11 May 2012
A protest near Skopje last week brought the problems associated with the regional spread of Wahabbism to the surface. About 3,000 radical Islamists protested on Friday (May 4th), demanding the release of the suspected killers of the five Macedonians.
The protest began after the Friday prayer in the Jaja Pasha Mosque, and ended up in front of the offices of the government and the courts. The crowd -- shoting slogans such as "UCK," "See you in the mountains" and "Greater Albania" -- threw rocks at police and at the offices of Skopje's Chair municipality whose mayor, Izet Medziti, belongs to the ruling Albanian party Democratic Union for Integration (DUI).
"Clearly they do not want co-existence -- their slogans betray the goal to misuse Islam to create an ethnically pure state, which means conflict in the region. Slogans in support of the Democratic Party of Albanians also betray the involvement of some political parties to benefit from such an abuse of religion," Ivan Babanovski, a former security studies professor, told SETimes.
The Islamists are now organising on social networks like Facebook in many cities throughout Macedonia.
Shukri Alia, blacklisted by the EU and sought by the Macedonian police for murder and armed attacks on two Skopje police stations, is leading the efforts to organise new protests. Police said they believe he is hiding in Kosovo.
Kosovo Internal Affairs Minister Bajram Redzepi said if it is ascertained that any of the murder suspects are hiding there, they will be arrested.
"That is based on the police co-operation protocol signed between the two countries. The two police forces will co-operate to uncover the case," Redzepi said.
But Kosovo Parliament Speaker Jakup Krasniqi asked all Albanians in the region to jointly provide a political response to the latest arrests of Albanians in Macedonia and Serbia. He issued a warning to the neighbouring states: be careful how they treat Albanians because their position not what is was in the past.
"Some people can not take the progress of the Albanians' position and keep the region under tension," Krasniqi said.
Analysts and the Macedonian public, however, are unanimous in thinking the Islamists' protests are intended to destabilise Macedonia prior to the NATO summit in Chicago later this month.
"We call on the Albanian political leaders to more forcefully renounce the Islamic protests against Macedonians. [As long as] the illegal Greek veto for Macedonia's NATO membership continues, there is deep concern that the Islamic terrorists in Macedonia will try to destabilise the country by trying to cause a war," Meto Koloski, president of the United Macedonian Diaspora, said.
Acting preventively now is key, according to Frosina Remenski, a security studies professor. But prevention necessitates even greater co-operation among regional states outside petty politics, as well as among security services.
"Harmonising legislation among all regional countries and joint preventive anti-terrorist activities in tandem with existing anti-crisis economic policies will greatly reduce the possibility for many individuals to join the radical Islamists' cause," Remenski told SETimes.
Some analysts in the region now worry of renewed attempts to forcefully secede western Macedonia.
"There are paramilitary groups whose final goal is to start a civil war and then internationalise the crisis so that the international community will take their side," Yoanis Mikaletos, director of the World Security Network for Southeast Europe, told local media.
According to security experts, there are an estimated 5,000 battle hardened radical Islamists from the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo and Macedoniа.
Dzevad Galijasevic, a member of the Southeast Europe Expert Team for the Fight against Terrorism and Organised Crime, said the number of Wahabbis followers is far greater, and they are a threat to regional peace also from a different angle.
"First, they try to create panic, then an inter-ethnic conflict, and the creation of the 'Green diagonal' [connected territories in the region under their control] which [get] support from powerful Islamic countries," Galijasevic said.
"What they did in Macedonia can happen at any moment here [in BiH]. That means opening of a second trouble spot in the Balkans, and killing unprotected civilians is a means by which they act. The potential culprit is hiding in a mass of 100,000 Wahabbis in BiH," Galijasevic said.
"Given that the Wahabbis are an organised structure in BiH and Macedonia, they should be outlawed," he added.
Galijasevic further argued that regional countries should cut off the Wahabbis' financial channels, and arrest the leaders and most prominent members who espouse violence.
"Traditional, moderate Islam is most acceptable to Albanians. The other more radical forms are not part of their religious traditions. Given that in the past years there have been great positive changes in the Albanians’ democratic understanding, I do not expect mass acceptance of that religious ideology," Rizvan Sulejmani, professor at the State University of Tetovo, told SETimes.