rome.

The story becomes even more pertinent today considering the ongoing upheaval in Egypt against the longtime government of President Mubarak, and mass escapes of Islamists imprisoned by him. The prominent CIA role in some of those detainments could conceivably provide a motivating factor for future terrorism against American interests. In any case, the implosion of the Mubarak regime means that decades of sensitive intelligence cooperation could be undone, should the country’s security services be infiltrated by hostile parties.

During the 1990s, Albania became a safe-haven for members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda. Their members – some of them fugitives wanted by the Mubarak regime – were drawn to Albania for its proximity to Europe, weak institutions, and the existing presence of a large Islamic charity network which could provide them with “legitimate cover.” Albania thus represented a place of perceived escape; however, the CIA also came to have concerns that American interests in the country were about to be targeted as well- hence the need for an urgent operation.

This CIA Balkan operation is recounted in a fascinating and highly-recommended recent book, Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs, from Communism to Al Qaeda (Plume, 2009). It details for the first time how the obscure but effective Office of Technical Services evolved, becoming a vital part of the US intelligence apparatus, with its ever-expanding array of unorthodox spy gear, technology and reconnaissance teams. For the authors, former OTS director Robert Wallace and noted intelligence historian H. Keith Melton, it took several years and much administrative wrangling in order to get permission from the agency to publish this insider’s account of what went on behind the scenes.

While the vast majority of Spycraft is devoted to other matters, the anecdotes concerning Albania make fascinating supplementary reading for those interested in the Balkans, counter-terrorism and understanding the covert tactics of terrorist organizations. The following analysis discusses the revelations that come from the book in both historical context and in terms of the value that can be derived, for pure intelligence understanding, from the episode. Finally, a chronology of key events happening before and after the CIA operation is provided.

Time for prison, like IVO SANADER too.

http://news.albania.de/__oneclick_uploads/2011/10/gaddafi-salih-berisha.jpg

 

Setting the Stage: Key Context for the Operation

The CIA anti-terrorism operation chronicled in Spycraft was just one among many others conducted in Albania since 1995, when several foreign terrorist suspects were arrested and secretly rendered out of the country. These actions had ultimately been necessitated by the reckless and opportunistic policy of the Albanian government in the early 1990s, when then-President Sali Berisha allowed foreign Islamic radicals to establish a foothold in the country, under the tacit support of the then-intelligence chief Bashkim Gazidede. (Following the March 1997 riots and the toppling of Berisha’s government, Gazidede fled to Syria and then Turkey; he returned to Albania several years later and died of natural causes in 2008).

The first round of joint operations occurred in 1995, however, when the Berisha administration was still in power. At the time, the CIA cooperation with a special branch of the SHIK that had been set up to deal with Islamic terrorists infiltrated into the country. A SHIK officer involved at the time, Astrit Nasufi, would years later tell the Chicago Tribune that the unit was essentially run by a US intelligence officer they knew simply as “Mike.”

Among several important developments was the detainment and (temporary) recruitment of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian living in Tirana. Commonly known as Abu Omar, this man would in 2003 be kidnapped off a street in Milan by a CIA team- an audacious abduction caused an outcry among the Italian public, legal threats and, possibly, ruined a surveillance operation that was being conducted by the Italians.

Before apparently leaving Albania and discontinuing his cooperation with the SHIK, Abu Omar provided a few precious bits of intelligence. These included information on Egyptian Islamic Jihad figures in Tirana, and terrorist branches in the UK, Germany, and Italy; in the latter, most significant was Milan’s Islamic Cultural Institute, at the time a base for mujahedin operations in Bosnia. (Soon after these revelations, Italian police raided the premises).

The second major round of CIA-SHIK operations occurred in 1998, a year after the country had descended into anarchy following the collapse of crooked pyramid schemes. The Berisha government was toppled and the rival Socialists took power in July 1997. At the same time, tensions between ethnic Albanians and the government in neighboring Yugoslavia were being felt, as a new militant group – the “Kosovo Liberation Army” – stepped up its operations. The Albanian diaspora in America and elsewhere intensified lobbying efforts, eventually winning the support of diplomatic figures such as Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, and diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

However, the intelligence community was more skeptical. For example, an October 1998 report from the Office of the DCI Interagency Balkan Task Force noted that “…US mass media propaganda vociferously attacked Milosevic and Serbs… [is] so blatant that it evoked letters to the editor from uninvolved readers for the obviously slanted coverage”.

For the CIA, politics was secondary to the business of providing security. In June and July 1998, several months before the operation documented in Spycraft, two raids on foreign extremists were conducted with the help of the SHIK and Albanian police. According to a subsequent Washington Post investigation of August 12, 1998, these raids netted “…a bag of faked documents and official Albanian government stamps needed to get past customs and police checkpoints [and] certify legal documents” at the home of a foreign “religious scholar,” Maged Mostafa. For the CIA, a prime security danger in Albania had always involved forgery and misappropriation of official identity documents, and these developments only reinforced this understanding.

The Post article noted that several suspects arrested in June and July 1998 were employed by Islamic charities associated under an umbrella network, bankrolled by the Kuwait Joint Relief Committee. Funded by private Kuwaiti citizens and interests through a Kuwaiti bank, the KJRC managed several charities including the Islamic Revival Foundation, which ostensibly aided “poor Muslim families and orphans in Albania.”

Headquartered in Tirana, it had established a strong presence in 1994. Since that year it had been led by Muhamed Hasan, one of the men arrested in the July 1998 operations. In late 1998, then-intelligence chief Fatos Klosi would attest for media that Osama bin Laden himself had visited Albania to organize his charity network in 1994.

Following the arrests, Muhammed Abdul-Kereem, director of the IRF’s orphan assistance program, stated for the media that “we are not taking advantage of the humanitarian assistance to make some other things.” After Hasan was detained, he was replaced at the IRF by Sudanese national Ibrahim Meki, who had “directed the [charity’s] educational institute for several years.” This institute was described in the August report as comprising four buildings “…surrounded by a high wall topped with barbed wire, [with] a sign on its guardhouse stating that only five cars are allowed to pass the gate, including four listed as holding Kuwaiti diplomatic license plates.”

In 2008, Meki (in his same job capacity) would be expelled from Albania, along with Egyptian national Abdulaziz Muhamed, director of a charity called Goodness of Kuwait, and Mamun Awad, director of the Islamic Vakf Society. Taken together, this would seem clear proof that together with bin Laden, Kuwaiti groups during the 1990s and at least until 2008 have directly sponsored extremist activities in Albania.

Further, for the Post report in August 1998, the institute’s general secretary, Sulejman Kurani, attested that its teaching staff hailed from Sudan, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, adding that $80,000 had been donated by the charity to help “refugees” in the northern town of Tropoje- “a town that also is a key locus of arms stockpiling and smuggling by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the guerrilla group fighting to win Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic,” according to the newspaper. This mountainous region was (and is) the stronghold of Sali Berisha, then leader of the opposition Democratic Party.

However, when in July “euphoric” SHIK agents told the local press that the CIA had been involved in the terrorist round-up, al-Qaeda and its supporters were enraged. Several of the men had been rendered to Egypt, where they were reportedly tortured by the authorities. On August 5, a statement co-signed by al-Qaeda promised retaliation for the Albania raids. Two days later, terrorists attacked US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people and injuring over 5,000.

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