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September 15, 2005

Has the UN Let a Blacklisted Islamic Charity Roam Free in Kosovo?


by Christopher Deliso

When it comes to charities suspected of terrorist involvement, at what point can a series of independent actions be said to indicate coordinated and malevolent intent? And if they do in fact indicate such intent, what should be done about it?

These are the questions that Thomas Gambill, a former security officer with the OSCE, had to wrestle with during his time in Kosovo, in regards to several Islamic NGOs and charities whose stated activities seemed benign, but whose latent motives were more suspicious.

According to Gambill, whose whistleblower testimony first came out on Antiwar.com in August, the verdict is not good: in more than one case, UN bosses of the occupied Serbian province "have turned a blind eye" to dangerous charities – including a local branch of an Islamic fundamentalist group that has been linked to terrorist attacks and/or extremism in countries ranging from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to Azerbaijan, Albania, and Bosnia – a group that has, in fact, been partially blacklisted by both the Bush administration and the UN since January 2002.

A Dangerous Disinterest

However, now that the group in question (the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, hereafter RIHS) has become more prominent for trying to spread ultraconservative Saudi Wahhabism and for directly sponsoring terrorist attacks, such as last month’s mass bombings in Bangladesh, UNMIK’s apparent disinterest might be more than just negligent; should the RIHS cement the Balkan foothold it established over a decade ago in Albania, it could steer long-term social trends away from the region’s so-called path of "Western integration." More important in the short term, by ignoring the group’s presence in Kosovo, the international authorities continue to allow a key source of terrorist funding and logistical organization to operate unhindered.

Tom Gambill’s initial revelations were made public in this article, in which the former security chief contended that the majority of his colleagues were interested only in their paychecks, careers, and desire to escape Kosovo unscathed, and thus shrank from confronting any potential source of conflict, no matter how great a danger it might have represented.

"I had this info [about the charities] all the way back in 2001," says Gambill. "But the State Department didn't want to hear about it. And I brought it up at every meeting I went to that included [the U.S.] military, but nada. Many of the American KFOR [Kosovo Force] guys were there for their six months – you know, get the ribbon, do a few good deeds, and go home. And those who confided in me didn't want to rock the boat with their superiors… the thinking was, 'hey, we’re here for only six months – let’s get the job done as assigned and get home."

For the present investigation, Mr. Gambill has obliged by producing official written and photographic testimony to support his case for the RIHS’ presence in Kosovo. He also recalls the generally lukewarm reaction he received from superiors. In fact, this former Marine believes that the OSCE’s decision not to renew his contract last spring owed to a face-saving desire to "bury" the stories he was insisting on telling – something not very surprising, considering that the brazenly irresponsible international administration has gone to great lengths since day one to conceal its monumental failures, in areas ranging from creating a viable economy to protecting vulnerable minority groups.

One might ask, "So what? There are millions of these allegedly 'dangerous’ Islamic charities out there." That was my initial reaction when I first heard of this case. However, after some research, it became clear that far from being just another one of the myriad Islamic NGOs operating in the Balkans, the RIHS was in fact a major player with a distinguished track record and truly global aspirations. If the UN has really allowed it to flourish in Kosovo, this policy would seem to be very foolish, as the following should indicate.

The RIHS: A Quick Overview

The Revival of Islamic Heritage Society is a Kuwait-based charity with branch offices in numerous Muslim-inhabited countries. It was founded in 1992 and, according to the International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law in 2002, established international branches, including even a British one (later registered with the Charity Commission: registration no. 1014888). Quoting a now-defunct Web site, the article stated that the RIHS’ purpose is "to improve the condition of the Muslim community and develop an awareness and understanding of Islam amongst the non-Muslim communities, by concentrating on youth and education."

Indeed, proselytizing among the young and the poor has served as the group’s preliminary method of pushing a more conservative type of worship based on the Saudi Salafi or Wahhabi form of Islam. This invariably has been carried out through large-scale mosque-building, financial incentives for converts, and attempts to alienate the young from the established traditions and political processes of their home countries. As with any cult, they do this in order to present their solutions to complex social problems as the only "true" alternatives – even if the execution of these solutions sometimes involves terrorist activities.

