General Carlos Martins Branco is one of the most fascinating (and until quite recently also inaccessible) actors in the Srebrenica controversy. From his Zagreb vantage point as deputy head of the U.N. Protection Force (UNPROFOR) between 1994 and 1996, during the latter phase of the 1990s Yugoslav conflict as it unfolded in Croatia and Bosnian and Herzegovina, this Portuguese officer had privileged access to significant information. Confidential reports about the goings on in the field were crossing his desk. With first-hand information and further enlightened by discrete conversations with colleagues from various intelligence structures, Martins Branco was positioned ideally to learn facts which many officials would have preferred to cover up, and the media frequently ignored.
With a typically Latin emotional flair, refusing to remain silent as the «Srebrenica genocide narrative» was taking shape in the second half of the 1990s, Martins Branco published in 1998 an article provocatively entitled «Was Srebrenica a Hoax? Eyewitness Account of a Former UN Military Observer in Bosnia» In that early plunge into the toxic Srebrenica debate, Martins Branco ventured a number of critical questions concerning the notorious events in July 1995:
«One may agree or disagree with my political analysis, but one really ought to read the account of how Srebrenica fell, who are the victims whose bodies have been found so far, and why the author believes that the Serbs wanted to conquer Srebrenica and make the Bosnian Muslims flee, rather than having any intentions of butchering them. The comparison Srebrenica vs. Krajina, as well as the related media reaction by the ‚free press‘ in the West, is also rather instructive».
Shortly after that expression of skepticism about the nature of the disputed events in Srebrenica, Martins Branco practically disappeared from view. Not physically, of course. He spent several years in Florence teaching at the European University Institute and preparing his doctoral dissertation. After that, in 2007 and 2008 he was attached by his government to NATO forces in Afghanistan in the capacity of media spokesperson for the Commander. From 2008 until recently, when he retired, General Martins Branco served as deputy director of the National Defense Institute of the Portuguese armed forces.
This impressive background, to which we may add the duty of head of the Intelligence Affairs Section of EUROFOR for Bosnia, Albania, and Kosovo from 1996 to 1999, bespeaks an elite and highly trained staff officer, with first-class intelligence capabilities and powers of observation.
Intrigued by Martins Branco’s out-of-the-box analysis of Srebrenica events, shortly after the founding of our NGO «Srebrenica Historical Project» we attempted to establish communication with him to see if he would share with us some of his exceptional information and insights. Our efforts were fruitless and correspondence with the general over the years came down mostly to an exchange of non-committal courtesies. Defense teams at the ICTY in the Hague, which endeavored to obtain him as a witness on their clients’ behalf, had no better luck. However, not very long ago General Martins Branco wrote to us seeking answers to some questions concerning Srebrenica. He mentioned that in November 2016 his memoirs were published in Portugal. That volume, which he kindly made available to us, encompassed the period of his service in the Balkans. It was entitled «A Guerra nos Balcãs, jihadismo, geopolítica e desinformação» [War in the Balkans, Jihadism, Geopolitics, and Disinformation], published by Edições Colibri in Lisbon.
As already seen numerous times with high-level officials, in this case as well open expression of intimate views and public disclosure of facts regarded of a delicate nature had to wait for retirement. In General Martins Branco’s case, the wait was worthwhile. These fascinating recollections from the Balkan war theater consist of the insights of a Portuguese officer attached to UN forces into such episodes as the merciless expulsion, accompanied by mass killing, of the Serbian population of Krajina by Croatian forces. These outrages were orchestrated with the discrete backing of the NATO alliance, for which the author indirectly happened to be working at the time. Events surrounding Srebrenica in July 0f 1995 encompass another portion of his recollections. For the moment, we will focus on the latter and Martins Branco’s perception of the background and impact of the Srebrenica situation.
Already in his introduction to the chapters of his memoirs that deal with Srebrenica, Martins Branco questions the coherence of the prevalent view that it constituted genocide:
«General Ratko Mladic had made it known that he was leaving open a corridor for withdrawal toward Tuzla. With Mladic’s approval, about 6.000 persons took advantage of that opportunity. In a report by the Dutch Foreign Ministry it is noted that, according to UN sources, by August 4 a total of 35.632 displaced persons had made it to Tuzla, of whom between 800 and 1.000 were members of Bosnia and Herzegovina armed forces. Out of that total, 17.500 had been evacuated by bus». (Page 195)
The Portuguese general then continues:
«Srebrenica was portrayed – and continues to be – as a premeditated massacre of innocent Muslim civilians. As a genocide! But was it really so? A more careful and informed assessment of those events leads me to doubt it». (Page 196)
Martins Branco goes on to raise some pointed questions, and he does so purely in the capacity of a professional soldier:
«There are various estimates of the relative strength of forces involved in the Srebrenica………….
In March 2002, authorities in Bosnia, Sarajevo, will raid the offices of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) due to suspected funding of al-Qaeda (see March 2002). The raid will uncover a handwritten list containing the name of twenty wealthy donors sympathetic to al-Qaeda. The list, referred to as “The Golden Chain,” contains both the names of the donors and the names of the recipients (but does not mention amounts given). Seven of the payments are made to Osama bin Laden. [United Press International, 2/11/2003] Most accounts will be vague on what year the Golden Chain document was written; some say 1988. [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003] But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say it dates from 1989. [US Congress, 10/22/2003] Al-Qaeda is formed in late 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). The Wall Street Journal will later note, “The list doesn’t show any continuing support for al-Qaeda after the organization began targeting Americans, but a number of the Saudis on it have been under scrutiny by US officials as to whether they have supported terrorism in recent years.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003] The donors named include:
The “Bin Laden brothers.” Their first names are not mentioned. They give money to Osama bin Laden. UPI will later point out that “the discovery of this document in Sarajevo calls into question whether al-Qaeda has received support from one of Osama’s scores of wealthy brothers.”
