Magazine article The Spectator

How We Trained Al-Qa'eda

Magazine article The Spectator

How We Trained Al-Qa'eda

Article excerpt

For all the millions of words written about al-Qa'eda since the 9/11 attacks two years ago, one phenomenon is consistently overlooked - the role of the Bosnian war in transforming the mujahedin of the 1980s into the roving Islamic terrorists of today.

Many writers and reporters have traced al-Qa'eda and other terror groups' origins back to the Afghan war of 1979-1992, that last gasp of the Cold War when US-backed mujahedin forces fought against the invading Soviet army. It is well documented that America played a major role in creating and sustaining the mujahedin, which included Osama bin Laden's Office of Services set up to recruit volunteers from overseas. Between 1985 and 1992, US officials estimate that 12,500 foreign fighters were trained in bomb-making, sabotage and guerrilla warfare tactics in Afghan camps that the CIA helped to set up.

Yet America's role in backing the mujahedin a second time in the early and mid-1990s is seldom mentioned - largely because very few people know about it, and those who do find it prudent to pretend that it never happened. Following the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 and the collapse of their puppet regime in 1992, the Afghan mujahedin became less important to the United States; many Arabs, in the words of the journalist James Buchan, were left stranded in Afghanistan 'with a taste for fighting but no cause'. It was not long before some were provided with a new cause. From 1992 to 1995, the Pentagon assisted with the movement of thousands of mujahedin and other Islamic elements from Central Asia into Europe, to fight alongside Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs.

The Bosnia venture appears to have been very important to the rise of mujahedin forces, to the emergence of today's cross-border Islamic terrorists who think nothing of moving from state to state in the search of outlets for their jihadist mission. In moving to Bosnia, Islamic fighters were transported from the ghettos of Afghanistan and the Middle East into Europe; from an outdated battleground of the Cold War to the major world conflict of the day; from being yesterday's men to fighting alongside the West's favoured side in the clash of the Balkans. If Western intervention in Afghanistan created the mujahedin, Western intervention in Bosnia appears to have globalised it.

As part of the Dutch government's inquiry into the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995, Professor Cees Wiebes of Amsterdam University compiled a report entitled 'Intelligence and the War in Bosnia', published in April 2002. In it he details the secret alliance between the Pentagon and radical Islamic groups from the Middle East, and their efforts to assist Bosnia's Muslims. By 1993, there was a vast amount of weapons-smuggling through Croatia to the Muslims, organised by 'clandestine agencies' of the USA, Turkey and Iran, in association with a range of Islamic groups that included Afghan mujahedin and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah. Arms bought by Iran and Turkey with the financial backing of Saudi Arabia were airlifted from the Middle East to Bosnia - airlifts with which, Wiebes points out, the USA was Very closely involved'.

The Pentagon's secret alliance with Islamic elements allowed mujahedin fighters to be 'flown in', though they were initially reserved as shock troops for particularly hazardous operations against Serb forces. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times in October 2001, from 1992 as many as 4,000 volunteers from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, 'known as the mujahedin', arrived in Bosnia to fight with the Muslims. Richard Holbrooke, America's former chief Balkans peace negotiator, has said that the Bosnian Muslims 'wouldn't have survived' without the help of the mujahedin, though he later admitted that the arrival of the mujahedin was a 'pact with the devil' from which Bosnia is still recovering. …

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