The RIHS’ established pattern of activity indicates a special interest in Islamic or partially Islamic states where a certain level of turbulence prevails, where stagnant economies and governmental corruption can be assailed from a broadly populist viewpoint – and, notably, where there is no historical tradition of Arab Salafi worship. In the wake of 9/11, European investigators found a clear connection between Salafi propagandists and indigenous extremist groups.

Yet despite the group’s presence in England, RIHS activities in places like Azerbaijan and Bangladesh, as well as the Balkans, have been much more important, strategically speaking, for their goal of bringing developing states under their eventual ideological and, ideally, political control.

Furthermore, the RIHS is a founding member of an infamous and now largely disrupted Islamic charity network that includes the banned al-Haramain, Global Relief, and the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, all of which shared the same strategic goals. As a May 2005 report from the Naval Postgraduate School states, "since 1992, in addition to the local orders, the main supporters of Salafi ideas [in Bosnia] were the following relief agencies – High Saudi Committee, al-Haramain Foundation, and the Society for the Revival of Islamic Heritage (Jam'iyyat Ihya’ al-Turah al-Islami)."

The RIHS Blacklistings

On Jan. 9, 2002, RIHS operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan were blacklisted by the U.S. government. The Bank of England simultaneously followed suit, as did the UN two days later. Announcing the action as part of a global effort to cut off the terrorists’ access to "hard-money countries," then-Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill also mentioned Canada, Luxembourg, and Hong Kong as among the list of places that were enforcing the ban and freezing the group’s assets.

According to the U.S. government, the Pakistani and Afghani branches of the RIHS were run by some real bad apples – or "bad actors," as O’Neill called them – among whom were one Abd al-Mushin al-Libi and Abu Bakr al-Jaziri, "formerly bin Laden’s chief fundraiser."

Based in Peshawar, the latter was serving as the finance chief of the Afghan Support Committee, an Islamic charity connected with al-Qaeda. Al-Libi had been running the Pakistan office of the RIHS while also managing the Afghan Support Committee's office in Peshawar. Stated O'Neill, these groups had been "stealing from widows and orphans to fund al-Qaeda terrorism."

The RIHS staffers in Kuwait are less well known, but even involve enthusiastic female converts from the West. At some point between 2002 and 2004, it seems, the Kuwait headquarters was also blacklisted, as is stated in this Oct. 19, 2004 report from O’Neill’s replacement, John Snow. But this remains somewhat of a mystery, as nothing else has been said about why or how the blacklisting came about. After all, in January 2002, O’Neill had specifically said that there was no evidence that the Kuwait RIHS was aware of the money movements of their Afghan and Pakistani branches. So what happened thereafter? Did evidence present itself? The situation remains murky.

Aside from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the RIHS has been active in other countries, most notably working with Chechen émigré jihadis in Azerbaijan and with indigenous terrorist groups in Bangladesh, in both cases intending to establish a strictly Islamic government through violent upheaval. When the pattern established by these activities is revealed in its full dimensions, the allegations made by investigators such as Tom Gambill regarding the threat to the Balkans acquire a new urgency. We will consider some examples now that illustrate the RIHS’ three-stage strategy for effecting change: securing a presence, fomenting dissent, and finally, engaging in spectacular terrorist attacks to set the stage for an Islamic revolution.

Stage 1: Securing a Presence, Albania

On June 28, 1998, while war was raging between the Yugoslav army and the Albanian paramilitary KLA in Kosovo, two Egyptians were arrested for running a terrorist training camp in the central Albanian town of Elbasan. They had been quietly recruiting young men from the north of the country for the campaign against the Serbs. Citing the Albanian ShIK intelligence service, the linked report claimed that the pair (Maget Mustafa and Muhamed Houda) were seeking "to give a powerful religious character" to the nascent Kosovo war that would end with NATO bombing the following spring.

According to the article, the Egyptians had been active at Elbasan’s el-Hagri Theological Institute. Suspicions of Salafi fundamentalists in the midst had arisen locally "following the arrival of Sudani and Pakistani people" four years earlier.

Indeed, while "rumors" had already been circulating locally regarding the real interests of the detained Egyptians, "their declared activity was of the humanitarian character to help poor families … [they] held posts in [the] 'Revival of Islamic Heritage’ association operating in Albania."

