Dragan Mektic, Bosnian Security Minister Photo courtesy of N1
Bosnia’s state prosecution on Thursday said it was probing allegations – which Croatia has rejected – that the Croatian intelligence service concocted a plan to portray the country as an Islamist hub, recruiting members of the ultra-conservative Wahhabi movement to smuggle arms into hard-line Muslim Bosnian villages.
A strict form of Sunni Islam, the Wahhabi movement first appeared in Bosnia in the early 1990s, as war was breaking out in the former Yugoslav republic.
Wahhabis claim they want to restore a pure form of Islam through practising a strict, ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam.
Bosnia’s State Prosecutor’s Office said it had filed a case with the Special Department for Organized Crime, Economic Crime and Corruption to determine the allegations.
“All persons who have made these allegations and had knowledge about the activities mentioned will be examined,” the state prosecution said.
Dragan Mektic, Bosnia’s Security Minister on Thursday claimed that Croatia’s security and intelligence service came up with the plan, in order to present Bosnia as a threat to European security.
“The plan was to discredit Bosnia and show it as a terrorist hub and a threat to the region and Europe,” Mektic told the Sarajevo-based news site radiosarajevo.ba.
Mektic spoke out after the website Zurnal.info on Wednesday accused Croatia’s intelligence service of recruiting Bosnian citizens to smuggle arms into Wahhabi villages.
Citing anonymous sources, and not backing up its claims with any documents, the website claimed the goal was to reveal the villages in Zenica Doboj Canton, in the country’s Federation entity, as terrorist hubs.
Mektic said the action was designed to support Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic’s claim in December 2016 that Bosnia was awash with terrorists returning from the Middle East.
“The intelligence operation … followed … the statement of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic that Bosnia was full of terrorists and weapons and that Bosnia was threatened with terrorism, which I denied as an untruth and nonsense,” Mektic said.
Croatia’s Security and Intelligence Agency, SOA, told BIRN that it saw the allegation as “malicious”, noting that Mektic was, in effect, “accusing the Republic of Croatia of supporting terrorism”.
It added: “The fight against terrorism is a priority of the SOA’s work and we are doing our best to counteract terrorism professionally and responsibly to protect the Republic of Croatia, our allies in the EU and NATO, as well as across Europe.”
The SOA said attempts to politically instrumentalize the war on terrorism posed a risk to the security of Croatia, the EU, NATO, and especially Bosnia.
“We have asked the OSA, Bosnia’s Security Intelligence Service, to officially comment on these untruthful allegations, and we will report on them to our international partners as well,” SOA told BIRN.
On Thursday, in Neum, Bosnia, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Covic dismissed the allegations. “This is a matter of creative manipulation,” Plenkovic said.
“Croatia fights against terrorism and participates in this fight with its partners. Bosnia is our partner in the fight against terrorism and will remain so,” Plenkovic said.
Covic said the accusation was nothing new. “It is no surprise, as everything goes through the institutions of Bosnia.”
BIRN sent queries about the claims to the President’s office, the Foreign Ministry and to the Croatian consul in Tuzla, Ivan Bandic, but received no reply by time of publication.
In December 2016, Grabar Kitarovic said thousands of ISIS fighters had returned from the Middle East to Bosnia, quoting a report by Bosnia’s own State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA.
Bosnia’s Security Minister disputed this, saying he did not know where Kitarovic got her numbers from. Other Bosnian officials and local Islamic religious authorities also disputed the claim, as BIRN has previously reported.