Role And Significance Of Mujahideen In Croat-Bosniak War (Part II) – OpEd


Massacre and culturocide in Guča Gora

The aggressive spirit of the Mujahideen can be seen during the conquest of the predominantly Croatian village of Guča Gora, northeast of Travnik on the slopes of the Vlašić mountain.

On June 8, Bosniak and Mujahideen forces attacked and occupied Guča Gora, thus opening the road to Zenica, and in doing so they got hold of two 120 mm mortars and large stocks of ammunition. The surviving Croats later told the American media: “Most of the houses were looted and burned.” We heard that the women and children… had been freed and were in the village.” British UN commander James Myles reported that citizens were fleeing Bosniak volunteers under machine gun fire and that they had evidence of atrocities. Meanwhile, UN forces were forced to return to their base and take up defensive positions after being fired upon repeatedly by Mujahideen forces. (Click here to read Part I)

This was the introduction to the culturocide of the Mujahideen, which happened when they discovered the 800-year-old church and monastery of St. Francis of Assisi. Two hundred Croatian civilians found refuge in the church, and the British UN forces fortunately evacuated them before the arrival of the Arabs. During the evacuation, UN forces were forced to use armored vehicles and fired hundreds of rounds from 30 mm machine guns to counter the constant fire of Muslim snipers. In the morning of June 9, all the Croatian refugees left the church and the Islamists could come to see their “war trophy”. And this time, the situation was similar to the one during the exchange of prisoners in May.

A group of about thirty Arabs walked through the church with raised arms shouting “Allahu Akbar”. Wall frescoes and works of art were covered with paint, statues of saints were broken, walls were covered with Arabic inscriptions, the organ and the old library were destroyed, and on the door of the monastery was written: “Ci vediamo a Roma” (“See you in Rome”). In the process, the vandals damaged the old and priceless wall painting above the main altar and eventually scraped off the faces of Jesus and the Virgin Mary on another painting next to the altar. This was done for the same religious reasons as when the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001. Images and statues are considered forbidden in Islam. Mujahideen showed a perverse joy when destroying an abandoned church, even greater than the one they showed after winning a battle. In a fit of euphoric excitement, the Arabs placed packs of dynamite around the monastery and planned to blow it up. Fortunately, members of the RBIH Army were able to intervene in time, and after a short struggle, they managed to dissuade the Islamists from their plan, and the explosives were removed.

That was not the end of the mujahideen rampage. They considered all non-believers as enemies, regardless of whether they were soldiers or civilians. At the end of June, the Arab extremists moved from Guča Gora to the nearby hamlet where 231 Croatian exiles were in the local school. Without any reason, the Arabs took the exiles as hostages and threatened to slaughter all of them. Eventually, the local Bosniak soldiers drove the Arabs away by force and agreed on a compromise solution whereby all Croats would be evacuated from the area. Overall, when looking at the municipality of Travnik, by the end of the Croat-Bosniak war, 19,600 Croats were expelled from the territory of the municipality, 124 Croatian civilians and 427 members of the HVO were killed. Almost all Catholic religious buildings were damaged to a greater or lesser extent, numerous Croatian houses were destroyed, and property was looted.

Mujahideen clashes with UN forces

The Mujahideen used religious violence not only against Croats and Serbs, but also against members of the UN. British peacekeepers were often targeted. Thus, in February 1993, between 6 and 10 British soldiers were kidnapped and later killed. Among them were even two military advisers to the Bosniak Army. The Islamists accused them of spying and later liquidated them. They were taken from Travnik to Turbe and were found tied up, shot in the head, and the corpses showed signs of mutilation and torture. The message to Westerners was unequivocally clear: “stay away from us or a wave of terror will follow”. The conflict between the Mujahideen and British peacekeepers who tried to protect Croatian exiles on the roads between Travnik and Zenica intensified on June 13. Then a British armored vehicle carrying Western journalists had to return to the UN base in Vitez after coming under heavy fire from Mujahideen machine guns.

