German Intelligence Sets Sights on ‘Fragile’ Balkans, Monitoring Migration and Terrorism

James Carstensen | November 30, 2017 | 12:30am EST
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The King Fahd mosque in Sarajevo, Bosnia. (Photo: BiHVolim/Wikipedia)

Berlin ( – Germany’s foreign intelligence agency (BND) is shifting its focus to the Balkans as it becomes increasingly concerned about Islamist tendencies in the region – especially in Muslim-majority Bosnia-Herzegovina.

According to a report in the Berliner Zeitung that cited intelligence community sources, a BND report has raised concern that migrant flows could lead to fragile states, vulnerable to civil wars and providing operational areas for terrorists. The agency is reportedly cooperating with other intelligence services in its Balkan-focused activities.

Another security concern raised was that Bosnia, as part of the so-called “Balkan route,” had facilitated the large influx of migrants who traveled in 2015 from the Mediterranean, through Greece and ultimately to western European nations such as Germany.

The BND has not confirmed or commented on the new story. Two weeks ago, however, BND chief Bruno Kahl in a lecture described Bosnia and other former Yugoslav nations as potentially “fragile states.”

“The Fragile States Index 2016 provides in this context, from a German point of view, a barely encouraging picture,” he told the Hanns Seidel Foundation, an association linked to Germany’s Christian Social Union party.

“Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia are classified under categories from ‘warning’ to ‘high warning,’” he said.

Bosnia and Kosovo are currently seeking candidacy for E.U. membership. Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are also not yet members but are considered official candidates.  Like Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania are Muslim-majority states.

Germany, along with the rest of the European Union, sees the Balkans as an important region for controlling immigration and countering security threats ranging from Russian interference to the rise of radical Islam.

While Bosnia has historically been associated with a more moderate interpretation of Islam, it has begun to struggle with radicalization in recent years.

In 2015, hundreds of people are believed to have traveled from Bosnia to join jihadi groups in the Middle East – more per capita than any other European country. Similar cases have been reported in Kosovo and Albania.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have long been funding Wahhabist teachings in Bosnian society, with Saudi charities providing funds for places of worship, including the King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo, the largest in the Balkans.

A conference entitled “The Western Balkans at a crossroads,” organized by the Brussels-based Friends of Europe think tank and to be held in Rome in early December, plans to discuss “criminal networks, small arms proliferation, illegal trafficking and terrorist groups” in the region.

“These challenges are often of a more political nature, including external actors trying to take advantage of the situation to improve their sphere of influence,” reads the conference agenda.

Due to their relative proximity and strategic location, Germany views the Balkan states as a critical component of border security.

The BND report may also signal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be taking a tougher political position on migration. Her liberal migration policies were seen as contributing to the rise of public support for Germany’s far right, and the nationalist Alternative for Germany’s entry into the federal parliament in September’s elections.

Since the beginning of the migration crisis in 2015, over a million migrants entered Germany with 800,000 coming via the Balkan route before it was shut last year.

Merkel, who previously repeatedly rejected calls to restrict the numbers of migrants and refugees admitted into Germany, last month announced plans to limit numbers to 200,000 annually.

Germany’s increased interest in the Balkans may also be linked to attempts to keep a closer eye on the “Three Seas Initiative,” a Polish-led grouping of nations situated between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas.

Some E.U. members like Germany and France are leery of the initiative, seeing it as a bid by mostly relatively newer E.U. member-states to divide Europe.

The initiative held its first summit in Dubrovnik, Croatia in 2016 and a second in Warsaw last July, which President Trump attended.

Trump in Warsaw endorsed the initiative, saying that it would “not only empower your people to prosper but it will ensure that your nations remain sovereign, secure and free from foreign coercion.”

Three Seas Initiative members are from central Europe (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Austria), the Baltics (Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia) and the and western Balkans (Croatia and Slovenia).

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