Radical Islam Monitor in Southeast Europe (RIMSE) seeks to expose Islamist activities (both violent and non violent) in the region of Southeast Europe. Special attention will be given to Islamist activities taking place in Greece. RIMSE argues that the threat posed to the West in general and to Southeast Europe in particular is not by Islam as a faith but by Islamism as a totalitarian political ideology.
Monday, November 26, 2012
Southeastern European organized crime & extremism review, By Ioannis Michaletos
Narcotics and the emergence of crime syndicates in the Balkans
The main threat to the Balkans nowadays, is the existence of well organized criminal groups that to an extent are an integral part of the world wide “Crime Syndicates” that for the most part control the narcotics trade in our époque. The infamous Balkan drugs route is the main path by which narcotics and specifically heroin; are smuggled to European countries. It is actually a network of contrabands, corrupted public officials and war lords that make sure that the heroin produced in Afghanistan is smoothly transferred to the European addicts.
According to the Council of Foreign affairs, Afghanistan has almost tripled its heroin production
and in 2005 32,000 acres were reserved for poppy cultivation, out of 12,000 acres in 2004. This fact shows first of all failure by the NATO Forces in that country to create the necessary framework for the reconstruction process. As far as the ramifications for the Balkans are concerned, the increased profits by criminal gangs have boasted them with tremendous riches and political influence.
There are mainly two organized ethnic groups that deal most of the arrangements concerning the organized crime in the Balkans. The so-called Albanian mafia and the Turkish crime syndicates. The Albanian organized crime is very active since the collapse of the Communist rule in this country that opened the way for various indigenous gangs to spread their wings further and take part in one of the most profitable commerce of all times, namely drugs. A leading French criminologist Xavier Raufer has extensively dealt with the issue of the Albanian mafia. He considers the Albanians as the only true “Mafia” in the Balkans due to the peculiar social structure of their society in the Northern parts of the country “The land of the Genghis”.
An isolated society with very firm beliefs in issues of honor and manhood pride coupled with severe social problems and a culture of vendetta; has been transformed into a huge international crime network. Various reports indicate that roughly 70-80% of the heroin distributed in European is under Albanian control, a really impressive percentage for a nation of just 6 million people. Moreover in the Balkan route –In reality three distinct routes-, the Albanian mafia plays a vital role in safeguarding the interests of the world drugs trade by having its “Soldiers” and “Capos” along the way and protecting shipments from police and official interruption.
Furthermore Albania as a country is a major producer of Cannabis, which is mainly exported to neighboring Greece and Italy. The narcotic traded is placed along the trafficking and illegal immigrant smuggling operations that have seen the Albanians gaining the fame as the most powerful and dangerous criminal group in South Eastern Europe. In Greece alone the revenues from prostitution run at around 7.5 billion USD, a large portion of that being controlled by Albanian criminal groups. Trafficking of women from Albania is one of the main ways to establish a “War chest” for the organized crime, in order to invest its wealth in the drugs trade.
In essence the first stage for every respectable organized crime unit, is to establish a prostitution ring, make easily large amounts of cash, and then invest them for the drugs trade by constructing the expensive logistics bases, fake companies, pay corrupted officials and so on. Therefore when looking into the different aspects of organized criminal activity, one should note that all forms of that activity are interconnected and that each one leads to the other. That actually is one of the differences of organized crime from the other forms of criminality.
Back to the activities of the Albanian criminal groups, the recent history illustrates the existence of a hybrid criminal form, meaning the interconnection between criminal activities and terrorism. The Albanian groups that are mostly active in the North of the country have been associated with the preparations of the U.C.K guerilla forces in the late 90’s, as well as, with their arming and training. The troubling 90’s in South Eastern Europe saw the convergence of the drugs trade along with the formation of radical Islamic groups and the pervasion of corruption in the upper echelons on the countries involved. In the Albanian case the past decade it is assumed that the country is facing a virtual take over of its institution by the organized crime that in its turn has been linked with international terrorism, with Al Qaeda withstanding.
The main role of the Albanian Mafia in the narcotics trade is the one of wholesale distributor of Afghan heroine. Along the Balkan route and especially the one passing through Southern Bulgaria, FYROM; the Albanians import heroin and then dispense it to Italy, or Bosnia- Croatia to Austria and Central Europe. After 1999 and the consequent Albanian dominance in Kosovo, Pristina has become the unquestionable narcotics capital of Europe. A traditionally provisional city in the midst of the Balkans is nowadays the epicenter of all drugs deal of an area encompassing Central Europe, Balkans, and Middle East.