It is well known that Osama bin Laden sought to break in to post-Communist Albania in 1994 by offering humanitarian assistance through Islamic charities to the impoverished nation. Of course, this was merely a front for importing Islamic radicals and terrorists. Some seemed to have been reporting to Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad since 1991, and later bin Laden’s right-hand man. In a short report of June 2, 2004, the U.S. Treasury claimed that Osama bin Laden himself founded al-Haramain in Albania, and that "in 1998, the head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad in Albania was reportedly also a financial official for AHF in Albania."

Finally, "in late 2000, a close associate of a UBL operative moved to Albania and was running an unnamed AHF subsidiary." Which "subsidiary" could it have been?

While this question is not answered in this fascinating July 2005 article from the Chicago Tribune on the CIA’s rather lavish 2003 kidnapping of Egyptian-born Imam Abu Omar in Italy, it does clarify the Egyptian connection with the RIHS in Albania.

Several years before turning into an anti-American firebrand in late 2001, Abu Omar had been a valuable informant in Albania for the ShIK and thus, ultimately, the CIA. The article recounts that on Aug. 27, 1995, the then-unknown Abu Omar was taken in for questioning by the Albanian authorities, together with several known members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and another Egyptian terrorist group, the Jamaat al-Islamiya. The ShIK had received a tip from the CIA that this group was planning to assassinate the visiting Egyptian foreign minister, Amr Moussa. In fact, only two months earlier, Jamaat al-Islamiya had tried to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. So given the circumstances, the CIA’s concerns were understandable.

Under questioning, Abu Omar admitted having fled Egypt "because he belonged to Jamaat al-Islamiya." But he denied any assassination plot, since "such a move would have cost Jamaat its [safe] haven. … Abu Omar told the ShIK agents that, for Jamaat members like him, Albania was a 'safe hotel’ – a country where fundamentalist Muslims believed they could live without fear of political repression."

At the same time, Omar claimed that the Egyptian terrorist group "had about 10 people working for three Islamic charities in Albania, including al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society."

Although Abu Omar vanished mysteriously weeks later, only to resurface in Italy as a radical, he didn’t sever his ties to foreign terrorist groups based in Albania. Indeed, as a conversation of June 6, 2002 taped by the Italian police makes clear, he was very much aware of ongoing operations. The Chicago Tribune article transcribes the relevant fragment:

"[A]bu Omar is overheard speaking with an unidentified South African man who seems to be talking about car bombs.

"'Who has made them?’ Abu Omar asks. 'Who? Who?’

"'One of the Palestinian brothers,’ replies the South African.

"’The Palestinian?’ Abu Omar asks.

"'Yes,’ the man answers. 'The one who is called the machine … the one who is in Albania.’"

This is interesting, because there is scant information regarding current activities of the RIHS and similar groups in Albania. They seem to have dropped off the radar. But it is notable that the branch has not been put on the U.S. blacklist, as were the Afghan and Pakistani branches. Why? Have their activities been suspended, voluntarily or involuntarily? Or has the U.S. been treading lightly in the country for some reason? There is simply no way of knowing.

Essentially, however, what is important to note here is the RIHS’ attested means of infiltration and clandestine operations, which are incontestably displayed in the Abu Omar case and other events discussed above.

Stage 2: Transforming the State, Azerbaijan

With its substantial oil and gas deposits and headship of the new Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Azerbaijan is a strategically vital country to the United States – as well as to Islamist "reformers" such as the RIHS. The proximity of this Caucasus country to trouble spots like Chechnya, Dagestan, and Nagorno-Karabakh, not to mention its key relationships with neighbors such as Turkey and Iran, have led American policymakers to watch developments in the country closely. But have they been missing something?

A compelling July 2005 article from the Jamestown Foundation recounts the post-USSR arrival of Salafi missionaries in Azerbaijan, a phenomenon that accelerated with the first war in Chechnya in 1994. In fact, the first Salafi missionaries arrived directly from this bitterly contested war zone: "the majority of them came from Chechnya and Dagestan where the Salafis had some influence, in large measure due to the Russian-Chechen wars."

