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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Exclusive: Gaza Flotilla Official Was Foreign Fighter in Bosnia War

By Esad Hecimovic

A senior official with the Turkish activist group IHH who participated in the Gaza-bound flotilla boarded by the Israeli army last month served as a foreign fighter during the civil war in Bosnia.

Osman Atalay, a senior official with IHH, was on board the ship "Mavi Marmara," part of the controversial aid convoy to Gaza, which was boarded by Israeli commandos on May 31, according to published reports.

The initials IHH stand for the The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief in Turkish. The charity was created the mid-1990s, according to published reports, for the purpose of assisting Bosnian Muslims caught up in the three-way civil war between Muslims, Croats and Serbs in the former Yugoslavia. The war lasted from 1992 to 1995, leaving over 100,000 dead.

Several purported charities created to provide humanitarian assistance to Bosnian Muslims during the war were, in reality, funneling weapons and mujahideen fighters into the country, according to documents obtained during the making of the documentary "Sarajevo Ricochet", which debuts at the Kortfilmfestivalen (Short Film Festival) in Oslo, Norway, later this month.

Jihadist fighters frequently posed as employees of the charities in order to secure travel papers. Some mujahideen fighters were incorporated into the regular Bosnian army. A relatively small number of foreign volunteers bypassed the mujahideen and enlisted in the army directly.

Some IHH employees served as volunteer fighters with the Bosnian army, stationed in the town of Zenica, near the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, according to a Bosnian intelligence document obtained during research on the documentary.

The report by the Sarajevo Sector of the Bosnian National Security Service is dated November 19, 1995, and titled "Citizens, Organizations and Institutions from Afro-Asian Countries Who Reside and Operate in Our Area - A Sample of What We Have Learned and a Suggestion for Measures to be Taken."

Atalay was enlisted as a soldier of the Bosnian Army from 1992 to 1994, according to the document. After serving in the war, the document states, Atalay became head of the IHH office in Sarajevo.

A CIA report from the mid-1990s, obtained for the documentary, claims a director of IHH in Sarajevo was linked to Iranian government operatives, but does not name the person in question (read the document).

Efforts to reach Atalay for comment through IHH in Turkey were unsuccessful.

Another IHH employee, Hakan Bogoclu, was enlisted in the Bosnian army during the same period. According to the document, he served in the Seventh Muslim Brigade, a unit that included some mujahideen.

The document does not specify what unit Atalay served with, but it states both men served on the same dates, Sept. 1, 1992 through July 1, 1994.

In 1995, Bogoclu moved to IHH's Sarajevo office, where he was became deputy chief, according to the Bosnian intelligence document. Bogoclu still lives in Bosnia, where he is today an influential Sufi religious figure.

He declined to be interviewed at length, but denied any connections to terrorism and said he was an activist with IHH but not an employee.

A third IHH employee is named in the document as a director of IHH in Sarajevo but is not said to have been involved in the military.

A 2006 report written by terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann described a Turkish police raid on IHH headquarters in the late 1990s:

Security forces uncovered an array of disturbing items, including firearms, explosives, bomb-making instructions, and a "jihad flag." After analyzing seized IHH documents, Turkish authorities concluded that "detained members of IHH were going to fight in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya."

According to Kohlmann, IHH phone records also showed calls to the Islamic Cultural Institute, an Islamic center linked to Anwar Shaban in Milan. Another call was recorded between IHH and Abu Maali, the leader of the Bosnian mujahideen after Shaban's assassination in 1995. Both men are believed to be linked to Al Qaeda.

Some other figures named in the Bosnian intelligence document clearly illustrate the links between foreign fighters in Bosnia and terrorism.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the September 11 mastermind, lived and worked in Sarajevo in late 1995, according to the document, which says he was employed by a humanitarian organization called "Egipatska Pomoc" or "Egyptian Help," believed to be a reference to the Egyptian Humanitarian Relief Organization (EHRA).

Mohammed is described as a "Pakistani citizen, born on April 14, 1965, in Kuwait, temporarily residing at 11 Bjelave Street, engineer by profession, residing in Sarajevo since September 25, 1995."

Esad Hecimovic is a Bosnian investigative journalist. You can follow him on Twitter. INTELWIRE's J.M. Berger and "Sarajevo Ricochet" producer Ola Flyum contributed to this report. A version of this story was published in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.

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Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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