Ibro Cufurovic, born in 1995, is one of 200 to 300 Islamist radicals who have left Bosnia-Herzegovina to join IS or al-Qaida in Syria or Iraq. Two of the most wanted terrorists in the world are among them: Bajro Ikanovic, for many years the commander of the largest IS training camp in northern Syria; and Nusret Imamovic, a leading member of the Nusra Front in Syria, a group tied to al-Qaida. Bosnia, says the American Balkan expert and former NSA employee John Schindler, “is considered something of a ‘safehouse’ for radicals,” and now harbors a stable terrorist infrastructure. It is one that is not strictly hierarchical and is thus considered “off-message” within IS, but it nonetheless represents an existential threat to the fragmented republic.
According to findings by the Bosnian Ministry of Security, not only were munitions from Bosnia used in the January 2015 attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, but some of the weapons used in the November 13 Islamic State attack on Paris were also from former Yugoslav production.It increasingly looks as though a new sanctuary for IS fighters, planners and recruiters has been established right in the middle of Europe. In some remote villages, the black flag of IS is flown and, as a share of the population, more fighters from Bosnia-Herzegovina have joined IS than from any other country in Europe, except for Belgium. Around 30 Bosnians have lost their lives in the Middle Eastern battlefields, with some 50 having returned home.
Bosnia has a population of 3.8 million, and is about half Muslim. Only a small faction of these are radicalized or have radical sympathies—but that’s still a larger number, in absolute terms, than the EU would like to see in a country that shares a border with Croatia (which is due for consideration for admission to the—admittedly endangered—visa-free Schengen Zone). Furthermore, the legacy of war in the mid-1990s has left Bosnia internally divided and very difficult to police.
This is just another security worry for Europe, which has in the span of a few short years gone from thinking it was at the end of history to being at the center of Western security concerns. From Belgium to Bosnia, it’s past time for America to start worrying —and helping—our European partners.