Adel Batterjee, a wealthy Saudi businessman who is also the founder of both BIF and its predecessor, Lajnatt Al-Birr Al-Islamiah. He appears to be mentioned as a recipient three times. [United Press International, 2/11/2003] The US will declare him as a terrorist financier in 2004 (see December 21, 2004).
Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi millionaire and one of the founders of al-Qaeda. He is listed as a recipient. The US will declare him a terrorist financier in 2002 (see September 6, 2002).
Saleh Kamel, a Saudi billionaire, and the majority shareholder of the Saudi conglomerate Dallah Albaraka. In 2003, Forbes will call him one of the richest people in the world. The list has him giving money to Batterjee.
Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, another Saudi billionaire. The SAAR network, which is named after him, will be raided by the FBI in 2002 (see March 20, 2002). [Emerson, 2006, pp. 400]
Khalid bin Mahfouz, another Saudi billionaire. A lawyer for bin Mahfouz will later say bin Mahfouz did contribute a small amount to fund the mujaheddin in the late 1980s, but only at the behest of the US and Saudi Arabia. [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003]
Bin Laden conducts two meetings to discuss “the establishment of a new military group,” according to notes that are found later. Notes reveal the group is initially called al-Qaeda al-Askariya, which roughly translates to “the military base.” But the name soon shortens to just al-Qaeda, meaning “the base” or “the foundation.” [Associated Press, 2/19/2003; Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134] With the Soviets in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, it is proposed to create the new group to keep military jihad, or holy war, alive after the Soviets are gone. The notes don’t specify what the group will do exactly, but it concludes, “Initial estimate, within six months of al-Qaeda (founding), 314 brothers will be trained and ready.” In fact, al-Qaeda will remain smaller than that for years to come. Fifteen people attend these two initial meetings. [Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134] In addition to bin Laden, other attendees include:
Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the head of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
Mohammed Atef, a.k.a. Abu Hafs.
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a.k.a. Abu Hajer.
Wael Hamza Julaidan.
Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen, who is notetaker for the meetings. [Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134]
Al-Fadl will reveal details about the meetings to US investigators in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). Notes to the meeting will be found in Bosnia in early 2002. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] It will take US intelligence years even to realize a group named al-Qaeda exists; the first known incidence of US intelligence being told the name will come in 1993 (see May 1993).
According to author Richard Labeviere, in this year Talaat Fouad Qassem, a leader of the Egyptian militant group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, is designated by a leaders from different radical militant groups to head up the militant effort in Bosnia. Qassem is living in exile in Denmark and recruits the help of two Algerian militants also living in exile in Europe, Kamer Eddine Kherbane and Abdullah Anas. In future years, the three of them will coordinate all the requests for volunteers from European countries who want to fight in Bosnia. They will send about 2,000 volunteers to camps in Bosnia near the towns of Zenica and Tuzla. Kherbane will directly lead the Tuzla group. [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 73] In 1991, Kherbane will set up a charity front in Croatia that is a branch of Maktab al-Khidamat/Al-Kifah, which is closely tied to al-Qaeda (see 1991 and Early 1990s). In 1995, Qassem will be abducted in Croatia by US forces and killed in Egypt (see September 13, 1995).
Alija Izetbegovic is elected leader of Bosnia, which is still a republic within the nation of Yugoslavia. He wins the vote because Muslims have a plurality of about 40 percent in the republic. During World War II, Izetbegovic supported the Handzar divisions organized by the Nazi SS. After the war, he was sentenced to three years in prison for his wartime activities. He wrote a controversial Islamic manifesto in 1970 entitled “The Islamic Declaration.” [New York Times, 10/20/2003] In it, he called for “political revolution” and wrote, “There can be no peace or harmony between the ‘Islamic religion’ and non-Islamic social and political institutions.” He also wrote, “Our objective is the Islamization of Muslims” and “Our motto is to have faith and fight.” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 45] In 1983, the Communist government of Yugoslavia sentenced him to 14-years in prison on charges of conspiring to create a Muslim state, however he was released in 1988. The New York Times will later say that the “Muslims of Bosnia were overwhelmingly a secular people. [But] in his strong religious faith, Mr. Izetbegovic was the exception rather than the rule.” He win remain the leader of the Bosnian Muslims through the rest of the 1990s. [New York Times, 10/20/2003]
There is a growing conflict within the Bush administration between the “selective engagers” and an alliance of “hardliners” and “liberal humanitarianists” over whether or not to intervene militarily in Bosnia. The selective engagers believe that the US should militarily intervene only in cases where US strategic interests are directly threatened. Richard Perle and Albert Wohlstetter are prominently mentioned among the hardliners. [Western, 7/1999]
Shortly after the end of fighting in the US-led Persian Gulf war against Iraq, the US allows the Saudi government to conduct a massive program to convert US soldiers still stationed in Saudi Arabia (see March 1991) to Islam. Huge tents are erected near the barracks of US troops and Saudi imams lecture the soldiers about Islam and attempt to convert them. Within months, about 1,000 soldiers, and perhaps as many as 3,000, convert to Islam. Some US officials express concern about the aggressive conversion effort and the long term implications it may have, but the program is not stopped. Radical imam Bilal Philips helps lead the conversion effort. He will later explain that a special team of fluent English speakers, some trained in psychology, was amply paid by the Saudi government to convert the soldiers. Converts had their pilgrimages to Islamic holy cities paid for and Muslim imams were assigned to follow up with them when they returned to the US. Philips is openly hostile to the US, saying such things as, “Western culture led by the United States is an enemy of Islam.” He will later note that some of his converts went to fight in Bosnia and others were the subject of terrorism probes in the US. [US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 10/14/2003; Washington Post, 11/2/2003] Philips will work with the Saudi government and one of the “Landmarks” bombers to send 14 Muslim ex-US soldiers to fight in Bosnia in 1992 (see December 1992). Listed as an unindicted coconspirator in the 1993 WTC bombing, he will be deported from the US in 2004. [Australian Associated Press, 4/4/2007]
The SDA, the ruling party of Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic, decides in private meetings that war in Bosnia is inevitable. They begin forming their own paramilitary force called the Patriotic League, which answers to Izetbegovic and his party, not the Bosnian government as a whole. Hasan Cengic, a radical militant imam, is given control of the Patriotic League and begins arming it. The Bosnian Muslims have no armed force at all at this time while the Yugoslavian army they face is very large and well supplied. Cengic travels to many countries arranging secret arms deals to supply the new force, planned to be 30,000 soldiers strong. By the end of the year, he arranges deals with Slovenia, Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 70] Cengic’s efforts will be the start of an illegal arms pipeline into Bosnia of massive proportions (see Mid-1991-1996).