A few years later, however, "missionaries from the Persian Gulf countries dramatically increased their activities in Azerbaijan." According to the article, the current number of Salafi worshippers in Baku alone numbers around 15,000, despite there having been no tradition of this Saudi form of Islam before. This worries the Azeri government, and perhaps with good reason: "alarmingly for the Azeri establishment, Salafis do not make a secret of their aspirations to acquire political power in Azerbaijan."

Considering that some 65-70 percent of Azeris are Shi'ite Muslims, the inroads Salafis are making also concerns neighboring Iran, the perceived "archrival" of this Sunni Arab movement. This factor leads the author to speculate that if the proselytizers make problems for the Shi'ite majority, it could "provoke some form of Iranian intervention," and that ultimately, "the proliferation of Salafi ideas among religious and ethnic minorities could create powerful centrifugal forces that will in due course threaten the national unity of Azerbaijan."

Interestingly enough, the RIHS has been a key player in promoting the ideas that could lead to such a destabilization. So why hasn’t the U.S. blacklisted it here, as it did in Afghanistan and Pakistan? States the article:

"[B]y 2003, 65 new Salafi-controlled mosques had been established in Azerbaijan. One of the largest Salafi mosques in the country is the Abu Bakr mosque. Built in 1997 in Baku by the Azeri branch of the Kuwaiti society Revival of Islamic Heritage, Abu Bakr became one of the most successful mosques in Azerbaijan.

"While on average the Shi’a or Sunni mosques are able to attract approximately 300 people for Friday prayers, the number of people visiting the Abu Bakr mosque typically reaches 5,000 to 7,000 people. [2] The Imam of the Abu Bakr mosque is Gammet Suleymanov, a graduate of the World Islamic University of Medina that is a leading center for the study and export of Salafism."

According to the article, a spring 2001 trial of aspiring mujahedin for the Chechnya campaign led to the summoning of Suleymanov, since the accused had been "frequent visitors" to his mosque and had in fact been recruited there by Chechen leaders. In another trial, Suleymanov’s Abu Bakr mosque was also singled out as a refuge for members of the Pan-Islamic Hizb-ut Tahrir organization. Finally, in May 2002, deputy minister of national security Tofiq Babayev attested that

"[A] number of Arab countries were interested in spreading radical Wahhabism in Azerbaijan. According to Babayev, over 300 Azeris had been trained in Wahhabi centers in Dagestan. The deputy minister identified three stages in the effort to make Wahhabism a grassroots movement in Azerbaijan. First there is the spread of Wahhabi literature and the provision of financial assistance to potential activists. The second stage involves the efficient training of the activists, and the final stage deals with the mobilization of active members for acts of terrorism designed to destabilize the state. [5]"

All things considered, it seems surprising that the U.S. apparently hasn’t moved to shut down the RIHS branch in Azerbaijan. As the above testimony implies, things could eventually progress to the point where national stability becomes a real concern; the third stage of the extremist plan could then unfold.

Stage 3: Destabilization Through Terror, Bangladesh

On Aug. 17, a coordinated bombing campaign was conducted in 63 out of 64 districts of Bangladesh. Almost 500 small but nearly simultaneous explosions killed three and injured at least 150. The attacks were meant to be a show of force, to intimidate rather than kill – and to show the country what the terrorists were capable of doing.

Last week, the government charged that the main suspect in the attacks – local terrorist group, Jama'atul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) – had been heavily funded and assisted by the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, along with a mysterious imam from the UK and several other organizations and front groups.

These groups had illegally employed foreign Islamists visiting Bangladesh on tourist visas, as well as several veterans of the notorious al-Haramain, reported the New Kerala on Sept. 8. Thus, while it likes to present itself as having shattered the terrorist-supporting Islamist charities, the Bush administration has merely scattered them. They can and do easily regroup, under different umbrella groups and names.

With the pressure on following the ensuing police crackdown, the RIHS sought to lower its profile drastically. According to the article, "the Heritage Society's front organization, the Higher Islamic Education Institute, in the capital was closed down last week. It has started trimming manpower in other affiliated institutions as part of the wrapping-up process."