The lack of law coupled with the existence of a society reluctant to pursue organized crime, has created a “black hole” in the centre of the Balkans that primarily lives on criminal activities and the remittances of the Kosovo-Albanian Diaspora. The latter is strategically located in countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Denmark and dominates the European heroin trade. Despite the fact that Albanians are relatively newcomers to the European organized crime scene-Like the old-timers Sicilians, Corsicans – they have already taken over the entire European heroin market and make large advances in the sectors of trafficking, racketeering, arms smuggling and illegal gambling.
The infamous Albanian mafia is a formidable criminal network, but the existence of another one, influential as well, should be added in order to examine the whole spectrum of drugs trade in the Balkans. The Turkish crime syndicates are the undisputable partner of the Albanians. It would not be possible for the Albanians to become distributors in the first place if the weren’t able to acquire their goods from the East, and that is where the role of the Turks begins.
Turkey is a country strategically located between the East and the West. Apart from its importance in political and military level, it is also an integral part of the international narcotics smuggling. It would just be very hard for heroin to travel from Central Asia to Europe without being able to trespass Turkey, the only Asian country bordering with Europe. Turkey is a state traditionally producing Opium, for pharmaceutical purposes. In the early 70’s international pressure –Mostly from Nixon administration in the USA- obliged Turkey to enforce stricter rules for Opium production in 1974. Up until then heroin was produced in Turkey as an Opium derivative and quantities were sold to the West with the assistance of the Sicilian and Corsican mafias.
The heroin to be sold was transported with ships to Sicily, and then to Marseilles were the Corsicans had created labs for the fabrication of the commercial product. From then onwards it was transferred to New York and other USA ports where the American-Italian mafia would assure its allocation in the end-users, the heroin addicts. The forceful USA administration at that time declared a war against narcotics and obliged the Turks to seek other sources of the lucrative opium. Soon enough Turkish operational production bases were established in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. The war in the former during the 80’s, as well as, the resurge of the Kurdish guerilla fighting after 1984 and the Iraq-Iranian war the same period; created a convergence of political, criminal and military operations based in heroin trade.
Events such as the Iran-Contra scandal illuminate how far the heroin trade has penetrated the higher echelons of the world’s decision-making process and how it interacts with the international affairs. Moreover the effective destruction of Beirut during the 80’s collapsed the cities ubiquitous reputation as the prime port for narcotics trade and this role was overtaken by Istanbul. The situation after the end of the Cold War in 1989, found the Turks financially strong from their trade in the previous decades and also ready enough to pursue stronger ties with the countries of Central Asia.
Furthermore the appearance of the Albanians and the civil wars in former Yugoslavia, provided ample of human resources in the Balkans, eager in getting involved in the drugs trade so as to survive financially or gain capital to achieve their political aims. Europe now already hosted considerable Turkish minorities-Especially Germany – and individuals from those Turkish communities were used to act as local retail agents for the heroin distribution in Europe.
In 1996 the Susurluk accident revealed to Turkey the extent where the Drug –Lords have penetrated the upper crust of the society and they were able to conduct their businesses untouched by the law. Even the spouse of the then Turkish Prime Minister Tancu Tsiller was accused by the local media for close interactions with notable underworld figures. Furthermore the accusations that the Turkish security forces were conducting drugs trade in South Eastern Turkey were in relation to the civil strife in that region because of the Kurdish fight and that presents once more that politics and criminal groups seem to go hand in hand.
The modus opperandi of the Turkish organized crime in drugs trade follows the role of the coordinator and distributor. Large amounts of heroin shipments enter Turkey each month and then delivered through the Balkan route mostly, to all over Europe. It has to be noted that the country with the largest Turkish community-Germany- is being used also as a redistribution centre. That means that when heroin reaches Germany, it is being handed out from there to the other major European markets, especially UK and Scandinavia. Moreover some of the strongest “Capo” of the Turkish syndicates resided in Germany and generally speaking this country has become the centre of gravity for the Turkish drug barons, as far as, their posture in the European narcotics scene is concerned. Further the impact of the Turkish drug lords has alarmed European security agencies due to the importance of their overall contribution in the narcotics market in the Continent. For instances since the 1970s, Turkey has accounted for between 75 and 90 per cent of all heroin in the UK. The key traffickers are Turks or criminals who operate along that route using Turkish contacts.
The alliance of Turkish and Albanian crime groups can be explained at first glance by the cultural, religious and ethnic links –A large percentage of Turks in W. Turkey has Albanian ancestry-. Also, the tradition of the Albanians to join and serve larger ethnic groups with whom they feel to have a kind of affinity might have its explanation. The same was he case in USA and New York especially where for decades the Albanian crime syndicates tended to operate under the aegis and influence of the much stronger American-Sicilian crime corporations.