In 1987, a Sudanese man named Elfatih Hassanein found the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). By mid-1991, Bosnian President Izetbegovic contacts Hassanein, who he has known since the 1970s. The two men agree to turn TWRA from an obscure charity into what the Washington Post will later call “the chief broker of black-market weapons deals by Bosnia’s Muslim-led government and the agent of money and influence in Bosnia for Islamic movements and governments around the world.” A banker in Vienna will later call Hassanein the “bagman” for Izetbegovic. “If the Bosnian government said we need flour, he ran after flour. If they said we need weapons, he ran after weapons.” [Washington Post, 9/22/1996; Schindler, 2007, pp. 148] The TWRA is controlled by a committee composed of Hassanein and:
Hasan Cengic. He is in charge of arming a Bosnian militia run by the SDA party (see June 1991).
All of them are important members of Izetbegovic’s SDA party, and all but Ljevakovic were codefendants with Izetbegovic in a 1983 trial. Most payments require the approval of three of the five, except for amounts greater than $500,000, in which case Izetbegovic has to give approval. The corruption from these higher-ups is said to be incredible, with up to half of all money passing through the TWRA going into their pockets. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 148-152] The TWRA is based in Vienna, Austria, and Izetbegovic personally guarantees Hassanein’s credentials with banks there. Soon, machine guns, missiles and other weapons are being shipped into Bosnia in containers marked as humanitarian aid. Hassanein is a member of Sudan’s government party and a follower of top Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi. Just like al-Turabi, he works with bin Laden and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. He becomes the main agent in Europe for marketing and selling video and audio tapes of Abdul-Rahman’s sermons. In March 1992, the Sudanese government gives him a diplomatic passport and he uses it to illegally transport large amounts of cash from Austria into Bosnia without being searched. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 140-141] The Saudi Arabian government is the biggest contributor to TWRA, but many other governments give money to it too, such as Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Brunei, Turkey, and Malaysia. Bin Laden is also a major contributor. [Washington Post, 9/22/1996] Author John Schindler will later note, “Relations between bin Laden and TWRA were close, not least because during the Bosnian war the al-Qaeda leadership was based in Khartoum, Sudan, under the protection of the Sudanese Islamist regime that was the ultimate backer of Hassanein and his firm.” TWRA also works closely with the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and most other charity fronts in Bosnia. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 151-152] A later study by the Bosnian government with help from Western intelligence agencies will determine that at least $2.5 billion passed through the TWRA to Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. The study will call the TWRA “a group of Bosnian Muslim wartime leaders who formed an illegal, isolated ruling oligarchy, comprising three to four hundred ‘reliable’ people in the military commands, the diplomatic service, and a number of religious dignitaries.… It was this organization, not the Government [of Bosnia], that controlled all aid that Islamic countries donated to the Bosnian Muslims throughout the war.” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 149-150]
The UN Security Council votes to impose an arms embargo on all countries occupying the region of Yugoslavia. Macedonia, Croatia, and Slovenia have split from Yugoslavia by this time and Bosnia will in early 1992, leaving Serbia to dominate what’s left of Yugoslavia. The New York Times comments, “The resolution is in effect an effort to prevent Croatia and other successionist republics from buying arms from other countries. The Yugoslav armed forces have long had a highly developed arms industry of their own and do not need to import weapons at this time…” [New York Times, 9/26/1991]
Iran opens a weapons smuggling route to Bosnia with the assistance of Turkey. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 178, 196-197]
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In a meeting held in Lisbon by the European Community, top Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, top Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic, and top Bosnian Croat leader Stepan Klujic sign an agreement to partition Bosnia into three ethnically based divisions which would form a loosely joined independent confederation. But the New York Times will later report, “A few days later, influenced by what he saw as an encouraging conversation with Warren Zimmermann, the United States ambassador, [Izetbegovic] changed his mind.” The Bosnian Muslims and Croats then quickly hold a referendum on the issue of Bosnian independence which passes by 99 percent on March 1, but the Bosnian Serbs boycott the vote. [New York Times, 10/20/2003] Then, on March 18, the same three leaders hold another meeting in Lisbon and again agree to the partition plan. But the New York Times will report a year later, “On returning to Sarajevo, Mr. Izetbegovic was encouraged by United States and European Community diplomats to choose instead a sovereign Bosnia and Herzegovina under his presidency, saying that was justified by the referendum on March 1 on independence.” [New York Times, 6/17/1993] War will break out one month later (see April 6, 1992). The final agreement at the end of the war three years later will closely resemble the agreement almost signed before it began (see December 14, 1995).
Muhammed Cengic, who has close ties to Bosnian intelligence, negotiates a military cooperation agreement with Turkey. According to Prof. Cees Wiebes, the agreement ostensibly involves Turkish purchases of Bosnian arms, but “it is reasonable to assume that the Turkish-Bosnian arms traffic in reality went in the opposite direction.” The Cengic family is very powerful in Bosnia. Western intelligence sources describe them as “Mafia.” [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 178-179] The clan also includes Hasan Cengic, who is one of the key figures in the Third World Relief Agency charity front and illegal weapons pipeline (see Mid-1991-1996).