Only four days after the explosions, a high official of the RIHS from Kuwait, Abdul Aziz Khalaf Malullah, cut short his month-long visit and left Bangladesh. What really raises eyebrows about this sudden departure was the fact that Malullah had apparently planned his trip "with the express mission to ensure continuation of the RIHS activities in the country," according to South Asian Media Net on Aug. 22. But since the Kuwaiti had arrived just days before the blasts, was he not probably aware that they would take place – and thus necessitate the immediate presence of someone to lobby the government on the group’s behalf? And especially considering that the preparations for the complex series of bombings began way back in April, and required much coordination with the RIHS?

In any case, Malullah "failed to manage a positive response from the government," and left on Aug. 21. He is one of the only officials of the RIHS known by name.

The RIHS, however, could not hog all the limelight. The New Kerala article adds that "more than 100 foreigners … from different Middle East and African countries" had been illegally employed in nine other Islamic charities as well. In addition, four charity officials suspected of terrorist involvement had been among the 14 who worked for al-Haramain, but who left the country when the group was banned in 2004. However, they "returned several months later and joined the Heritage Society [RIHS] without the knowledge of intelligence agencies."

Further, local investigators following the money trail have arrived at the RIHS’ door, says the article:

"[A]n intelligence report recently submitted to the government said that the Kuwait-based organization used to channel funds for [extremist group] Ahle Hadith Andolon's leader, Asadullah al-Ghalib, also a university professor, who was arrested last February for exploding bombs at NGOs' offices and cultural functions in the northern part of the country.

"Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh, blamed for the Aug. 17 chain of bomb blasts, has been getting foreign funds for its militant activities through Ghalib."

And, according to the Asia News Network on Sept. 3, "Bangladesh intelligence agencies have recently recommended banning RIHS for financing Islamist militants in the country … claiming that it seems to be more concerned with promoting militancy rather than protecting Islamic heritage, said an intelligence source."

According to the report, the RIHS had provided funds to two related organizations, the Tawhid Trust and the Hadith Foundation, both of which had been "founded by militant kingpin Asadullah al-Galib."

In a follow-up article which sought to explain the problem of Islamic extremism in Bangladesh, the Christian Science Monitor reported that the Bangladeshi government "is working with the country's banks to identify suspicious accounts and transactions, some possibly originating abroad. 'They've received monetary help from Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Pakistan,’ says a retired police investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 'They first started in 1989 during the Afghan war.'"

This apparent show of diligence is no doubt meant to keep one optimistic regarding the ability of international police to freeze accounts and put terrorists in the poorhouse. However, as another recent article which discusses huge foreign funding for Bangladesh’s 34 registered Islamic NGOs makes clear, we shouldn’t deceive ourselves:

"[T]his money has no official records as it does not come through official channels. The persons concerned themselves carry the money or send it through unofficial channels like hundi. Some exporters and importers in Dhaka and Chittagong also help transferring the money. The foreign funds that are channeled through businessmen mainly come via Bangkok and Singapore, the sources pointed out.

"This is one of the major sources of funds for the local Islamic NGOs and Qawmi madrassas which do not have government recognition. The income and expenditure of these madrassas are not accounted for properly as they are not accountable to any government body."

That said, the CSM does point out how the fundamentalists have used a well-rehearsed plan – exploiting social and economic crises – to gain influence, as was specified in the beginning of this article as being a major strategy:

"[I]slamist militant groups have taken firm root here, demonstrating a widespread, highly coordinated, and well-funded network … homegrown militancy, invigorated by foreign funds and leadership radicalized in Afghanistan, has flourished here because of growing economic inequalities and acrimonious politics that have crippled the functioning of democracy."

Outlook India cited an intelligence source as claiming the "JMB militants through Galib have utilized the facilities of some 700 mosques built across the country by the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS)." The CSM report states that altogether the RIHS has funded 1,000 mosques in Bangladesh, as well as 10 new madrassas.

Finally, as retired Brigadier General Shahed Anam Khan told the paper, "the organization behind Aug. 17 was extremely sophisticated and networked. It's clear that at least 500 people were used to place the bombs; their strategy was classic – send in men who don't know the core group which had planned and assembled the bombs. This is something which we never encountered in the past."

A Shocking Disinterest

Taken cumulatively, shouldn’t all of the dubious partnerships and destructive activities of the RIHS have set off alarm bells for international authorities in Kosovo, where the charity’s presence was evidenced long ago? According to Tom Gambill, even when confronted with proof of the RHIS’ existence in the occupied province, UN and American officials alike seemed rather unimpressed.