Later that day, a British patrol of four vehicles was stopped at an Arab barricade near Guča Gora. A group of 50 Mujahideen (“of North African” and “Middle Eastern appearance”) gathered to meet the enemy troops. Terrified British soldiers later told the media that the Islamists had long and sparse beards, Afghani caps and uniforms that were clearly distinguishable from regular ARBIH troops. Although the Islamists immediately pointed rocket launchers and rifles at the UN vehicles, the British-born Mujahideen commander explained to the British officer in perfect English that he would not fire unless he ordered them to. After half an hour of tense negotiations, the Mujahideen let the British soldiers pass. However, when the British Major Kent-Payne wanted to shake hands with the leader of the Mujahideen, he refused with the explanation that “he will not touch the flesh of infidels”.

Furthermore, two British UN vehicles were attacked while on patrol near their base in Vitez. About 40 foreign fighters surrounded the vehicles, threatened them and shouted Islamist slogans. The British were surprised at how well armed the foreign radicals were: they possessed Kalashnikovs, heavy machine guns, Russian 66s, Russian anti-tank rockets and bazookas. Dismayed British troops broke off their patrol to avoid bloodshed. At the end of June, during the fierce war between Croats and Bosniaks, while the international community did not know how to solve the Bosnian crisis, a Bosniak radical warned a foreign journalist: “In a few months, women and children will be bleeding on the streets of Paris and London… You will be angry with us, but you won’t be able to do anything to Bosnia that would be worse than what you have already done to us”.

Terror and clashes between the Mujahideen and Bosniak authorities

Encouraged by the military successes against the Croats and the UN peacekeeping forces, the Arab radicals moved beyond Guča Gora under the leadership of Hussaamudeen, an Egyptian veteran of the Afghan war, into the surrounding mountain ranges. On June 25, the mixed forces of Bosniaks and foreign volunteers ran into fierce fire from the HVO. Foreigners have had multiple casualties including prominent jihadists Jamaludeen al-Yemeni and Muhammad al-Turki. The behavior of the Mujahideen in the summer of 1993 was so problematic that serious disagreements with the allied Bosniak army began. Bosniak soldiers mostly tried to reduce looting and terror against Croats to a minimum, while foreign Islamists did the opposite: they did everything to prevent peaceful coexistence in the future between Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox.

Supreme Commander of the RBIH Army, Rasim Delić, admitted that foreign volunteers “carry out senseless massacres, like the enemy… they are kamikazes, desperate people”. Even the wartime mayor of Zenica, Besim Spahić, completely distanced himself from foreigners: “They act independently. They are not a force in the military sense. But they have already caused us enormous damage.” However, the most honest was the spokesperson of the Bosnian Information Center in London: “We need Muslim UN soldiers to monitor the foreign Mujahideen who have taken positions in Bosnia. It is difficult for our soldiers to control these foreigners, and they do not want to listen to the orders of the British and French soldiers, whom they consider infidels… These people come from Algeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, God knows where. We have no use for them, they only create good propaganda for the enemy…. They come here full of ideals about dying in battle and going to heaven. Bosniaks aren’t that stupid. We want to live for Islam, not die for Islam”.

The status of the Mujahideen created disputes with the local Bosniak authorities. On one occasion, jihadists threatened to kill a Bosniak judge who was leading the case against Arab volunteers who collided with a UN vehicle. Then the Arabs temporarily occupied the offices of the European Union, surrounded the Hotel Internacional in Zenica with heavy weapons. There have been reports that mujahideen are destroying cafes in Travnik, slaughtering pigs in villages and holding a nun and four Croats hostage in order to free a captured Islamist in Vitez. As time passed, the Mujahideen became an increasingly violent band of guerrillas with their own ideological agenda. The Arab fighters increasingly criticized the “cowardice” and “weak attitude” of the Bosnian fighters. Failures in the war against HVO and VRS were attributed to the incompetence of local fighters.