UN forces begin arriving in Bosnia, where they make their regional headquarters in the capital of Sarajevo. The UN troops are moving into the region in an attempt to keep the peace between Croatian and Serb forces fighting in neighboring Croatia. But within a month, war will break out in Bosnia and the UN troops will find themselves involved there as well (see April 6, 1992). [New York Times, 3/15/1992] US troops will soon be forced to withdraw from Bosnia, but are able to establish a truce in Croatia. [New York Times, 5/31/1992]
The United States recognizes the states of Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia. The European Union, which has already recognized Croatia and Slovenia, recognizes Bosnia. [US Department of State, 12/6/1995]
Bosnia declares independence from Yugoslavia (which is now mostly made up of Serbia). The Bosnian Serbs immediately declare their own separate state, but remain closely tied to Serbia. War between Bosnia and Serbia begins immediately, adding to the existing war between Croatia and Serbia. Within days, the US recognizes the states of Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia. The European Union, which has already recognized Croatia and Slovenia, recognizes Bosnia as well. Serbia immediately gains the upper hand and within a month Serbian forces surround most of the area around the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. [US Department of State, 12/6/1995; Time, 12/31/1995; New York Times, 10/20/2003]
Soon after Bosnian Muslims declare independence from Yugoslavia (see April 6, 1992), Muslim volunteers from all of the Muslim world come to help fight against the Bosnian Serbs. These volunteers are generally known as the mujaheddin, just as they were in the 1980s war in Afghanistan (and many fought there as well). A military analyst will later call them “pretty good fighters and certainly ruthless.” However, their numbers are small, never reaching more than 4,000 (see 1993-1995). In an interview shortly after 9/11, Richard Holbrooke, Balkans peace negotiator for the US, will say, “I think the Muslims wouldn’t have survived without” help from the mujaheddin. But he will also call their help “a pact with the devil” from which Bosnia is still recovering. [Los Angeles Times, 10/7/2001]
At the outset of the war in Bosnia, a small three- or four-man team from the CIA and National Security Agency determine from satellite images that the Serb’s artillery guns are in vulnerable positions and can be easily “eliminated in one single day of air strikes-right at the start of the siege.” When a diplomat who is working with the team sends word of this to Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Tom Niles, the intelligence is ignored by US officials who do not want to US to get militarily involved. Two months later, officials from the Pentagon and CIA will incorrectly tell the Senate foreign relations committee that striking Serbian artillery positions would be impossible because of the dense forests and mountainous terrain. The diplomat will later take his story to the Guardian, suggesting that claims the Bosnian War was unexpected by US intelligence were without merit and that the Senate Committee was deliberately misled. [Guardian, 5/20/1995]
The US Security Council votes to impose tough sanctions on Yugoslavia, which effectively refers to Serbia since most other Yugoslav republics have declared independence. The embargo requires all the countries of the world to cease trading in any commodity, including oil, and to freeze all its foreign assets. All air traffic links are suspended as well. Sales of medicine and food are exempted. The sanctions are meant to pressure Serbia to agree to a cease fire in the war in Bosnia. [New York Times, 5/31/1992]
Presidential candidate Bill Clinton campaigns “vociferously in support of greater US engagement in Bosnia.” A commission, created by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to devise a post-Cold War foreign policy framework, has been “hand-feed[ing]” key Democrats its recommendations (see February 1992) in advance of the release of its reports. [American Spectator, 6/1999; Daalder, 2000, pp. 6]
Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri is said to visit Bosnia many times from around this date. A prominent Muslim Bosnian politician later claims that al-Zawahiri visited mujaheddin camps in central Bosnia as early as September 1992. The Egyptian government, which considers al-Zawahiri an important enemy, claims al-Zawahiri is running several mujaheddin operations in Bosnia through charity fronts. They also claim he meets regularly with Bosnian Muslim politicians in Sarajevo. He is further said to occasionally meet with Iranian government representatives to discuss the war in Bosnia, as Iran is supplying weapons to the Bosnian Muslims. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 123, 141] Anwar Shaaban, a radical imam leading the Bosnian mujaheddin effort from Milan, Italy (see Late 1993-1994), remains in regular contact with al-Zawahiri, according to Italian intelligence. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 164] In 1993, bin Laden reportedly puts al-Zawahiri in charge of the organization’s operations in the Balkans. [Ottawa Citizen, 12/15/2001] By 1994, al-Zawahiri will settle in Bulgaria to manage operations in Bosnia and the rest of the Balkan region (see September 1994-1996).
