By Ivana Jovanovic, Muhamet Brajshori and Paul Ciocoiu
Religious leaders and analysts are discounting the recent statements of Omar Bakri Muhammad, a radical Islamist based in Lebanon, who claims that the Western Balkans are Islamic lands and a target for future terrorist attacks.
“I do not know who is Omar Bakri, but I see that he is restless man who lost his British visa and citizenship. His antics are just duds that are not worthy of comment,” Serbian Mufti Muhammed Jusufspahic told SETimes.
Bakri who spent 20 years running the al-Muhajiroun radical Islamist group from north London before moving to Lebanon in 2005, made the statements to the Bulgarian newspaper 24 Chasa (24 Hours).
“When Islam enters a territory, it becomes Islamic, therefore Islam is under obligation to eventually liberate it,” Bakri told the newspaper in an interview published October 4th. “Spain, for instance, is a Muslim territory. Eastern Europe, as well. Romania, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia … due to its decision to send troops to Afghanistan and Iraq and its military co-operation with Israel, Bulgaria is also a legitimate target.”
Bakri, who is banned from the UK, is considered to have strong ties with Al-Qaeda.
Professor Dragan Simeunovic, a terrorist specialist at the Belgrade Faculty of Political Science, said that although some Islamic leaders and extremists are prone to threats, their appeals are usually unrealised.
Although Islamic leaders have been threatening Balkan countries for the past 20 years, Bakris’ statement could be an indicator of a renewal of the Islamic extremist interest in the Balkan countries that were part of Turkish imperia, Simeunovic told SETimes.
He said that the threat is not an announcement of immediate danger, but could be a strategic shift towards these and other European countries.
“It can also be a trigger for the immediate action of Islamic extremists, living in, or originating from some Balkan countries,” he said.
For some citizens of BiH, such statements provide proof of radical Islam.
“Honestly, I’m scared. If you take a look, mosques have been growing through Bosnia while there are less churches, although there are Catholics, Orthodox and others,” Milan Mijailovic, a driver from Bosanski Novi, told SETimes.
Aleksandra Stankovic, 32-year-old Nis high school professor, said the things that Bakris threatens could be dangerous, but she hopes that world safety is better since the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks.
“There are numerous organisations and strategies against crime, war, terrorism at least. I believe in them and hope they are going to protect us of this evil since this is 21st century and all human beings have the right to peace and religion,” Aleksandra told SETimes.
The prospect of a terrorist attack has left many Romanians concerned.
“The news gave me the goose bumps. This had never even crossed my mind, not in my wildest imagination. What I find more disturbing is that Romanian officials rushed to warn they do not rule out a terrorist attempt on our soil,” Daniel Pascu, a computer engineer in Bucharest, told SETimes.
Qazim Qazimi, dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies and an Islamic scholar in Kosovo, said that Bakri’s statements are a call for attention.
“The claim for attacks in the Balkans, is just bounce to attract attention, and why not bounce on newspaper circulation or to get readers. There was never a danger by Islam … the principles of Islam do not allow violence,” Qazimi told SETimes.
Citizens say that they do not expect a terrorist attack in Kosovo because the Islamic tradition has shown that inter-religious co-existence is stronger than words of certain people or groups.
“We are Muslims, but also we have here Christians and other religions. I believe that our tradition has of tolerance has survived for many centuries, and is strong enough to not accept radicalisation or terrorism,” Kushtrim Hyseni, a law student in Pristina, told SETimes.