Establishment of the El-Mujahid unit

The lack of a quality central command, according to the Arab fighters, was the main problem for coordinated action with the RBIH Army. This is precisely why, during the summer of 1993, the Shura (Council) of the Mujahideen sent an official request to the government in Sarajevo to recognize foreign fighters as an independent unit within the RBIH Army. The Arabs would thus not have to fear Bosniak betrayal within their ranks. The Bosnian government agreed to this since the Mujahideen were their only allies on the battlefield. Thus, on the order of Alija Izetbegović, on August 13, the Bosnian government established Kateebat El-Mujahid unit (“Detachment of Holy Warriors”). The El-Mujahid unit was directly responsible to the Bosnian president and was formally under the command of the 7th Corps of the RBIH Army.

The headquarters of the detachment was in the Croatian village of Podbrežje, not far from Zenica, where the headquarters of the HVO was previously located, and about 300 Arab fighters were stationed there. Dr. Abul-Harith al-Liby remained the emir of the entire mujahideen group while Wahiudeen al-Masri was appointed senior military commander. Abu el-Ma’ali assumed responsibility for conducting war operations in the Zenica area. The camp in Mehurići was the main military training center through which hundreds of local Bosniaks who were passing through underwent thorough ideological indoctrination. Native Muslims grew long beards and followed Wahhabi ideology. It was in this camp that the British secretly filmed a group of 30 Bosniaks practicing shooting under the watchful eye of foreign instructors.

Although they didn’t always share their ideological fervor, Bosniak soldiers respected the military experience that the Mujahideen gained during the war against the USSR in Afghanistan. High-ranking Bosnian officers mostly helped foreign fighters and wanted to legitimize their stay in Bosnia. For the RBIH Army, the mujahideen, despite all their shortcomings, brought certain advantages: they were capable of fighting and inspired to carry out deadly missions. The appearance of the Mujahideen chilled the blood in the veins of most of the opposing soldiers, which was used for publicity purposes. However, many Bosniaks didn’t have many nice words about the holy warriors of Islam. “It is ridiculous to think that we will create a Muslim state here like Libya… I would fight against such a state,” said one ARBIH officer. Lieutenant Nedžad Riđić also agreed: “If I thought this would lead to some kind of Muslim republic, I wouldn’t have participated.”

A young Bosniak soldier from Travnik, Zafir, commented: “If the Arabs want to offer the people religion, culture and language, that’s good… But if they want to do it by force, that’s not good.” The Bosniak Emir was even more free in his statement: “The Arabs are asking us to pray five times a day, but we prefer to drink five times a day”. Many local Bosniaks could not understand how foreign fundamentalists consistently renounce pork and alcohol because both are deeply rooted in the Bosnian culture and way of life.

Engagement of jihadists in Herzegovina

With the increase in the number of Arab newcomers, the Mujahideen’s area of activity expanded through Central Bosnia and Herzegovina, as did their terror over the Croatian population. For example, in Konjic, Arab volunteers were in the RBIH Army detachment in Lisovići since February 1993. Foreigners arrived in Konjic under the pretext of being students from Afghanistan. They were armed with H&K automatic rifles and possessed equipment from the JNA. It was these “students from Afghanistan” who killed and expelled Croatian civilians and looted and burned Croatian houses in the municipalities of Konjic and Jablanica. Units of Islamic fundamentalists were present and deeper in Herzegovina in Mostar since June 1993. They were located in Šantićeva street on the very line of demarcation between HVO and ARBIH where they were in bunkers in groups of six to seven soldiers, armed with the most modern semi-automatic rifles, machine guns and anti-tank weapons. However, the jihadists didn’t like the hell of the Mostar city battlefield, so most of them left Mostar by mid-August.