Lord David Owen arrives in Sarajevo as the new European Union peace negotiator. Owen is initially seen as anti-Serb and had recently advocated Western air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs. He is outraged that his arrival coincides with a Serb bombardment of the Kosevo Hospital in Sarajevo, Bosnia. But within hours, he learns that the incident was actually provoked by the Bosnian Muslims. He will later say, “The UN monitors actually saw the Muslim troops enter the hospital and, from the hospital grounds, firing at Serb positions. Then the mortar was packed up and removed as the television crew showed up. A few minutes later a retaliatory fire of course landed in or near the hospital and all was filmed for television.” UN Gen. Philippe Morillon immediately writes a letter to Bosnian President Izetbegovic: “I now have concrete evidence from witnesses of this cowardly and disreputable act and I must point out the harm such blatant disregard for the Geneva Convention does to your cause.” But the letter and information about the incident is not made public and the Serbs are the only ones blamed for the incident. Owen will later say, “I asked Morillon why didn’t he make this public, and he shrugged his shoulders [and said], ‘We have to live here.’” [Rothstein, 1999, pp. 176, 188]
Double agent Ali Mohamed spends much of 1992 training al-Qaeda recruits in Afghanistan. But he also gives specialized training in Sudan, Bosnia, and other conflict zones. Using the alias Abu ‘Abdallah, he is part of a 14-man al-Qaeda team made up of retired US military personnel that enters Bosnia through Croatia to train and arm mujaheddin fighters there. Apparently this will come to light in a 1998 trial in Egypt. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 41, 150, 337] The training takes place at Meskovic, a village near the town of Tuzla. The 14-man team are smuggled into Bosnia one by one in December 1992. The team is said to be sponsored by a “mosque in Newark, New Jersey.” [Associated Press, 12/3/1995] Mohamed regularly trained militants at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, an al-Qaeda front in the US (see 1987-1989), and there was a mosque associated to it in Newark. This effort takes place at a time when Al-Kifah is sending many US-based militants to fight in Bosnia (see 1992). It will later be alleged that a US Army official met with people at Al-Kifah in December 1992 and offered to help with a covert operation to support Muslims in Bosnia (see December 1992). Twelve of the Americans leave within two months after training a group of 25 mujaheddin in insurgency warfare. But Mohamed and another American only known by the code name Abu Musa remain at Meskovic until June 1993, occasionally accompanying the mujaheddin on attacks behind Serb lines. [Associated Press, 12/3/1995]
Siddig Siddig Ali, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, Abu Ubaidah Yahya, Mohammed Abouhalima, and others train at a militant training camp in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, with weapons and ammunition provided by Yahya and Clement Rodney Hampton-El (see February 21, 1995). Abouhalima will later be convicted for a role in the 1993 WTC bombing, as will his brother (see February 26, 1993) while the others mentioned will be convicted for roles in the related “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993). [USA v. Omar Ahmad Ali Abdel-Rahman et al, 7/13/1995, pp. 9] Yahya is the chief instructor, as he is an ex-US Marine who served two tours in Vietnam and teaches at a martial arts academy. Siddig Ali will later say of Yahya, “[H]e’s decorated and has a lot of medals… [and he was] a great trainer…” The training even includes mock nighttime assaults on a nearby electric power substation. [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 73] An FBI informant named Garrett Wilson helps lead the FBI to the camp, and the FBI monitors it for two days, January 16 and 17, but the monitoring team is mysteriously pulled away before the end of the second day (see January 16-17, 1993). In a wiretapped conversation with an FBI informant (most likely Wilson), Siddig Ali says regarding the camp, “Our goal is that these people get extensive and very, very, very good training, so that we can get started at anyplace where jihad (holy war) is needed… And after they receive their training, they go to Bosnia… And whoever survives, I mean, could come and [instruct] somewhere else, or Egypt, or any other place, etc…” [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 73] Hampton-El makes trips to Europe to pick up money from the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) charity front to fund the camp (see Late 1992-Early 1993). TWRA is funneling huge amounts of weapons into Bosnia in violation of a UN embargo but with the tacit approval of the US (see Mid-1991-1996).
The US government, in collaboration with Hasan Cengic and his father Halid Cengic, starts work on an airport in Visoko, Bosnia, northwest of Sarajevo. This will become a major destination of a secret US arms pipeline into Bosnia. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 179] US Special Forces are apparently secretly involved in the construction. [Scotsman, 12/3/1995] The Cengics are radical Muslims and Hasan Cengic is heavily involved with an illegal weapons pipeline into Bosnia controlled by radical militants (see Mid-1991-1996). The airport will be completed in late 1994 (see Late 1994-Late 1995).
In June 1993, Abu Ubaidah Yahya will tell the New York Times that early in the year he went to Bosnia with several other Muslims from the New York region to help embattled Bosnian Muslims “with technical advice and medical aid.” [New York Times, 6/26/1993] Yahya is an ex-US Marine connected to numerous figures in the 1993 WTC bombing and “Landmarks” bombing plots, and US intelligence had him under surveillance since January 1993 (see January 7-13, 1993), although how intensive the surveillance was is unknown. The FBI is aware that Yahya repeatedly travels in the spring of 1993 to Vienna, Austria, to pick up money from the Bosnian-linked Third World Relief Agency charity front (see Early April 1993), so presumably he goes to nearby Bosnia on some or all of those trips. It is likely he and his group actually go to Bosnia to fight, since one of his associates told an FBI informant that Yahya and a group of about ten men he trained were going to fight in Bosnia once their training session was over, and the training ended in February 1993 (see December 1992-Early February 1993). Saudis also gave Yahya’s close associate Clement Rodney Hampton-El a considerable amount of money to train militants in the US to fight in Bosnia (see December 1992). [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 113] Yahya is the security chief of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity front linked to both al-Qaeda and the CIA (see 1986-1993). A group of US militants linked to Al-Kifah go fight in Bosnia starting in December 1992, but this must be a different group since Yahya is still training his group for another two months (see December 1992-June 1993 and December 1992-Early February 1993).
Saeed Sheikh, a British citizen and student at the London School of Economics, goes to Bosnia on a trip sponsored by the “Convoy of Mercy” [New York Times, 2/25/2002] , a front for the newly formed militant Islamic fundamentalist group, Harkat ul-Ansar. [Jane’s International Security News, 9/20/2001] There he joins Harkat ul-Ansar. [New York Times, 2/25/2002] Aukai Collins, who will meet Saeed Sheikh in a camp in Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan some months later (see June 1993-October 1994), will later confirm that Saeed is a member of Harkat ul-Ansar. [Collins, 2003, pp. 33] Harkat ul-Ansar will change its name to Harkat ul-Mujahedeen in 1997 after Harkat ul-Ansar is named a terrorist organization by the US State Department. [South Asia Analysis Group, 2/18/2002] Collins will also claim Harkat ul-Ansar was funded by bin Laden. [South Asia Analysis Group, 2/18/2002]
Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal urges President Bill Clinton to take the lead in military assistance to Bosnia. Richard Holbrooke, US ambassador to Germany at the time, draws up plans for covert assistance. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 195]
A Florida cell of Islamic radicals carries out fundraising, training, and recruitment to support the global jihad movement. The group is monitored by the FBI from the early 1990s, but no action is taken against it until after 9/11. The cell’s most prominent members are Adham Amin Hassoun, Mohammed Hesham Youssef, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, Kassem Daher, and Jose Padilla. Adnan Shukrijumah may also be involved (see (Spring 2001)).
