SKOPJE, Macedonia — An online music video praising Osama bin Laden has driven home a troubling new reality: A radical brand of Islam embraced by al-Qaida and the Taliban is gaining a foothold in the Balkans.
“Oh Osama, annihilate the American army. Oh Osama, raise the Muslims’ honor,” a group of Macedonian men sing in Albanian, in video posted on YouTube last year and picked up by Macedonian media this August. “In September 2001 you conquered a power. We all pray for you.”
Although most of Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority are Muslims, they have generally been secular. But experts are now seeing an increasing radicalization in pockets of the country’s Islamic community, particularly after armed groups from the ethnic Albanian minority, which forms a quarter of the population of 2.1 million, fought a brief war against Macedonian government forces in 2001.
It’s a trend seen across the Balkans and has raised concerns that the region, which includes new European Union member Bulgaria, could become a breeding ground for terrorists with easy access to Western Europe. Many fear that radicalized European Muslims with EU passports could slip across borders and blend into society.
“Wahhabism in Macedonia, the Balkans and in Europe has become more aggressive in the last 10 years,” said Jakub Selimovski, head of religious education in Macedonia’s Islamic community. He said Wahhabis were establishing a permanent presence in Macedonia where none existed before, and that “they are in Bosnia, here, Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia and lately they have appeared in Bulgaria.”
It is the first time a high-ranking official in the former Yugoslav republic’s Islamic community has agreed to speak openly about the presence and threat of radical Islam.
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