Kosovo Reckoning: Bin Laden casts a shadow over Sarajevo summit

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The Independent Online
ISLAMIC extremists, including followers of the alleged terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, are in Bosnia and pose a security threat to western leaders descending on Sarajevo tomorrow, according to western diplomats.

As more than 30 heads of government, including Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton, arrive for tomorrow's Balkan stability summit, Nato forces and Bosnian police are taking extraordinary precautions to guard against attacks by Islamic extremists and Serb nationalists.

More than 4,000 troops from the Nato-led peacekeeping force, SFor, and 5,000 Bosnian police have flooded into the city and surrounding areas in recent days to guard against attacks. By this morning, all roads into the city will be sealed by police and Nato troops and civilian vehicles will be banned from main routes and the summit site, the Olympic stadium.

The skies above Sarajevo were alive last night with Nato helicopters, including US Army Kiowa scouts and Apache gunships, while American, French, Italian, and German troops stood on every street corner.

Nato spokesmen have played down the potential danger, but other officers and western diplomats point out that the summit is to be held on the first anniversary of the terrorist truck bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed a dozen Americans and hundreds of local civilians.

The alleged mastermind of those attacks, Mr bin Laden, has reportedly vowed to celebrate the anniversary with another attack on American interests. And, according to Western diplomats and Nato officers, his supporters continue to live in Bosnia under the protection of Bosnian Muslim government officials.

A few thousand mujahedin, foreign Islamic fundamentalists, came here to fight beside their Muslim brethren during Bosnia's 1992-95 war. While many were killed, or left the country at the end of the war, a few hundred remained, were given Bosnian citizenship, and the protection of the government in areas ruled by the Muslim nationalist Party of Democratic Action, led by Alija Izetbegovic, now a member of the joint presidency.

Mr Izetbegovic has steadfastly refused to bow to US government pressured to get rid of the remaining mujahedin. Despite the fact that Bosnia's Muslims are perhaps the least religious and most Western-oriented in the Islamic world, Mr Izetbegovic and his party have maintained close ties with Iran and Arab states. Since the end of the war, there have been several bombings and attacks on Bosnian Croat police and Catholic churches that have been linked to the mujahedin and Bosnian Muslim extremists, but no arrests.

Shortly after the end of the war, Bosnian Croat militiamen killed five mujahedin who ran a checkpoint in central Bosnia. One of those killed was wanted in connection with the 1995 truck bombing of New York's World Trade Center. The most notorious crime attributed to mujahedin in Bosnia was their attempt to kill the Pope on his visit to Sarajevo in March 1997. Only hours before the Popemobile was scheduled to pass over a bridge on the way into the city, a citizen alerted police to a massive bomb placed under the roadway. Again, there were no arrests.

Western diplomats put some of the blame for the mujahedin's continued presence in Bosnia on Nato itself, in particular the American division, in whose sector most of the mujahedin operate.