Both Hassoun and Jayyousi are associates of “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul-Rahman and the FBI monitors telephone conversations between them and Abdul-Rahman from January 1993 to 1995, at least. After Abdul-Rahman is taken into police custody in July 1993, according to an FBI agent, Jayyousi calls Abdul-Rahman in jail to “update the sheikh with jihad news, many times reading accounts and statements issued directly by terrorist organizations.” [St. Petersburg Times, 11/23/2003; Lance, 2006, pp. 126-8; Associated Press, 4/8/2006; International Herald Tribune, 1/4/2007]
Funds are provided through bank accounts of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), the Canadian Islamic Association, and Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), for which Hassoun files incorporation papers in Florida. The cell pays out thousands of dollars in checks, some of which are marked “Chechnya”, “Kosovo,” or “for tourism”.
They try to talk in code, but the code is unsophisticated; for example “tourism” apparently means “terrorism”. In addition, they are not very careful and in one conversation overheard by the FBI, which records tens of thousands of their conversations from the early 1990s, one plotter asks another if he has enough “soccer equipment” to “launch an attack on the enemy.” In another, the conspirators discuss a $3,500 purchase of “zucchini” in Lebanon.
Cell members are involved in jihad, through funding or direct participation, in Egypt, Somalia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Kosovo, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
They are involved with both bin Laden and Chechen leader Ibn Khattab; for example, in one conversation Youssef tells Hassoun that he would be traveling “there at Osama’s and… Khattab’s company.” [Indictment. United States v. Jose Padilla, 11/17/2005 ]
They publish the Islam Report, a radical magazine about jihad. [Associated Press, 4/8/2006]
It is unclear why the FBI monitors the cell for almost a decade before doing anything. However, some of their activities are focused on Bosnia, where the US is turning a blind eye, or even actively assisting Islamic militants fighting on the Bosnian side (see 1992-1995 and April 27, 1994). The cell is broken up in the months after 9/11, and Hassoun, Jayyousi, and Padilla are sent for trial, which begins in 2007. [International Herald Tribune, 1/4/2007]
Entity Tags: Mohamed Hesham Youssef, Adnan Shukrijumah, Adham Amin Hassoun, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Kassem Daher, Jose Padilla, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Canadian Islamic Association, Benevolence International Foundation
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In late 1993, the FBI discovers that WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef used a mosque in Milan, Italy, known as the Islamic Cultural Institute, as a logistical base (see Late 1993-1994). The Italian government begins investigating the mosque and soon discovers that it is the main European headquarters for Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a radical Egyptian militant group, and is also the logistical base for mujaheddin traveling to fight in Bosnia. The mosque is run by Anwar Shaaban, who has a close working relationship with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and who also stays in regular contact with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Shaaban runs a training camp thirty miles outside of Milan where fighters heading to Bosnia can practice using weapons and explosives. The mosque also helps smuggle men, money, and weapons to Bosnia. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 163-164] On June 25, 1995, Italian police raid the mosque and over 70 other locations in northern Italy. Seventeen people are indicted and eleven of them are arrested, but that is only a fraction of the hundreds investigated. Inside the mosque, police find forgery tools, letters to wanted radicals around the world, and hundreds of false documents. Plots to bomb targets in other countries and a US target elsewhere in Italy are averted. Shaaban escapes arrest, as he had already left the country, but he is killed in Croatia a short time later (see December 14, 1995). [United Press International, 6/26/1995; Vidino, 2006, pp. 216-218] But the Islamic Cultural Institute will soon reopen and continue to be a focal point for radical militants in Europe. It will be linked the 9/11 attacks and other violent plots (see Late 1998-September 11, 2001).
The British newspaper The Independent publishes the first interview of Osama bin Laden in Western countries. Veteran journalist Robert Fisk interviews bin Laden in Sudan, where bin Laden is ostensibly living a peaceful life. Fisk does note that the “Western embassy circuit in Khartoum has suggested that some of the ‘Afghans’ whom this Saudi entrepreneur flew to Sudan are now busy training for further jihad wars in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt,” but generally bin Laden is portrayed as a former mujaheddin fighter turned peaceful businessman. This is reflected in the title of the article: “Anti-Soviet Warrior Puts His Army on the Road to Peace.” Bin Laden talks some about his role in the Soviet-Afghan war, boasting that he helped thousands of mujaheddin go there to fight. Fisk comments, “When the history of the Afghan resistance movement is written, Mr. bin Laden’s own contribution to the mujaheddin – and the indirect result of his training and assistance – may turn out to be a turning-point in the recent history of militant fundamentalism…” Fisk tells bin Laden that his name has recently been mentioned by Muslim fighters in Bosnia. Bin Laden acknowledges his influence there, but complains about how difficult it is for fighters to cross into Bosnia. [Independent, 12/6/1993]
Intelligence services operating in the Balkans, especially US intelligence, become increasingly politicized and are under pressure to produce reports with a pro-Bosnian, anti-Serb slant. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 86, 141] For instance, one CIA report in 1995 blaming the Bosnian Serbs for the vast majority of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia will later be accused of distorting the facts to fit an anti-Serb slant (see March 9, 1995).
