1998, when NATO's war on Yugoslavia was first being organized, secret
camps were set up in northern Albania. There, British and American forces
trained the rag-tag fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The
two countries openly armed, supplied and supported the KLA during the
war against Milosevic, using the paramilitary group as NATO's ground troops.
of this is fact. Albania's army also directly
trained the KLA. After all, if the West said it was OK, then there
was nothing to be embarrassed about. However, once the fallout from
Kosovo registered and Macedonia was destabilized by the renamed militants
of the NLA (National Liberation Army) in 2001, Tirana changed its tune.
It officially deplored the violence and denied having anything to do
with sponsoring the rebels.
at the same time "all contact stopped" between the intelligence services
of the two countries, according to one informed Macedonian source. Clearly,
Albania was not entirely pleased with beleaguered Macedonia's attempts
then, the Albanian government has gone to great lengths to boost economic
and defense cooperation with Macedonia, under the rubric of NATO enlargement
and participations in joint ventures along the east-west Corridor 8,
such as prospective railroad lines
pipelines. Albania is clearly looking for a new lease on life and
from the economic dark ages that afflict most citizens who aren't super-rich
politicos or gangsters.
despite these increasingly positive developments, a new question has
been raised regarding the current involvement of the Albanian government
in whole or in part in sponsoring paramilitary groups active in neighboring
states. This issue is complex; its contemplation only invites further
questions. With Albania, do we have state-sponsored attempts at control
through disruption (as was the case with Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban?)
Or could it be instead just the manipulations of sparring political
Cracks Down: One Arrested, Another Indicted
July, the Albanian government arrested one Gafurr Adili, leader of the
Front of Albanian National Unity (FBKSH). This diaspora-based group
claims to be the political wing of the AKSH (or ANA, Albanian National
Army), active since 2001 in Kosovo and Macedonia. The group's stated
goal is to gather all "Albanian lands" into one majestic 19th century
nation-state, by waging war with the "Slav colonizers," Greeks, and
whoever else gets in their way.
the Swiss banned Adili from living in their country. Stated the BBC, "…until
now he has enjoyed refugee status though it appears that he is not
actually barred from visiting Switzerland where members of his family
live." Such ambivalent restrictions are completely characteristic of
the West's schizophrenic, lax treatment of Albanian militants since
On 8 October,
a second arrest warrant was lodged for the leader of Albania's right-wing
Party of National Unity, Idajet
Beqiri. A high profile FBKSH leader, Beqiri is accused of "incitement
and support for the extremist group."
last spring's attack on a bridge near Mitrovica, which proved that Kosovo
Protection Corps staff members were moonlighting for the AKSH, the group
has been deemed a "terrorist" one by Balkan and Western governments
alike. Reports in the Economist and elsewhere described it as
being run by increasingly desperate criminals and KLA veterans impatient
with UNMIK's rule in Kosovo. This year's more concerted crackdowns by
KFOR on smuggling, as well as similar revived efforts by Macedonian
authorities, have also angered the militants. Averred
the Economist on 12 September:
AKSH represents few ethnic-Albanians. Its core consists of some 50-70
cigarette smugglers drawn from both sides of the border with Kosovo.
Their latest violence has been largely prompted by their desire to stop
Macedonia's police from shutting down their smuggling routes and putting
them behind bars. Hisni Shaqiri, an ethnic-Albanian MP in Skopje who
is trying to help keep the peace between Macedonia's Albanians and Slavs,
describes Avdil Jakupi, the AKSH's "divisional commander" known as Chakala,
as a "mental patient and heroin addict". A British brigadier advising
the Macedonian government on defence calls the AKSH "criminals flying
a political flag of convenience in the hope of finding legitimacy."
from the Inside
now, little has been revealed about the "highly secretive" AKSH. Who
runs it? What are its plans? Does it really exist? Most importantly,
perhaps, what is the leadership and extent of support enjoyed by its
political wing, the FBKSH?