A 2006 article in Balkanalysis revealed interesting facts for the interrelation between USA domestic politics, the role of the Turkish lobby and the American foreign policy. Even though it is extremely delicate to draw conclusive explanations about the real roots of cover the organized crime activities are given; it is beyond any reasonable doubt that in the case of the Balkans the West has dramatically failed to check the narcotics flow. Despite the fact that thousands of troops, intelligence officers and police ones are based in the Balkans assigned by NATO and the EU, there has been no real confrontation with the realities of criminal syndicate pervasion in the Balkans. On the contrary in the areas where the Western presence is more powerful like in Pristina, it is exactly the stronghold areas of the mafias and their collaborators.
It is more than certain that if Western societies along with their partners in the Balkans; cannot control the narcotics trade their incompetence will certainly spill over to the overall antiterrorist security framework that they are trying to enforce. The Hybrid forms that modern crime is currently experiencing will most certainly ensure the continuous flow of capital to terrorist enterprises along with the recruitment of loyal assistants and the corruption of public officials in sensitive sectors of the public sectors. The initiatives by the heads of state of the Balkans to curb on organized crime should give the opportunity for further decisive measures. Balkans have already being developed as Europe’s soft underbelly-Not quite as Churchill imagined- and one of the top priorities of the EU has to be the unquestionable joint effort to “close down” the Balkan route, achieving thus a real advance against terrorism in a worldwide level.
Since the end of the Communist era in the Balkans in the early 90’s, organized crime activities have soared, by expanding their activities in fields such as narcotics, trafficking, racketeering and goods smuggling. The civil wars in Yugoslavia and the continuous strife in Albania provided an excellent framework on which crime syndicates became stronger and gained political and societal clout.
The first and foremost criminal group that can be to an extent classified as a “Mafia” is the Albanian organized crime. Its geographical spread is in and between the triangle Pristina (Kosovo) – Tetovo (FYROM) and Tirana (Albania). During the 1999 and the NATO campaign against Serbia, it was a common secret amongst the members of the international community that the KLA army was financed and assisted by the organized crime that hoped to achieve a safe haven in the Kosovo area. The importance of Pristina is mainly associated with its use as a transit point in the infamous Balkan drugs route. Moreover the capital of Kosovo is a massive hideout for heads of crime syndicates across the Balkans and beyond.
Furthermore the high unemployment rate in the region along with the chronic industrial decay, have forced masses of the population to remain tolerant –at beast- in the practices of illegal activity. The capital flowing from heroin trade mostly, have helped towards the revitalization of the local economies. To that point it is interesting to note that 4/5 of the heroin flowing to Europe from Asia (Afghanistan) is being transferred by Albanians that have established bases all across Europe from Oslo to Barcelona and from Budapest to Rome. The Albanian organized crime as Xavier Raufer has pointed out operates on a dual basis. That means it has also the function of a strong societal force that virtually governs peripheral areas of Albania, mostly in the North, as well as, Kosovo currently. The Albanian crime syndicates work in close contacts with their American-Albanian counterparts that are mainly located in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. Since 1991 quite a few Kosovo-Albanians have managed under not-so-legal ways, to immigrate to USA and act as liaison with the European community.
This highly sophisticated criminal network has been able to control much of the drugs trade in Europe and also the trafficking of women and children from the Balkans to Western Europe. Both of these activities are complementary to each other and frequently criminal groups switch from one activity to the other.
The ethnic conflicts in Former Yugoslavia, provided ample opportunities for weapons smuggling that reached unprecedented proportions in 1997. The same year a civil unrest in Albania, led to the overthrow of the government and the lack of the rule of law for almost 6 months. During this period 700,000 Kalashnikov and about 200,000 Albanian passports were stolen. Consequently a large portion of the above was sold to criminal groups in the Balkans and in Europe, whilst there are many allegations of terrorist connection whereby Al Qaeda members were able to obtain Albanian passports and an easier access to the European Continent.
The Kosovo experience has been up to date, a great disappointment for the international community. The UN administered territory has not been able to withstand the all-pervading influence of the organized crime. Despite numerous acts of violence and a very high homicide rate; very few convictions have been handed out to culprits, none of those was a member of the organized crime either. Nowadays the existence of regular heroin supply from Afghanistan, and the control by the “Albanian Mafia” of the Balkan route, has enabled it to obtain a large capital base that is laundered mainly though the construction centre in Albania and the use of offshore financial centers. Actually the largest enterprise in terms of sales and profits in South Eastern Europe is the Albanian organized crime.