The US begins flying spy planes over Serbia and Bosnia. In March 1994, the CIA begins flying Gnat-750 drone aircraft from Glader, a remote Albanian air force base in north-central Albania. [Associated Press, 5/7/1994] In December 1994, the CIA begins flying more drone aircraft from the Croatian island of Brac. [Associated Press, 2/3/1995] In July 1995, the US begins using the Predator remote spy drone over Bosnia, from the Glader base. [Associated Press, 7/21/1995] Such surveillance information is allegedly shared with Croat and Muslim forces, allowing them to bypass Serb defensive positions in battle. The US officially denies the existence of all these flights since the US is supposed to be neutral in the war. [Observer, 11/5/1995]
Bosnian Muslims and Croats have been fighting each other, as well as Bosnian Serbs, for the past year (see March 1993). But at the urging of the US, a peace deal is agreed to and the Muslim federation of Croatia and Bosnia is formed. Croats and Muslims now concentrate on fighting the Serbs in Bosnia. [Time, 12/31/1995; Wiebes, 2003, pp. 165-166]
Bin Laden visits Albania as a member of a Saudi government delegation. He is introduced as a friend of the Saudi government who could finance humanitarian projects. Yet, earlier the same month, the Saudi government supposedly cut all ties with bin Laden (see April 9, 1994). One former US intelligence officer will complain in 1999, “Why was he a member of that delegation? The Saudis are supposed to be our allies. They told us he was persona non grata, and yet here he was working the crowds on an official visit.” Bin Laden strengthens ties with the Albanian secret service, with an eye to assisting the fight against Serbia in the neighboring country of Bosnia. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 180-181; Washington Times, 9/18/2001; Ottawa Citizen, 12/15/2001]
US ambassador Charles Thomas; Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Richard Holbrooke, his deputy Robert Frasure, head of intelligence for US European Command Brigadier Gen. Michael Hayden, US Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd, US Marine Corps Gen. David Mize, and US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon Jr., meet with the Muslim Bosnian army commander for Central Bosnia, Mehmet Alagic, in the town of Gornji Vakuf. The US group also visits Mostar, which is also controlled by the Bosnian Muslims. The Pentagon claims the US diplomats are there to familiarize themselves with the situation on the ground and the generals “just happened to be along,” but in appears in fact these meetings are part of a US effort to help the Croats and Muslims work together in upcoming offensives. Following this visit, US “logistics advisers” move into key locations throughout Bosnia, including the UN-controlled Tuzla airport. US Special Forces help build a secret airstrip in Visoko, central Bosnia, to land heavy transport aircraft (see Late 1994-Late 1995), and mysterious flights begin arriving at the Tuzla airports a few months later (see February-March 1995). [Observer, 11/20/1994; Scotsman, 12/3/1995] Hayden will later become head of the NSA and then head of the CIA.
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, is in the Netherlands at this time. He meets with representatives of:
The Muwafaq Foundation, a Saudi funded charity operating from the town of Breda, Netherlands.
The Egyptian militant group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), led by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman.
The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an outlawed Islamist political party in Algeria.
What happens in Khalifa’s meetings is unknown, but the next month he opens a branch of the Muwafaq Foundation in the Philippines. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 168, 194, 342] Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi is believed to be the chief funder of Muwafaq; the US will pronounce him a terrorist financier shortly after 9/11 (see October 12, 2001). The US will later claim Muwafaq funded the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines (see 1995-1998). A secret 1996 CIA report will claim that Muwafaq has ties to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and helps fund mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia (see 1991-1995) and at least one training camp in Afghanistan (see January 1996).
Pressure from the Clinton administration for NATO air strikes in Bosnia leads to a crisis within the NATO alliance. Ivo H. Daalder, who is responsible for coordinating Bosnia policy on the National Security Council, later writes: “By Thanksgiving 1994, the differences within the NATO that had simmered for months below the surface had come to a full boil, creating the worst crisis within the Atlantic alliance since 1956… Faced with the possibility that NATO might be torn asunder by the rift over Bosnia policy, the administration decided to put NATO unity first and abandon any effort to convince the allies or the United Nations that air strikes remained necessary to turn the military tide in Bosnia.” [Daalder, 2000, pp. 33]
Roughly around this time, a new airport is completed in the Muslim Bosnian town of Visoko, northwest of Sarajevo. UN soldiers frequently report seeing C-130 transport planes landing there, and they say the runway is constantly being improved to handle more aircraft. One UN soldiers later says to the British newspaper the Observer, “Why don’t you write about Visoko airport? Planes land there all the time and we think they’re American.” [Observer, 11/5/1995; Schindler, 2007, pp. 184-185] Visoko is said to be the logistics center of the Bosnian army and the airport and area is run by Halid Cengic. Author and former NSA officer John Schindler will later call him head of the “fanatical and thievish Cengic clan.” He is said to make great profits on the materiel coming through the airport. He is also the father of Hasan Cengic, who is one of the key figures smuggling huge amounts of weapons into Bosnia through the Third World Relief Agency, a charity front tied to Osama bin Laden and other radical militants (see Mid-1991-1996). [Observer, 11/5/1995; Schindler, 2007, pp. 195] By March 1995, General Bernard Janvier, commander of UN forces in Bosnia, reports to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that the Visoko airport is in operation and illegal supply flights are landing there. The report notes that the airport was built by Hasan Cengic with help from Iran. Canadian peacekeepers allege that unmarked flights coming into Visoko are American. However, this UN report is not made public. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 184-185] According to the Observer in November 1995, some Bosnian politicians say that the US is the “number one donor of all weapons into Bosnia” and British political sources say the Visoko airport was built with US help. Furthermore, UN officials complain that they frequently report flights into Visoko, but these flights are never cited as violations of the no-fly zone over all of Bosnia. One UN source says, “The Awacs (air warning and control systems planes) have sighted only two flights into Visoko in the last five months. There have been dozen of flights reported from the ground.” These UN officials believe that these flights in Visoko take place on days when Awacs flights are manned by all US crews instead of NATO crews. Another UN source says, “Only the US has the theater control to put certain aircraft in the air at certain times.” [Observer, 11/5/1995]