new information from Idajet Beqiri himself casts considerable light
on this issue. In its October 11-17 issue, the Serbian publication NIN ran a
lengthy interview with him. Apparently, Beqiri also has a pseudonym
Albana Viosu and is the secretary of the FBKSH. He founded
Albania's Party of National Unity, was elected its president in 1991,
and embarked on a volatile political career that saw him imprisoned,
empowered and involved with various scandals. He has a law degree from
the University of Tirana, served as a judge and claims to now work as
a lawyer. Since 1997, he has been stationed in Western Europe, where
he has lobbied and raised money for Albanian militant groups.
claims the interview was arranged "…by tracing the news of an Albanian
lawyer who organizes gatherings for wealthy Albanians throughout Western
Europe." A "smiling" Beqiri then met the interviewers in Brussels.
All the Credit…
we have to take the inevitable boasting with a grain of salt. Such figures
tend to exaggerate their popularity and gains. Thus when asked whether
the group only exists "on the internet," Beqiri cited "proof" to the
contrary, being "…the 33 attacks for which we have assumed responsibility,
as well as numerous members that join us daily."
there have been around 30 minor bombings, murders and other mishaps
since 2001, but it is decidedly unclear as to whether these were all
carried out by one unified group under a single banner and command.
Beqiri himself states that right now "…seven armed groups that aren't
under our control act in Kosovo and Macedonia," each having around 40
members. Given the track record for Albanian gang infighting in Kosovo
and Macedonia, it seems more likely that other groups have perpetrated
some of these attacks for reasons other than the Greater Albania.
an obscure incident took place in Kumanovo a few weeks ago, when an
Albanian from south Serbia opened a new pizza parlor. Apparently he
was trespassing on someone else's turf, because his first customer was
a drive-by shooter, who fired a hail of bullets into the shop. It is
believed that two people were injured. And there have been numerous
other incidents of such "cross-border cooperation" between Kosovo and
enough, Beqiri does not claim responsibility for the worst attacks
like the land mine deaths of Polish soldiers in Macedonia last spring,
or the murder of
Serbian children in the River Bistrica this summer. In the interview,
he doesn't mention the former (they blamed it on the Macedonian army
trying to discredit the AKSH), and as for the latter, he makes the rather
brazen claim that the Serbs machine-gunned their own children to turn
Western opinion against the Albanians. Beqiri carefully restricts his
group's stated activities to legitimate military targets (though blowing
up railroads and bridges doesn't seem to exactly fit the bill).
case, says Beqiri, "…the Front of Albanian National Unity (FBKSH) completely
controls all diplomatic and armed ANA forces." This would rather seem
to implicate him and his comrades for the effects of their ordained
actions. According to the now fugitive secretary, the AKSH "…hasn't
performed a single attack without the approval of FBKSH."
recounting of the group's recent history is particularly interesting.
After the Tetovo turf war of spring 2002,
and the short-lived Coordinative Council for Albanian unity led by Ali
Ahmeti, many of the latter's "disappointed" NLA fighters went over to
the AKSH. However, adds Beqiri, "…a large part didn't join anyone and
was completely independent. Chaos was created and the need for establishing
where the story takes an interesting twist. Beqiri's summary of what
happened next casts aspersions on Albania's alleged "neutrality" in
Kosovo's ongoing vortex of violence. States Beqiri:
July 2002 we organized a large gathering in the Congress Palace in Tirana,
where, apart from all commanders of various fractions from Kosovo and
Macedonia, also were present many high intellectuals, military people,
as well as representatives of all Albanian political parties. It was
established then that all of us share the same desire for resolving
the 'Albanian issue' and it is necessary for the sake of it to establish
a military and political structure with a clear system of hierarchy.
This is how FBKSH was created."
