By Aleksandar Brezar
If it is proven that Croatian intelligence hatched a plot to plant weapons in Bosnian mosques, Croatia is guilty of inciting terrorism in another country.
It might be the biggest scandal since the end of the 1992-5 Bosnian War. The Sarajevo independent outlet Zurnal has claimed that Croatian intelligence agents, aided by Croatian diplomats in Bosnia, tried to discredit Bosnia and Herzegovina as a “land of radical Islamic terrorism”.
Croatia has thus been implicated in a serious act of hybrid warfare, information since confirmed by the Bosnian Security Minister, Dragan Mektic.
The consequences for the relations of the two countries are still unclear. But if the claims are proven, this affair is on par with Iran-Contra.
In a story that reads like a script for a B-movie action flick, Zurnal laid out details from documents of Bosnian security agencies, and from conversations with a member of the ultra-conservative Muslim Salafi movement, which reveal a failed plan to plant weapons and explosives in Bosnian mosques.
The location of the weapons cache, according to those involved, would be revealed by the same person who planted it.
This would then justify the previous statements of top Croatian officials such as President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic that Bosnia is a “hotbed of terrorism” and home to at least “10,000 radicalized persons”.
On the wings of conspiracy theories originating in 2016 and widely published in the Croatian media, or since the beginning of the disinformation attack labeling the Bosniaks, or Bosnian Muslims, as linked to terrorism – such as the debunked narrative about terrorist camps – the information published by Zurnal and backed by Minister Mektic points to a carefully planned attempt to delegitimize Bosnia.
This marks the second incident this year related to Croatian representatives in Bosnia. In January, Croatian ambassador Ivan Del Vechio was withdrawn from his post after he attended the celebration of the Day of Republika Srpska, where he witnessed a posthumous decoration for Slavko Lisica, a Bosnian Serb sentenced for war crimes committed during the 1991-1995 war in Croatia.
The Croatian Consulate in Tuzla, meanwhile, has an earlier scandal to its name. In 2012, several employees of this consulate were suspected of selling Croatian documents for between 10,000 and 50,000 euros; those documents were then found in the possession of members of notorious Serbian criminal organizations like the Zemun Clan, among others.
But, let’s go back to the incident at hand. Further details are quite sordid: a member of the Salafi community who spoke to Zurnal, known by his initials C.H., stated that members of the Croatian intelligence questioned him on multiple occasions while crossing the border into Croatia.
According to him, he was asked “once back in Bosnia [to] take a package of weapons to the Doboj area and then take it to the mosque in the village of Stranjani near Zenica”.
Threatened with the loss of his work permit and with intentional complications about his further travels into the EU, where he and his family worked, he was asked, once he placed the weapons in the mosque, to “send a message to a certain Davor from Zagreb who would then inform police agencies in Bosnia, leading to a [police] action and the discovery of weapons and explosives in the Salafi mosque”.
Such a conspiracy is quite contrary to the image of Croatia as “the biggest friends of Bosnia”, as is often repeated in European circles.
The claims by Christian Dan Preda, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Bosnia, that Croatia is Bosnia’s closest ally, starkly contrast with the words of Minister Mektic, who told Radio Sarajevo that the operation “had the goal of sending and relaying a very ugly message, discrediting the state of Bosnia”.
It also brings into question the words of MEP Marijana Petir, who has publicly spoken several times about her “concern over the presence of radical Islamic groups in Bosnia”, as well as her role in spreading this malign narrative in Brussels.
Another MEP, Beatriz Becerra from Spain, has called on social media for a swift reaction from the EU and for a response from the EU High Representative on Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini, as well from the European Commission as a whole.
Reactions are aplenty in Croatia. The Croatian intelligence agency SOA has vehemently denied involvement and sought a response from its Bosnian counterpart, OSA. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has called the entire matter “nonsense”.
An MP, Bojan Glavasevic, has said that his group has already submitted a parliamentary question to Plenkovic about allegations that are seen as “very serious”. Glavasevic has concluded that, if everything turns out to be true, Croatia has incited terrorism on the territory of another country.
Plenkovic, who has earlier actively intervened in Bosnia’s domestic issues, such as the most recent elections in 2018, has neglected to note the severity of the situation.
If only one detail is proven, however, such as the accusation that a Croatian diplomat was involved, Croatia is not only implicated but is at the very least a co-conspirator in this malign act.
While EU officials will have to respond to the news that the activities of one of its member states has embarrassed the EU as a whole, the Bosnian Prosecutor’s Office has already opened an urgent case, citing that it “was not informed about the alleged activities … and will invite the Minister of Security Dragan Mektic to be questioned on all the details he has given in his public appearances”.
Judging by what is being said, the Prosecutor’s Office seems most concerned with the fact that this information was published in Zurnal and elsewhere.
As far as the Prosecutor’s Office is concerned, the role of the foreign diplomats and the intelligence agency of a neighboring country in planning what might be seen as a serious political and social coup seems to take the back seat.
Regardless of how story develops over the following days and weeks, it will be interesting to see if these claims about Croatia’s malign influence are proven. If so, it promises to set a precedent in the Western Balkans in terms of the severity of its intentions, but also its consequences.
*Aleksandar Brezar is a journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The opinions expressed in the Comment section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.