In the case of Greece, there is not a national organized crime network that can be classified as a national mafia one, although that does not mean that crimininal network are not indeed quite influential. Nevertheless, the perils of Balkan crime have surely affected the country in numerous ways. Apart form the current crime statistics –that show a stronger pervasion of organized crime related activities- money laundering is a present and clear danger. The spread of the Greek banking system in S.E Europe will certainly address in the near future the issue of capital transfer of criminal activities through those financial institutions.
Also the interstate relations between Greece and the other Balkan states should always take into consideration the influence of organized groups that are the 21st century non state actors. For that reason it is of outermost importance to construct in the Greek territory “An observatory of organized crime” that will act as a counselor for the Greek government-Perhaps for the EU as well- and will be compromised by experienced analysts, law enforcement agents, criminologists and international relations experts. The use of this foundation or institute would be to detect, collect, analyze relevant Balkan crime information and produce consultation. In essence an intelligence unit that will be able to predict future trends in organized activities.
Islamic terrorism and the Balkans: The perfect training ground
The emergence of radical – militant Islam during the 90’s is a very complicated issue that involves worldwide actors, social dynamics and a deep knowledge of the religious realm of the Islamic world. This article aims to present and inform for the events that shaped Islamic terrorism in the Balkans. In this corner of Europe, the past 15 years, the roots of Islamic radicalism have deepened and it is of the outermost importance to comprehend this phenomenon, so as to be able to combat it.
The beginning of the Yugoslavian civil strife in 1991 presented an excellent chance for the Mujahedin to get into Europe via the ethno-cultural conflict between Christians and Muslims in Bosnia. These religious mercenaries had proved their aptitude in war from the early 80’s when they fought the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, and managed to inflict great damages to it using Western assistance.
The West at that period, along with its regional allies, promoted the creation of the so-called “Green Arch”. That meant the creation of strong Islamic pockets in areas of Soviet influence, or in border countries that deemed important for the strategy of the West against the Soviets. Thus Afghanistan, Pakistan, Caucasus, and in Turkey (through the use of the Turkish “Hezbollah”), became radicalized during the 80’s.
The sensitive issue of the Kosovo status is also interlinked with the presence of terrorism –Of an Islamic nature- and its ramifications are much more extended than conventionally thought. Moreover the impact of Islamic driven terrorism in the Balkans is not only restrained in the region but has global consequences, thus it needs multiparty intelligence cooperation in order to be dealt with. Worries about Kosovo morphing into a safe haven for terrorists are not without merit. After all, radical Islamic elements aided some Kosovars–and earlier, Bosnian Muslims–in the ethno-religious warfare that destroyed Yugoslavia in the 1990s. For example, Australian al-Qaeda fighter David Hicks traveled to the Balkans to join the notorious Kosovo Liberation Army. Hicks completed military training at a KLA camp and later fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, where U.S. forces apprehended him.
The Albanian nationalism and the Islamic terrorism
As in the case of Bosnia, the Albanian Muslims (70% of the population) proved to be a magnet for the Islamists that sought to regain a foothold in Europe. The conditions by which Albania was freed by the Communist regime in the early 90’s, revealed the existence of a backward isolated country with no interaction with the rest of the world. The transition from a central command structure to that of a free market; ensured the development of multiple societal forces within the much repressed Albanian society.
In early 1994 the infamous Osama Bin Laden, paid a visit to Tirana, presumably to oversight the networking of his activities there. He came back in 1998 to oversight Al-Qaeda training camps in the Northern part of Albania, just across the borders with Kosovo. The trainers –of Arabic origin mostly- were assigned to train the newly recruits of the Usthria Climirtare e Kosoves –U.C.K- units for the forthcoming guerilla warfare against the Yugoslav forces in Kosovo.
The then Albanian Director of the Albanian secret service-SHIK-named Fatos Klosi admitted the training that took place in these camps and the existence of “Jihad warriors” from Sudan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt that were responsible for the instruction of the UCK army. To this point it is important to add to the above, the existence of the Albanian Arab Islamic Bank, that was used for the financing of terrorist activities throughout the Balkans. Various sources indicate the existence of Bin Laden’s backing in the bank’s capital, with the sum of 11 million USD.
In 1997, the financial collapse of Albania by an economic scandal that shook the country; had as a result the social unrest throughout the territory and the collapse of the rule of law. An uncounted number of armaments were stolen during the period of the riots from the Albanian’s Army caches, and the bulk of it ended in the hands of the UCK and its Islamist collaborators. Until early 1998 USA characterized UCK as a terrorist organization, due to its connection with well-known figures of the extremist elements of the Islamic world. Nevertheless, the American policy changed its direction since it deemed the existence of Milosevic more threatening at that period than the Islamic movement. During the skirmishes and fights before the NATO bombings in March 1999, the Yugoslav Army managed to inflict great damages to the Mujahedin fighters that were combating along the UCK lines. In Urocevac the bulk of them was eliminated by the Serbian Army and was obliged to retreat back in their safe havens in Northern Albania.