Vitez 1 and Vitez 2

Islamic fundamentalists were much more suited to fighting in the mostly rural areas of Central Bosnia. The El Mujahid detachment continued to primarily wage war against the Croats in the Lašva Valley, but the jihadists also operated in other areas, such as the conquest of Vareš in November 1993. Numerous crimes and looting of Croatian property were also committed there after the jihadists and Bosniak troops occupied that city. On September 5, 1993, Wahiudeen al-Masri organized a fierce attack on Croatian settlements in the mountains near Novi Travnik. The operation was named “Vitez 1”. The Arab soldiers admitted that the battle was fought against the HVO but also civilians, and that a total of around 40 Croats were killed. Prominent mujahideen Abu Ali al-Kuwaiti (who was freed by the Croats a few months earlier) and Hamdu (a Bosniak volunteer who was among the first to join the jihad warriors) were more prominent fighters who died during the attack.

This didn’t stop the Mujahideen, so on September 18 they launched a new attack on Croatian positions, codenamed “Vitez 2” or “Operation Kruščica”. On the front line not far from Kruščica, near the explosives factory Vitezit, Mujahideen clashed with Croatian forces and forced them to retreat. But the battle was disappointing. Namely, the experienced Egyptian commander Hussaamudeen al-Masri received a critical wound, and in addition, the guerrillas had to retreat due to the alleged “weakness of the Bosnian army”. The next day, the Islamists tried to take back the positions they had taken, but this time the HVO was more prepared for the attack and repelled it. Abu Musab al-Swedani was killed in the process. A typical member of the Mujahideen detachments can be seen on it. It was about a soldier from Sweden who was the son of a Swedish woman and an Algerian. He grew up in Scandinavia but went to Saudi Arabia to study Islam and learn Arabic. In the two years he spent there, he became an Islamic fundamentalist who, upon returning to Sweden, continued to propagate Islamist ideology and later went to war in Afghanistan. He was eventually killed by a sniper’s bullet near Vitez.

Continuation of intense fighting

Despite the heavy casualties on the front line, the Mujahideen continued their attacks on Croatian towns and villages in Central Bosnia on the front line, but often penetrated deep into the rear of the front line. Such operations were almost suicidal because the foreign Islamists didn’t know the area and were easily spotted by the Croatian forces. This was well demonstrated when, in October 1993, a group of five Afghans under the leadership of Wahiudeen al-Masri ran into trouble near Mount Šćit south of Kruščica. The group got lost and entered the HVO-controlled territory at a depth of 7 km. According to Mujahideen sources, Croatian soldiers immediately fired at their vehicle with a salvo from anti-aircraft weapons. Several Islamists survived the initial attack and tried to repel the Croats with light weapons, but without success. Four soldiers were killed: Wahiudeen, Abu Khalid al-Qatari (former member of the Qatar national handball team), Abu Abdurahman al-Masri (member of the elite “Muslim special forces” who kidnapped Živko Totić) and Abu Hamza al-Suri. One survivor was taken to prison. The Mujahideen demanded an exchange with the threat of arresting 20 Croats every day until they fulfill their demand. Soon ten civilians from the Travnik area were captured and taken to the Mujahideen camp in Orašac. They were mistreated there, and on October 21, Dragan Popović was ritually executed.

In December 1993, the Mujahideen, together with RBIH Army units, participated in the large-scale Prozor-93 offensive in which they tried to capture the Vitezit factory and join forces with Bosniak forces in Stari Vitez. The aforementioned wasn’t achieved except for the war crimes in village Križančevo selo. A similar unsuccessful operation took place in January 1994, when a war crime was committed in village Buhine kuće. In addition to the continuation of the war with the Croatian forces at the end of 1993 and the beginning of 1994, the Islamists continued to terrorize the UN blue helmets who tried to separate the warring parties. For the Mujahideen, 1993 was not so bad. Despite the heavy losses in the war with the HVO, the Mujahideen grew stronger, becoming a political and military force. Mujahideen Matar al-Walid told Kuwaiti journalists that when he arrived in Bosnia in December 1992, there was only one detachment of Islamic fundamentalists, and already in October 1993 there were as many as 12 detachments. Hundreds of Bosniak volunteers were recruited into Mujahideen detachments. Thanks to the favor of certain structures of the Bosnian government, foreign volunteers were able to travel freely and operate throughout Central Bosnia. Although the arms and equipment smuggling channels through Croatia were completely stopped, new possibilities appeared: financiers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

