Sarajevo (CNSNews.com) - As many as 70 Afghani citizens with known connections to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network will under no circumstance be allowed to enter Bosnia, said Bosnian government officials over the weekend.
"All terrorists who think that they will find heaven on earth here can know that they will only meet hell," said Muslim-Croat Federation interior minister Muhamed Besic at a press conference in Sarajevo. The Federation is one of two highly autonomous entities that make up post-war Bosnia. The other is the Serb Republic.
Besic said that "informed Western sources" had alerted the government that dozens of bin Laden's collaborators were planning to seek refuge in Bosnia in case of American strikes on Afghanistan in retaliation for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. He said the Afghanis in question have not yet tried to enter the country, but that efforts to do so would not be welcomed.
Concern about terrorism in Bosnia has grown in recent weeks because of the country's fledgling border service and lack of visa regime towards many Islamic countries. Afghanis, however, do require visas to enter Bosnia.
Another concern is the possibility that some of the dozens of foreign Islamic fighters who received Bosnian citizenship after fighting in the Bosnian army during the 1992-95 war could be involved in international terrorism.
Deputy Federation interior minister Tomislav Limov said that the country's border service and police were on alert concerning 13 naturalized Bosnians of Arab origin. The American embassy in Sarajevo asked the police to watch eight of these people, with the additional request that three of the people be stopped if they attempt to leave the country. The remaining five, Limov said, are being watched because of information from informed local sources.
"They are being checked out because of their possible connections to terrorists," Limov said, adding that none of the people are on international wanted lists.
Besic said the local police are working with NATO's Stabilization Force (SFOR) and with international police affiliated with the United Nations' mission to Bosnia to keep an eye on possible suspects.
Fears that there may be terrorist training camps in Bosnia heightened Sunday after an excerpt from a bin Laden interview with a Pakistani paper was published in the Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine . Bin Laden said that Bosnia was on the list of places that is home to Jihad, or holy war, organizations.
"This is not a question about Osama or Islam. There are places in the world in which there are active Jihad organizations, for example in Kabul, Chechnya, Palestine, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sudan, Burma, Kashmir and many other countries," bin Laden was quoted as saying.
A spokesperson for Bosnia's tripartite presidency said that he did not know whether such cells exist in Bosnia, but that the country is working to find out.
"State structures have agreed on activities related to terrorism. The police and information structures in Bosnia-Herzegovina are already working intensively on that," Dragan Ivanovic told Nezavisne.