While there were some "motivated" American security officials who "wanted a piece of the action," says Gambill, "they were held back in some cases by orders from those higher up in the pecking order. This was much to the disgruntlement of the lower echelons – lieutenants, captains, some majors … the same thing with the CivPol [UN Police]."

However, he adds, the authorities in Kosovo were generally indifferent to the RIHS’ presence and what it could mean for the future. When Gambill raised the issue at another Camp Bondsteel meeting, showing photographic proof and citing the UN Mandate outlawing the group, he got a somewhat "peeved" reaction from the FBI’s representative in Kosovo: "It seemed like he knew nothing [about the group] – go figure!"

Naysayers and Defenders in the UN and US Military

Yet the aspiring whistleblower was not just a nuisance; through his arguments and frequent e-mails to UNMIK and U.S. security officials in Kosovo, he was rocking the boat – essentially, the last thing the "I’m OK, you’re OK" international administration wanted to see happen. And this led certain individuals to get flustered unduly. States Gambill:

"In another case, I was verbally attacked via e-mail by an American major. … He said that I was not qualified to make comments, and that neither my information nor comments were accurate. However, the comments he was making were erroneous … and completely unwarranted. After forwarding his comments to my point of contact on the American base, he (another major) was taken back at this kind of behavior.

"Later, in early 2003, one member, an American assigned to the OSCE who was on my e-mail list, complained to my Division Head that I was sending out information contained in OSCE classified reports, which was incorrect. I got my information from non-classified sources and correctly triangulated my information before writing anything and distributing. In other words, I always obtained the same information from at least three different sources that were unrelated but consistent. This then qualified as reliable information. I also used a disclaimer, just in case. So his complaint was inaccurate and made for personal reasons, as I learned after I confronted my manager about the report and source."

But the biggest group of naysayers was not made up of hotheads, but rather cynics who, Gambill claims, claimed to be experts – though they visited Kosovo only once or twice a year:

"The ones who did not believe my reports were many internationals who argued that these things [Salafi penetration, etc.] didn't occur in Bosnia, and that therefore the Islamic fundamentalists were not a threat. They claimed that there were no organized efforts on the part of the Islamic fundamentalists and that the [Albanian] rebel groups causing trouble were not a significant concern. That line came from many of the US military commanders who came through the region once every six months. There was no continuity in the passing of intelligence from one unit to another – ever."

But all reactions were not hostile, says Gambill. Other security officials more keen on fighting the "war on terror" were impressed by his tenacity and commitment to rooting out hostile elements. He recounts:

"In several meetings of the combined group (U.S. military, UN, and CivPol), just as many commended me for the information that I brought to the table. I was told that my sources and reports were 90 percent accurate and were appreciated. In one case, a commander came to me after a meeting and commended me on my participation in all his meetings and gave me a unit coin for my contributions. It was done quietly, of course."

In fact, certain of the security officers who appreciated Gambill’s input in turn provided him with further "accurate reports and bits of info that helped to substantiate the info that I was putting out."

RIHS in Kosovo: The Proof

Tom Gambill admits that having left Kosovo over a year ago, he can’t state with certainty what is happening there now on a day-to-day basis. However, he does provide compelling evidence that proves the UN authorities in Kosovo, through mid-2004 at least, were tolerating the presence of an Islamic group (the RIHS) that had been banned elsewhere a year and a half earlier.

To buttress his claim, Gambill presents two internal UNMIK police documents and a photo that attest to a RIHS presence in Kosovo – and that disclose the same activity patterns demonstrated by the group in the countries discussed above.

"In one security meeting at [U.S. military base Camp] Bondsteel," recounts Gambill, "a sympathetic American [agency deleted] officer slipped me a photo of their vehicles, with 'RHIS/P’ spray-painted on the side in big bold black letters and parked on the street in Malishevo [near the southwestern town of Prizren]. They ran around freely; this picture was taken in 2003 or early 2004."

As for the documents, the first (dated July 26, 2003) covers this incident in Malishevo. UNMIK police there observed a white Toyota with Tirana registration and the name RHIS/P printed along the side panel. The vehicle was parked in the town for two hours, but when its occupants returned, the police stopped them and learned that the driver was a Kosovo Albanian, and the passenger, a Kuwaiti.