Washington Agreement

The violence against UN peacekeepers and humanitarian workers showed the international community what a threat radical Islamic fundamentalists pose. Especially foreign humanitarians were kidnapped and killed in Zenica. As the terror of the Mujahideen grew stronger, the USA and its NATO allies strongly pressured the Croats and Bosniaks to sign a truce and turn to a joint fight against the Serbs. Along with the Americans, the Vatican also played a big role. Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mate Granić revealed what Pope John Paul II told him in early February 1994. about Islamists in BIH: “The Holy Father spoke to me about the dangers of radical Islam in a monologue for about 15 minutes. Radical islam is not an honorable religion, Muslims are our brothers, he told me. Radical Islam that stretches from Afghanistan to Algeria is not Islam. He told me that this will be the biggest problem of the modern world and that the conflict between Croats and Bosniaks should be stopped because of it. And then the conflict with the Serbs.”

Due to international pressure, a truce was signed between the HVO and the Bosniak Army at the end of February 1994, and on March 18 was signed the Washington Agreement which established the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Croat-Bosniak Federation). Undoubtedly, the threat of the Mujahideen hastened the process of stopping the war that had the characteristics of a religious war between Christians and Muslims. However, in practice, this didn’t change much the position of the Mujahideen, who were now, admittedly, no longer fighting against the Croats but against the Serbs. However, after peace was signed with the Croats, Croatia opened the channels of aid to BIH and the Mujahideen channels through which weapons and equipment were smuggled. Although the Mujahideen were formally put on the back burner by the Bosniak authorities, they were free to preach radical Islam. And neither the terror against the Croats nor even the armed clashes with Croatian troops in BIH have completely stopped.

Mujahideen terror against Croats after the Washington Agreement

After the Washington Agreement, the Croatian authorities in BIH had a freer hand to arrest Muslim militants and force others to stay away from the Croatian police. The Mujahideen were enraged by the agreement because it represented a betrayal of their religious cause: the abandonment of the creation of a Muslim entity in Bosnia. They opposed the Bosniaks’ attempts to rein them in. In April, a Franciscan from Central Bosnia commented: “The Croats still have problems with the Mujahideen, who find the Croat-Bosniak agreement unacceptable. But Croats feel changes in the air. Islamic fundamentalism had no chance here, except for a very short period. The Muslims here are Europeans.” Nevertheless, the Islamists continued to expand their network and more and more fighters came from Afghanistan, Yemen and Sudan. After the Algerian Abu el-Ma’ali became the emir of the mujahideen in the summer of 1994, there was a greater number of incidents between the Mujahideen and Croats.

On September 1, the leadership of the 3rd Corps of the RBIH Army met with the civilian representatives of the Croats of Zenica. The reason was to calm down the locals due to the frightening behavior of the Arabs who would have fits of rage due to minor disputes with foreign humanitarians or Croatian civilians. An agreement was reached according to which the Arab soldiers were to withdraw from the predominantly Croatian village of Podbrežje, where the main headquarters of the Mujahideen was located. In practice, the RBIH Army did nothing to expel the Islamists or to limit their activities. The HVO tried to intervene on its own initiative and stop a group of Islamists who were traveling from Travnik towards Mostar and Croatia. A fierce battle ensued in which two jihadists from Malaysia and Iran were killed.