Beqiri can be taken at his word, key players from the whole Albanian
establishment politicians, intellectuals and most importantly of all,
military men are behind the AKSH. This story wildly contradicts every
official statement made by Tirana since the war in Macedonia, i.e.,
that the country is not helping paramilitary forces. The most compelling
aspect of all this is the alleged role of the military:
generals played the key role from Albania, who enjoy enormous authority
among the fighters and their commanders.
general personnel are mostly from Albania and from Kosovo. The main
chief of the GS (General Staff) ANA is General Vigan Gradica. He was
honored with three stars and has enormous experience. The supreme council
of ANA, that brings all military decisions, is made up of a total of
eight generals. The entire general core is educated, mostly in Croatia
and Albania, and even in Germany. All of them are professional soldiers."
Implicated and the Diaspora Too
rather eye-opening statement calls into question Tirana's publicly stated
anti-militant position. Apparently, right up until Gafurr Adili's arrest
the FBKSH operated out of Tirana "…where our base has been from the
beginning." After losing their leader, the group went underground i.e.,
to Kosovo where Beqiri claims they work, "…completely openly as a legal
political party." Given his present indictment by the Albanian government,
and KFOR's uncompromising new attitude, this assertion will be tested.
to Beqiri, the FBKSH command structure is made up 11 people and focuses
on 5 "interest zones" of conquest: south Serbia's Presevo Valley, Kosovo,
Macedonia, Ulcinj (in Montenegro) and Greece. Other protagonists in
the movement are stated as being professor Femi Kelmendi, the aforementioned
General Gradica and Bestar Kosova, "who is in charge of all security
all liberation wars past, funding for weapons comes mostly from the
diaspora. Jane's estimated that during a 6 month period in 2001
the NLA raised $60 million from diaspora contributions. As was the case
then, says Beqiri, "…most of the aid comes from America, then Canada,
Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium." Card-carrying members (Beqiri rather
bombastically claims to have 20,000) are required to kick down monthly;
locals pay 2 euros per month, diaspora members, 20 euros per month.
Finally, he adds, "…we are trying to organize as many as possible gatherings
in the Diaspora at which we encourage people to help us as much as they
highly likely that American diaspora funding is being organized by the
same congressional lobby groups that
funded the last two wars, and which retain
strong links with former KLA leaders. The fact that Mr. Beqiri was
invited one month ago to
advertise his views in front of the International Crisis Group in
Brussels cannot be reassuring either.
on the Home Front
kind of support does the AKSH enjoy in Albania itself, however? It would
appear quite a lot. Yet is this a case of official state support (i.e.,
the Pakistan model), or a side effect of instability? Probably the latter.
Rather than categorically blame the Albanian government, we might mention
the current political volatility there a state of affairs which
leaves plenty of room for third-party mischief.
unrest has been building with the government of Fatos Nano. Last week
his Socialist Party suffered its second setback in 3 months, winning
"…only 65 votes for nominees as foreign and interior ministers from
131 members of parliament," reported
Reuters on Thursday.
rival Ilir Meta calling for early elections in Spring, it is quite possible
that Nano's days are numbered. Nano "…accused rivals who voted against
him of a 'palace coup' and making common cause with the opposition Democratic
Party" of Nano's other archenemy, former president Sali Berisha.
enough, from the NIN report we learn that Nano goes way back
with FBKSH Secretary Beqiri all the way back, in fact, to their
imprisonment under Berisha's regime. When that regime tanked in 1997,
due to the collapse
of a colossal pyramid scheme that impoverished thousands overnight,
Beqiri won his release, and joined a political coalition with the also-freed
Nano. The latter came to power, but was removed a year later. The enmity
between the two camps continues even now.
report mentions the Beqiri-Nano friendship and shared opposition to
Berisha. Yet despite their common cause, the report states, Beqiri and
Nano have "divergent" political views. Is NIN trying to imply
that Nano is not a closet supporter of the AKSH adventure? If this were
true, then how was Beqiri able to operate the FBKSH with such impunity
and such high-level cooperation in Tirana, as he claims?
this connection is being made by Beqiri's enemies in Kosovo, too. Albanian
leaders there have recently
damned the AKSH as a dangerous monstrosity run by Hoxha-era "Communists"
under the implicit control of Nano in other words, as an unofficial
branch of the state.
should we understand current Tirana's crackdown on Adimi and Beqiri
as indicative of Nano's dwindling authority? Or is he being forced to
sacrifice his friend due to political pressure, either internal or Western?