Both had UNMIK ID cards; the car was registered to a Tirana-based NGO. When questioned, the pair stated that they were employees of the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society:

"[A]ccording to them this is a humanitarian organization and they have representative offices in many cities in Kosovo and they visited an Islamic office in Malishevo. The purpose of this organization is to take care [of] orphans in Kosovo."

This is a very interesting admission because, if true, it reaffirms the RIHS’ time-honored preliminary tactic of "educating" the youth. And indeed, what easier youth are there to educate than those without parents? Such activities have already been used by (secular enough) Kosovo Albanians in creating "front lines" protesters who can be easily indoctrinated toward a militant "liberation" cause. Numerous sources in Kosovo stated last year that a special group of war orphans, whose families had been killed in the 1999 war, were cynically being located at the front at various protests (including the early stages of the March 2004 riots), specifically because of the bad PR that would be generated were children to be harmed or killed by UN police.

The other major strategy employed by RIHS during stage one – mosque-building – is attested in the second document shared by Gambill. In an "assessment" report of Sept. 20, 2003, also from the Malishevo UN police, it is stated that another RIHS vehicle (this one a Kosovo-registered, dark green Opel Frontera) had been spotted twice in the nearby town of Orahovac, driven by a bearded Arab. More importantly, the police report states that the RIHS had "asked" an Emirates-based NGO, Human Appeal International, to fund and build a mosque in the town – "the third mosque they [HAI] have constructed in Kosovo." The HAI, it turns out, is also heavily involved with orphan services in countries including Kosovo.

This tactic of keeping beneath the radar by working indirectly through an Islamic NGO (so far) untainted by terrorist links shows that the RIHS is prepared to work slowly and in stages to attain its key goal of increasing the Salafi head count in Kosovo. It is frequently declared by Kosovo Albanian leaders and KLA war veterans that theirs is a secular, pro-Western society that can never fall under the influence of foreign Islamists, and that the KLA has always refused their help. While this is no doubt true for a large section of the former KLA, the splintering of the organization that began after the war has led different factions to explore new partnerships. Thus, adds Gambill, "right now, I have evidence from good sources who are reporting that a branch of the AKSH [an Albanian nationalist militant group] has hooked up with the fundies [Islamic fundamentalists] in the southern tip of Kosovo, the Dragash area between Albania and Macedonia."

Moreover, leaving this argument aside for the moment, we should also remember that terrorists never require a majority to operate in any given country; indeed, it would be almost antithetical to their purposes. In the absence of a majority population sympathetic to their cause, all that groups like the RIHS need is a place to take cover while they quietly plan – a "safe hotel," as Abu Omar memorably dubbed Albania back in 1995.


This vehicle, belonging to the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, was monitored by UN police in Kosovo.

The Balkan Black Hole – and Beyond

Unfortunately, Albania remains such a place today, as do Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Riddled with Islamist sympathizers, Bosnia is the most amenable of the four, a place where "fitting in" is not difficult (especially in the Zenica area). In Kosovo, the UN’s fear and feebleness, as well as its intelligence shortcomings, have made it impossible to really crack down on groups that are transient, resilient, and well-funded. And in the last, poor Macedonia, the complete lack of a government agency or even individual to regulate the activities and finances of the NGO sector makes the motives and finances of suspicious charities almost impossible to ascertain, while the preponderance of heavily guarded militant villages make it very dangerous for police to investigate what’s going on in local Islamic communities and isolated mountains.

Of course, as Tom Gambill concedes, "It’s always true that more [counter-terrorist investigative work] might be going on behind the scenes than we know about." The U.S. and its allies might simply be playing a waiting game with the Islamists, or working with a very select staff, or both.

Nevertheless, real concerns remain. Indeed, given the absence of any visible proactive and public governmental actions when it comes to cracking down on groups like the RIHS (and not only in the Balkans) how can one not conclude that the U.S. and its allies are demonstrating a dangerous negligence in the face of a clearly demonstrated threat to Western security?

