Al-Qaeda's Links in the Balkans; Macedonian Officials Contend the Bush Administration Largely Is Ignoring Intelligence Information That Has Connected Al-Qaeda Elements to Albanian Separatists. (World: War on Terror)

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Since Sept. 11 the U.S. intelligence services have been working hard to uncover links between Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network and other Islamic groups throughout the world. And the Bush administration has not been slow to advertise connections once discovered or to demand cooperation from local authorities in order to disrupt the links.

According to President George W. Bush, the war on terror should be seamless and Washington expects all countries to assist in fighting the scourge of terrorism. In return, Bush has promised the United States will "support and reward governments" that, in his words, "make the right choices."

But when it comes to Kosovo and Macedonia the seamless approach appears to be at risk of unraveling. The Balkans is one area where the United States apparently would prefer to step lightly for fear of upsetting the tenuous peace. U.S. and NATO intervention was required to establish--and now to enforce--that peace in the republics of the former Yugoslavia.

Or so claim Macedonian officials, who argue they are not receiving the rewards they deserve. They maintain that the United States and the European Union (EU) were wrong to push for concessions to be granted last year to ethnic Albanians and their guerrilla army, which mainly is composed of fighters from the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

The Macedonians say the Bush administration has shown little interest in pursuing links they have uncovered between al-Qaeda and groups allied with Albanian separatists, who continue to foment trouble in northern Macedonia with frequent incursions from neighboring Kosovo. Macedonian intelligence has been in regular contact with the CIA and the FBI. Both have been supplied with details of the al-Qaeda relationship with militant Albanian nationalist groups in neighboring Kosovo, which is under U.N. protection, and Macedonia, which was spared a civil war last year following NATO brokering a peace agreement between the majority Macedonians and minority ethnic Albanians.

Intertwined Albanian groups in the region, most of them closely aligned with organized-crime syndicates, have as their objective the carving out of what they call "Greater Albania"--an area that includes 90,000 square kilometers (36,000 square miles) of Kosovo, Greece, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro.

In the spring, Macedonian officials provided U.S. National Security Council (NSC) aides with a 79-page report on al-Qaeda activity in the area. The report, which was compiled by Macedonia's Ministry of the Interior, lists the names of al-Qaeda-linked fighters and outlines the roles of two units, one numbering 120 and the other 250, in northern Macedonia.

The Macedonians say the units are based in the Kumanovo-Lipkovo region of their country. As well as being composed of Macedonian and Kosovar Albanians, they say the units also number fighters from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan and Chechnya, some of whom were trained in al-Qaeda-run camps in Afghanistan. The Macedonians seized a video made by one of the so-called "mujahideen," a Turk named Ramzi Adem, showing the activities of the foreign fighters. The 120-man unit is led by Selimi Ferit, an Albanian born in the Macedonian capital of Skopje.

Macedonian sources say the presence of dozens of al-Qaeda fighters in the region should be viewed with alarm by Washington and the EU. Private security experts concur that they could pose a threat to U.S. and NATO forces stationed in Kosovo and Macedonia and even in Bosnia, where Afghan veterans are believed to have sought safe haven.

Copies of the Macedonian report, which was leaked to INSIGHT, also were supplied to the FBI and the CIA. "Officials at the NSC and CIA were polite and received the information with thanks, but little else has happened," says a Macedonian official who requested anonymity. …


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