Southeastern Europe is emerging as the latest breeding ground for homegrown Islamist militants in the West as a result of missionary work by Saudi-inspired Wahhabis, followers of the strict, puritan interpretation of Islam adopted by oil-rich Saudi Arabia and violently promoted by Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and jihadists in Somalia.
Muslim charities, many of them with Saudi funding or Wahhabist leanings, have been active in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia and EU member Bulgaria since the wars in former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s. A recent music online video featuring a group of Macedonians praising Bin Laden in Albanian has focused attention on what Muslim authorities in the region and intelligence agencies say is an alarming trend that threatens not only fragile stability in the region but could produce a pool of terrorists with easy access to the rest of Europe. Similar songs have also emerged in Bosnian.
Beyond building a large number of mosques across southeastern Europe, Wahhabis have also founded a string of schools that lie beyond the control of local authorities. Concern about the rise of militant Islam in southeastern Europe also focuses attention on the broader impact of Saudi-funded Wahhabi missionary work. While Saudi King Abdullah has been seeking to gradually reform Wahhabi practice in the kingdom, militants often exploit its ascetic version of Islam to create a feeding ground for radical Islam.
Analysts say unregulated Wahhabi schools in Bulgaria have produced some 3,000 graduates in the last 20 years. The threat posed by the Wahhabis has become a major bone of contention in the tense relations between Muslims and Serbs in Bosnia, which so far has been successful in neutralizing Wahhabi influence by controlling the appointment of imams in mosques and teachers at Islamic educational institutions.
A Serbian court last year sentenced 12 militants from the tense region of Sandzak to prison for planning terrorist attacks, including an attack on the US embassy in Belgrade. Moderates and Wahhabis are battling for control of Macedonia’s Islamic Religious Community, one of the country’s major Islamic organizations.