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  • Meddling With the
    Status Quo in Turkey
    6/9/2006

  • Tactics for More
    Balkan Mischief
    5/13/2006

  • Empire Breeds the Emperor
    5/8/2006

  • Inside the International Terror Market
    4/17/2006

  • Networks, Terrorism, and Global Insurgency
    4/5/2006

  • The Rule of Lawlessness in Kosovo
    4/3/2006

  • Bitter Ironies of the Dubai Ports World Fiasco
    3/11/2006

  • Kosovo: Wiping the Slate Clean for Some Dirty Work Ahead
    2/1/2006

  • Stacking the Deck to Save the Administration
    1/4/2006

  • Cheney at the Alamo
    12/7/2005

  • Lesser Neocons of L'Affaire Plame
    11/24/2005

  • Plame, Pakistan, a Nuclear Turkey, and the Neocons
    11/21/2005

  • Spinning Like a Broken Record
    11/14/2005

  • Pathologies, Perjuries, and Policies of the War Party
    11/7/2005

  • The War Party Is Down, but for How Long?
    11/1/2005

  • The UN's Last Winter in Kosovo
    10/25/2005

  • America's Inheritance in the Caucasus
    9/24/2005

  • Has the UN Let a Blacklisted Islamic Charity Roam Free in Kosovo?
    9/15/2005

  • The Disastrous Proof of a Failed Foreign Policy: The Specter of New Orleans
    9/2/2005

  • 'The Stakes Are Too High for Us to Stop Fighting Now'
    8/15/2005

  • Revolution Industry, Phase 2: Ukraine's Summer of Discontent
    8/12/2005

  • How Foreign Lobbies Imperil America
    8/10/2005

  • Europe's New Terror Profile and the State of Play in the Balkans
    8/8/2005

  • Requiem for the Unreal Real World
    8/1/2005

  • Kosovo, 1999: An Insider's View
    6/17/2005

  • Seven Sheet Cakes and Three Cheese Displays
    4/21/2005

  • An Improbable War and Turkey's New Opportunities
    3/29/2005

  • The "CNN Factor" and Kosovo
    3/11/2005

  • 'The Forces of Freedom' vs. 10 Million Martyrs
    2/4/2005

  • An Inside Look at Covert Ops
    1/13/2005

  • Europe Retreats From America's Quagmire
    1/10/2005

  • The Forgotten Turkmen of Iraq
    12/20/2004

  • The Referendum: Macedonia's Failed, Fatal Opportunity
    11/13/2004

  • Georgia: A Meltdown of Weapons, or of Responsibility?
    10/29/2004

  • Another Side of the Georgian-Russian Conflict
    10/28/2004

  • Tales From the Titan's Mouth
    10/15/2004

  • West Africa: Where the Empire Will Come to Ruin
    9/27/2004

  • Kidnapped by Ansar Al-Islam: How Scott Taylor Survived and Was Saved in Iraq
    9/18/2004

  • Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death
    7/30/2004

  • An Interview with Sibel Edmonds
    7/1/2004

  • What a Kerry Regime Would Mean for the Balkans
    6/9/2004

  • Opening Pandora's Box in Iraq? Behind America's Dubious Private Alliances
    5/27/2004

  • A Pointless Quest: Bush's Mission to Europe
    5/15/2004

  • Live by the Spin, Die by the Spin
    5/10/2004

  • Immigrant Slayings, Political Liquidations: Business as Usual in Macedonia
    5/6/2004

  • May Day, May Day! Team Bush Looks to Bail, but Where Are the Parachutes?
    5/1/2004

  • Iraq's Other Battlefields
    4/29/2004

  • Western Meddling in Cyprus: Unwanted Interventionism, Ominous Implications
    4/23/2004

  • Iraq Unravels: an Interview with Scott Taylor
    4/19/2004

  • The Internationals and the Mobs: Kosovo's Moment of Truth
    4/15/2004

  • An Uncertain Future for the Serbian Refugees of Kosovo
    4/7/2004

  • If Clarke Is Right, Bush Must Go
    3/25/2004

  • Open-Ended Interventions and American Limitations: Kosovo, Iraq, and Beyond
    3/23/2004
  • Thomas Gale Moore is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in economics and has taught at Carnegie Institution of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), Michigan State University, UCLA, and in the Stanford Business School. He has written numerous peer-reviewed economic articles and several books.

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