Bosnia: Terror Threat Closes US Embassy

Intelligence reports suggested Muslim militants in Bosnia were planning to strike at US targets last week.

Bosnia: Terror Threat Closes US Embassy

Intelligence reports suggested Muslim militants in Bosnia were planning to strike at US targets last week.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Reports of an imminent attack by Al-Qaeda-linked radicals forced the temporary closure of the US embassy in Sarajevo and its consular offices in Mostar and Banja Luka last week, senior Bosnian sources have told IWPR.

Although the US embassy resumed work a few days later, after local police briefly detained one and questioned several other persons, the incident illustrated that America and other western countries still believe Islamic militants may be active in Bosnia. Among all the Balkan countries, US intelligence officials regard the country as the most likely center for potential terrorism.

The Sarajevo embassy stopped work on March 20, citing concerns over "unverified threats". The next day, consular offices in Mostar and Banja Luka closed completely.

It's the second time the US embassy has shut because of terrorism fears since September 11. After the first on October 17, the authorities arrested six members of the so-called Algerian group who were in mid-January handed over to the American authorities and transferred to the Quntanamo Bay camp in Cuba.

Neither US officials nor local police gave much explanation for the second

shutdown. But a senior Bosnian official told IWPR that it was caused by information received on March 15 from "partner intelligence services" about an alleged meeting in the Bulgarian capital Sofia of an Al-Qaeda cell during February.

The meeting reportedly plotted terrorist attacks against US targets in the region, including the Sarajevo embassy. The intelligence report said an unspecified attack in Bosnia was planned for March 21. Along with this information, police and anti-terrorist units received recordings of intercepted phone conversations between participants at the Sofia meeting who frequently mentioned the name of Esad Cancar, a Bosnian citizen suspected of having connections with terrorist groups.

According to the senior Bosnian official, who declined to be named, local authorities immediately started tapping Cancar's private and office phones. Cancar's record has long raised official concerns. A graduate in Oriental Studies at the School of Philosophy in Sarajevo, he is fluent in Persian and served during the war as a religious fighter.

Cancar belonged to several Muslim units of the Bosnian army, including the Crni Labudovi (Black Swans) and the seventh batallion. His war biography said he visited the so-called Iranian military training camp in Pogorelica (30 km west of Sarajevo) from July to September in 1993.

NATO-led peacekeepers raided this camp in February 1996 and declared it was used for training local and foreign Islamic fighters and terrorists. After the raid, the Bosnian authorities were forced to expel most of the Arabs who had remained in the country after the end of the war.

Now 40, Cancar works for a local fund responsible for maintaining graves of Muslim soldiers killed in the three-and-a-half-year war. According to his police file, he is also interested in black magic, exorcism and practices Koranic healing methods.

Although surveillance brought no solid evidence, police detained Cancar for questioning on March 21 and searched his apartment and office, the Bosnian official said. The interrogation yielded no new proof - Cancar even passed a lie detector test - and he was released after one day, with the consent of the UN several western embassies which were informed about the case and whose representatives even participated in the questioning.

Following his release, Cancar publicly denied any involvement in terrorist

activities. "We need all these embassies. Why would I do something so horrible, why would I do something that foolish? I'd cause immeasurable damages to my own country, cast a blot upon my own people and my respected family," he told a local newspaper, Ljiljan.

But Cancar's case is not completely closed. According to the IWPR's source, he gave several answers under interrogation which corresponded with the original intelligence information on the Sofia meeting. But the answers were insufficient for criminal proceedings. Documentation and equipment seized during the search of Cancar's office and apartment are still being examined.

Despite the fact that the Bosnian authorities were frequently commended for their efforts in fighting terrorism, the head of America's Central Intelligence Agency, George Tennet, said in his address to the US Senate Committee for military issues on March 19 that among all Balkan countries, Bosnia posed the greatest risk for American and other Western troops.

Senad Slatina is a journalist with the Bosnian weekly,Slobodna Bosna.

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