Global Independent Analytics
Ioannis Mantzikos
Ioannis Mantzikos

Location: Greece

Specialization: Jihadist Groups, Islamic Terrorism, Global Security

A Bosnian terrorist captured in Greece

Greece is once again in the eye of the storm because of her unfortunate geography and the inability of her successive governments to protect her borders.

Greece has become an unwitting crossroads -- both for jihadists trying to reach Iraq and Syria from Europe, and for fighters returning home from the Middle East. Greece's long land and maritime boundaries, her proximity to Turkey, the explosive wave of illegal migration from Syria, and the country's dire financial situation make her, according to multiple counterterrorism sources, a welcoming hub for jihadist groups.

The most recent case involves the arrest of Mirsad Bektasevic, a Bosnian with a Swedish passport, along with another man, on Evros, Greece on January 28, 2015. A file collected by Greek authorities shows that both suspects came to Athens via Sweden on January 22, 2015 for two days before continuing on their journey to exit European territory by the end January 2015. Authorities were alerted of their presence when the two arrived at the Eleftherios Venizelos Athens International Airport. From there, both men took a KTEL bus to Thessaloniki and arrived at Alexandroupolis with a second bus. The ‘green light’ for their arrest came when they had booked a ticket for Tychero in Greece. Their arrest was given following a signal by European intelligence services. Both suspects have remained silent following their arrest, denying any involvement with ISIS and stating that they wanted to visit the village of Peplos for tourism.

However, Bektasevic’s record has proved his claims to be wrong. On October 19, 2005, he had been arrested after a police raid on his aunt’s home in Sarajevo, Bosnia. In the house, police had found a belt with explosives, 18 kilos of explosives and a video tape with directions as to how to create a makeshift bomb. Bektasevic left Goteborg, Sweden in September (he acquired Swedish citizenship in after leaving Bosnia), to acquire explosives in Sarajevo. Ηe managed along with a friend to purchase almost 20 kg of various explosive materials in the local market, which they had planned to place in a suicide belt that they had already acquired. The men videotaped themselves while mixing the explosives and boasting about their plan to carry out attacks "against Europe, against those whose forces are in Iraq and in Afghanistan." Authorities have speculated that the British Embassy in Sarajevo was the most likely target of the two, but they have been unable to determine this with certainty.

Bektasevic, who used the online nickname of Maximus, is also believed to have been recruiting European Muslims to fight in Iraq and Syria. This is perhaps the most important reason why he was trying to pass into Turkey with Syria as his final destination.

Bektasevic’s arrest along with various other incidents and cases in Greece brings into the surface several issues.

First, it confirms that the Islamic State has expanded its efforts to recruit fighters in Bosnia and in the wider Balkans. Furthermore, we cannot write off the possibility of ISIS recruiters (like Bektasevic) working towards establishing sleeper cells in Greece (in Evros in particular there is a large Greek Muslim minority.) Nevetheless, Muslim muftis in the area have denounced repeatedly radical extremism and are supportive of all counter terrorism measures.[i]

The second issue connected to Bektasevic case is whether or not there is an imminent threat that Greece may be targeted by ISIS as well. For the time being this danger is assessed as low for a simple reason that no targeting at this time serves terrorist interests: ISIS, and any other radical Islamic group, has little reason to attack Greece directly because any such action would disrupt the flow of jihadists hiding among “refugees” and other illegal economic migrants that are still pouring into the country as they filter across borders and try to reach the more affluent EU members. Ahmed Almuhamed, one of the Paris terrorist killers, arrived in France via the Greek “migrant express” masqueraded as a Syrian “refugee.”

Third, the Bektasevic case, the Abdelhamid Abaaoud case and other incidents developed in Greece, show that the Greek National Security Agency (EYP) is again experiencing tensions within the Greek government and is perhaps incapable of tracking terrorists without assistance from foreign Intelligence services. In the case of Abaaoud, Belgian authorities questioned Greek Intelligence’s capacity to track him down earlier.  Former Minister Yiannis Panousis said he was aware that jihadists were travelling via Greece[ii] but questioned EYP’s ability while Minister of Defence Panos Kammenos called for EYP Head Mr. Yiannis Roubatis resignation.[iii] Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that EYP is in need of a vast reform program since it was destined to confront left wing terrorism (such as the 17th of November Terrorist Organization) and most of its staff come from various bodies such as well as the police (drug enforcement), coastguard and military intelligence. Therefore, Greece urgently needs a Department of Homeland Security in order to coordinate the intelligence-sharing among the Greek intelligence service (NIS-EYP).

It is no wonder that even those unfamiliar with Greece question the capabilities of such a “leadership” intelligence group to rise to the challenge and offer viable options that could help the situation.

Irrespective of what the various hawks claim during their tirades on radio and television, Greece is an open country and this poses grave implications for her internal security. Apparently, Islamist terrorist attacks that caused disastrous effects in Turkey and Tunisia do not seem to concern the Greek “leadership” in any substantial way (apparently they think they are immune). For a country that has come to depend, almost exclusively, on tourism for a trickle of economic survival, pretending that the world is standing still and that love and affection will deflect the worse, is a death wish waiting to happen.

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