After the end of the 1999 war, the Mujahedin networks regrouped and started to infiltrate the Kosovo area in great numbers. That included the mushrooming of Islamic charitable funds across the region, the construction of Mosques and the radicalization of the local Albanian population and the wider Muslim populations of the ex-Yugoslavia.
It is interesting to note that the Albanian population in its majority cannot be conceived as a fundamentalist Islamic nation and the extremists are for the time being a forceful minority of that nation. The Islamic expansion in the Balkans is coupled with the existence of the criminal syndicates that are all prevalent in the Balkan Peninsula. Since the terrorist activities cannot be financed through the use of the legal free market economy, the use of narcotics and trafficking illegal trade has enabled the flourishing of the terrorist networks. The “Hybrid” organizations as the merged terrorist and criminal are named, has created the necessary framework for the Balkans to enter in one of the worst periods of their modern history. The leading criminologist Loretta Napoleoni has researched articulately the issue and offers illuminating approaches as to the extent of the infiltration of crime & terrorism in world economy.
According to her recent interview for balkanalysis.com, some 1.5 trillion USD are the revenue of the organized crime worldwide. A fair portion of that is being achieved by controlling the “Balkan drugs route” a geographical area that encompasses Kosovo, Northern Albania and Tetovo. More or less the Islamic terrorism network has located some of its bases, along the way of some of the most lucrative criminal areas of Europe. Therefore it is able to increase its revenues and finance its monstrous acts.
In spring 2001, the Mujahedin forces, once again, were brought to day-light by joining the National Liberation Army in its fight in Western FYROM. The NLA was a composition of various Albanian fractions that along with the Islamic extremists sought to prepare the basis for the disintegration of FYROM. There is a large Albanian minority in the country, which also happens to be located right in the centre of the Balkans and where the “Balkan drug route” passes by. The Mujahedin formed the majority of the 113 brigade of NLA, and were accused of many atrocities against innocent civilians of Slavic descent.
On August 2001 the Ohrid accord was signed and the conflict ceased without any real gains by the Albanian side. A month later, the attack on the twin towers revealed to the world the spread and the power the terrorist organizations have amassed, thus the “War on terror” begun and to a great extent dismantled the world wide Islamic terrorist web.
EVEN KEY AL-QAEDA MEMBERS WHO DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY TOOK PART IN 9/11 AND ARE LINKED TO BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
Nawaf al Hazmi, a Saudi. He was a September 11th hijacker. He fought in BiH in 1995.
Khalid al-Mihdhar, from Yemen. He also was a September 11th hijacker. He also fought in BiH with the foreign mujahideen battalion in Bosnia in 1995
Sheikh Omar abd-al Rahman (convicted of the 1993 attack on the WTC) was connected with the so-called humanitarian organization TWRA, which was a cover for terrorists. Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic made personal guarantees for TWRA’s general director and personal friend Elfatih Hassanein, so he could open an account with Die Erste Osterreich Bank in Vienna, Austria in 1993.
Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who recruited Mohamed Atta into Al-Qaeda, had a terrorist base in Bosnia. Zammar is also responsible for recruiting two of Atta’s lieutenants, Ramzi Binalsahib and Said Bahaji.
Osama bin Laden received a Bosnian passport from the Embassy in Vienna, Austria. Many other Al-Qaeda members were issued B-H passports, which enabled them to continue their terrorist activities.
Abu al-Ma’ali (Abdelkader Mokhtari), a senior Al-Qaeda operative, was stationed in Bosnia until recently. Just a few years ago, US officials used to call him “Osama Bin Laden, Jr.”
Bensayah Belkacem was arrested in Bosnia in October 2001. Numbers saved in his cell phone connected him with at least one top-rank associate of Bin Laden
The “White Al-Qaeda” in Bosnia-Herzegovina
ndërmjetësvë apo bankierëve grekë, agjentëve të pasurive të patundshme, etj
“Kokat” e krimit të organizuar shqiptar
Raporti vëren se “kokat” e grupeve kriminale shqiptare, kryesisht nuk e kanë bazën në Greqi. Në këtë vend ndodhen vetëm të “besuarit” dhe “ushtarët”. Disa nga “kokat” që kontrollojnë bandat kriminale shqiptare janë