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
UN observers and others report that frequent flights entering Bosnia are supplying weapons to the Bosnian Muslims in violation of the UN arms embargo. The flights clearly have the support of the US. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 177- 198] A UN official who witnesses the flights is physically threatened by three American officers and warned to keep silent. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 192] Journalists are also pressured and threatened by the US embassy, which is later said to have been acting on instructions from the State Department. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 192] A subsequent investigation conducted with the support of the Netherlands government will conclude that the operation was conducted by a third party, probably Turkey, with “the assent of parts of the US government.” [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 195-198] Tim Ripley, who covers the military conflicts in Yugoslavia for Jane’s Intelligence Review, blames the Tuzla flights and similar operations on “‘covert warriors’ of the NSC [National Security Council] and State Department.” [Ripley, 1999, pp. 93] Prof. Cees Wiebes, who conducts the Netherlands investigation, agrees saying that “the State Department and National Security Council (NSC) were involved, but not the CIA or the DIA.” According to a confidential source, “the operation was… paid for from a Pentagon Special Operations budget, with the complete assent of the White House. Probably the most important members of Congress were informed in the deepest of secrecy, and they were therefore ‘in the loop’ concerning the events.” [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 193] Ripley says that US NATO officers were not involved, but points out that NATO Commander Admiral Leighton Smith was careful to only deny “uniformed” US military involvement. Ripley suggests that American “freelance operatives” were brought in by “senior members of the Clinton Administration.” [Ripley, 1999, pp. 62-63] According to Ripley, “Senior US military commanders and CIA officials were just staggered by the ‘duplicity’ and ‘deceit’ at the heart of the Clinton Administration’s policies.” [Ripley, 1999, pp. 91]
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
A Bosnian Muslim named Munib Zahiragic joins Bosnia’s Muslim secret police by mid-1995, while he is also working for the Sarajevo office of the US-based charity Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). By September 1996, he is stealing top secret documents and giving them to Enaam Arnaout, the US executive director of BIF and also linked to al-Qaeda. He gives Arnaout hundreds of documents about mujaheddin and al-Qaeda operatives. Arnaout then passes them on to al-Qaeda, allowing many to avoid capture. For instance, high-ranking al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim is tipped off that investigators are onto him when he visits Bosnia in 1998 (see May 7, 1998). After Zahiragic leaves the secret police in June 2000, he works full time for BIF. In March 2002, Bosnian police will raid the BIF’s Sarajevo office, arrest Zahiragic, and discover weapons, booby traps, fake passports, and bomb making plans. A raid on another BIF office at the same time will uncover the stolen documents. Zahiragic is convicted of espionage in Bosnia a year later but he is only sentenced to two years in prison. [Associated Press, 6/30/2003; Schindler, 2007, pp. 288-289] Despite his arrest, Bosnian intelligence agencies remain completely penetrated by others. Highly classified Bosnian documents are sometimes found with Islamist militants in Bosnia and are even published in militant newsletters. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 312-313]
Having already entered into its controversial relationship with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the US gives in to the organization’s demands that it be removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. [Wall Street Journal (Europe), 11/1/2001] Near the end of that same month, Robert Gelbard, America’s special envoy to Bosnia, says the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is an Islamic terrorist organization. [BBC, 6/28/1998] “We condemn very strongly terrorist actions in Kosovo. The UCK [KLA] is, without any question, a terrorist group.” [Agence France-Presse, 4/1999] “I know a terrorist when I see one and these men are terrorists,” he says. [BBC, 6/28/1998]
The June 9, 1999 Military Technical Agreement between the International Security Force (KFOR), Yugoslavia, and Serbia, ending NATO’s bombing campaign, creates a ground safety zone (GSZ), which is closed to the Yugoslav army and heavy weapons, and is five kilometers wide along the Serbia-Kosova border. The majorities in the nearby Serbian counties of Presheva, Bujanovic, and Medvegja are Albanian historically, though Albanians will not be the majority in Medvegja a few years later. The Liberation Army of Presheva, Medvegja, and Bujanovic, known by its Albanian acronym, the UCPMB (Ushtria Clirimtare e Presheves, Medvegjes dhe Bujanovcit), organizes to join the region with Kosova and uses the GSZ as a refuge. British journalist John Phillips will later suggest that the UCPMB was a provocation to help Slobodan Milosevic regain power or provoke a coup by the Yugoslav military. Others say that the UCPMB was created by the CIA or US State Department to destabilize Yugoslavia prior to the overthrow of Milosevic on October 6, 1999, but it is now out of control. According to a paper presented to the Conflict Studies Research Center at Sandhurst, England, the guerrillas show signs of American training: their method of marching, what they sing on the march, and their tactics—tactics that did not develop over the three years fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Albanian scholar Paulin Kola will later quote an unnamed UCPMB officer who says, “If [the US military] ask us to fire three rounds tomorrow, that’s what we do.” The UCPMB also says it can get in touch with NATO. The guerillas are strong and publish their newspaper in US-occupied Gjilan, Kosova. At one point US forces will lose track of an alleged Albanian CIA operative originally arrested by the British and charged with bombing a bus. Nonetheless, Kola will say the UCPMB acts out of local Albanians’ historical desire to be included in Kosova and fear of Yugoslav vengeance. The UCPMB will emerge officially in January 2000. [Kola, 2003, pp. 372-375; Phillips, 2004, pp. 1-3, 10]
Entity Tags: Yugoslavia, John Phillips, Conflict Studies Research Centre, Central Intelligence Agency, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Paulin Kola, Republic of Kosova, Slobodan Milosevic, Yugoslav Army, United Kingdom, United States of America, UCPMB, US State Department DUPLICATE
Timeline Tags: Kosovar Albanian Struggle