Great tensions between the Mujahideen and Croats continued during the winter of 1994-95. The Croat Željko, who was near the Mujahideen base in Podbrežje, complained to foreign journalists: “Either the Mujahideen who are in that building (the Vatrostalno factory) will leave, or we will have to leave.” On December 23, they told us to turn off the lights on the Christmas trees, and since then they harass us every day… They come with Bosniak extremists to our houses and ask if the house is for sale. They ask if we are leaving soon. They throw insults at us on the street. But we decided to stay.” Another local farmer, Jozo Milanović, was not so optimistic: “They come in and take whatever they want, and when I objected to them once, they fired a volley over my head. Bullet holes can still be seen in the wall. We will all have to leave soon.” Most of the foreign journalists who came to Pobrežje were chased away by the Islamists with rifles. However, in magazine Times, Anthony Loyd described what he saw in the Fire Station building: “A black Islamic flag was hanging in the courtyard. In front of a row of dilapidated off-road vehicles, the fighters stood in groups. There were Arabs, whites and Africans. Most had beards, some shaved their heads, and all had worn camouflage clothing and weapons, all were frowning, thin and stern.”

One volunteer from Tunisia stated: “We come like this to die, not to leave. That’s why we will win… The West says we are terrorists, but look at what they did in Africa, in Algeria; no one says to them that they are fascists and terrorists… Becoming a member of the Mujahideen is something very serious, it is a sacrifice. You can’t go back home when the government there finds out what you’ve become. No, we must follow the eternal path of jihad.” In an interview, leader Abu al-Ma’ali angrily denied that his fighters were committing atrocities and that they were a danger to the region. All in all, Central Bosnia wasn’t an ordinary front for Al-Qaeda, but in the beginning of 1995 it unequivocally became a strategic stronghold for Osama Bin Laden and his fanatics who were planning terrorist attacks in Western Europe.

At the beginning of February 1995, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Bosnian government Ejup Ganić, who was the deputy of Izetbegović, arrived in Pobrežje. He publicly supported the demands of the Croats, but in practice nothing has changed. The spokesperson of the 3rd Corps of the BiH Army in Zenica, Spahija Kozlić, justified the inaction of the Bosnian government: “These people came here to help us. They are doing their work normally… We don’t know if they will move away. Mr. Ganić heard the Croatian side of the story. But we didn’t have any problems with the Mujahideen. The Minister of Defense of the Croat-Bosniak Federation, Jadranko Prlić, was harsher: “We can no longer allow these Mujahideen to terrorize Croatian settlements… The progress of the Federation depends on the solution to this problem.”

On March 11, communities of local Croats (HDZ, HSS, Croatian Civic Party of BIH, the Zenica branch of the Croatian cultural society Napredak and the Croatian Cultural Circle) issued a statement in which they emphasized that the promises of the highest state officials must be fulfilled regarding the removal of the El-Mujahid unit from Podbreže near Zenica. It is clear why the Bosniak authorities didn’t eliminate the Mujahideen: they needed their advice and manpower for military operations against the Serbian army. The announcements of the Islamist organizations attacked the Croats for spreading rumors and intimidating the Mujahideen units: “Croats have been trying for a very long time to expel the Mujahideen from Bosnia in order to freely rule the Muslim country in their favor.” A month later in March 1995, an Islamist leaflet from a stronghold in Zenica reported that jihad fighters were “reorganizing frontline trenches and deploying observation posts over a large area to be ready for the coming period and a new wave of attacks by Serbs and Croats.”


Incidents with the Mujahideen continued, especially after the signing of the Dayton Agreement, which the jihadists also interpreted as betrayal. According to that agreement, foreign Islamists were supposed to leave BIH, but a large number remained and received Bosnian citizenship. Izetbegović himself opposed the departure of the soldiers who fought for the Bosniak cause. A wave of terror followed after Dayton against Serbs and Croats, especially returnees to Muslim-majority areas. However, only the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 had the effect that many Islamists were deported from Bosnia, but a good part remained and continued to propagate Wahhabi and Salafi ideology.

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