What Ever Happened to the Mujahedin?
article of mine has inspired such a rancorous reaction as my brief history of Islamic terrorist
involvement in Albania. While admittedly I may have exaggerated
the threat, everything was based on facts and detailed reports. Since
2001, there haven't been many new developments on this front. However,
another byproduct of today's political volatility in Tirana may be the
subtle penetration of foreign Islamic fighters. The revelation that
forces were training the KLA in 1999, just as the US and Britain
were, was embarrassing enough for the US; but what if, after so many
subsequent anti-terror operations, the Evil One has returned to the
In a report
dated 19 September, congressional director of the Task Force on Terrorism
and Unconventional Warfare Yossef Bodansky
claims that Albania is once again being used as a "springboard"
for terrorist activities in Europe:
in mid-August 2003, there was a discernible increase in the number of
foreigners in the Islamist mosques throughout Albania. 'They [originally]
come from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. They come from many
countries,' noted an eyewitness in Tirana. 'They arrive [in Tirana]
from Afghanistan,' he added. These expert terrorists are being prepared
in Albania for their specific missions in the West.
training program is conducted under the cover of the Albanian National
Army (ANA or AKSh in Albanian) with most senior trainers and commanders
being 'mujahedin who retreated from Bosnia' and are affiliated with
return for the Albanian support of this endeavor, the Islamists assist
the local terrorists in preparing for launching spectacular terrorism
into the major cities of Serbia and Montenegro, with Belgrade and Nis
believed to be the top targets. As well, Islamist cadres, mainly veterans
of Bosnia, are providing advance training to thousands of Albanian terrorists
in camps in Kosovo-Metohija, near Prizren, on the slopes of Mt. Sara,
in the Kosovo Morava River valley, in the Albanian towns of Kukes and
Tropoje, and around Tetovo in western Macedonia."
Mess of Contradictions
tantalizing testimony directly contradicts Beqiri's statement of policy
to NIN, namely, that the AKSH desires no help from the mujahedin
and has no interest in attacking Belgrade. Beqiri claims that all attacks
are to be carried out only within the specified "zones of operation"
(i.e., Albanian-populated areas).
he also admits that other, apparently unaffiliated militant groups presently
prowl the hills and forests of Macedonia and Kosovo. Could some of these
have struck with the Islamists? Indeed, a well-informed Western security
official in Kosovo told me earlier this year that the AKSH had broken
up into three groups, precisely because of cooperation with the mujahedin
unsavory for some, expedient for others.
Beqiri maintains, the main AKSH body is probably content to exist solely
as a magnificent fighting force of secular-enough Albanian nationalists.
Especially since they seem to have such a well-oiled and experienced
diaspora machine, this bunch has no interest in winding up on the wrong
side of the war on terror. However, this does not mean that Islamist-associated
fringe groups don't exist in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia.
end, Bodansky's enigmatic evidence leaves one very curious as to his
sources. Had the Bush Administration not been so disingenuous with the
evidence on Iraq, there would be no doubting these Balkan revelations.
Now we have to be a bit more critical. One hopes that an American congressional
investigator would be better-informed than a lowly freelance reporter.
However, the mystery may remain unresolved, barring further violence
or other inside revelations.
even if we never get an answer on mujahedin in the Balkans, Albania
is not off the hook. Should the authorities there actually arrest Mr.
Beqiri (or other of his cohorts), a clearer picture will no doubt emerge
of the precise connection between Tirana and the neighborhood's most
notorious paramilitary group.