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April 01, 2000
NATO Probes Claims that Bin Laden is in Kosovo


By Patrick Goodenough

CNS London Bureau Chief

28 April, 2000

(CNSNews.com) - The NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo is
looking into Yugoslav reports claiming that Saudi-born terror chief Osama
bin Laden has entered the province.

"We have looked into the matter, and the presence of Osama bin Laden
has not
been confirmed yet," KFOR spokesman Major Kristian Kahrs told
CNSNews.com.

The official Yugoslav news agency, Tanjug, reported Thursday that bin
Laden has "found new sanctuary in the Balkans, in the hotbed of European
terrorism - Kosovo."

It said bin Laden had arrived in Kosovo accompanied by "a close
collaborator, Abu Hassan." No dates were given.

His arrival had "especially disturbed members of the U.S. contingent of the
international security forces in Kosovo and Metohija (KFOR)," said the
agency, a mouthpiece for the government of President Slobodan Milosevic.

The United States blames bin Laden for bomb attacks on American
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, and the FBI has offered
a $5 million reward for his capture.

Sanctions have been imposed on the Taliban militia ruling most of
Afghanistan for refusing to hand over the terrorist, who is believed to be
sheltering there.

Citing unnamed sources, the Tanjug report says the "notorious international
terrorist" and "Islamic fanatic" arrived in Kosovo from Albania.

"Until recently, bin Laden was training a group of almost 500 mujahedin
[Muslim fighters] from Arab countries around the Albanian towns of
Podgrade and Korce for terrorist actions in Kosovo."

It said an eventual 2000-strong group of "extremists" was planned "to set
off a new wave of violence in southern Serbia (the area linked by the towns
Presevo, Bujanovac, Medvedja)."

Numerous Western reports in recent months have identified a new armed
ethnic Albanian militia, operating in the area bordering southern Serbia and
Kosovo.

The group, which styles itself an offshoot of the now-disarmed Kosovo
Liberation Army, is known by the initials UCPMB, the last three letters
standing for the areas of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja.

Tanjug reported that Abu Hassan, the man said to be accompanying bin
Laden, was "responsible for the murder of three British tourists in
December 1998."

Although it did not elaborate, the reference may be to the deaths on
December 29 1998 of three British and one Australian tourist, who were
among 16 Western hostages captured by Islamic militants in Yemen.

Reports at the time identified the captors as "Islamic Jihad" - a name which
has been used by numerous Arab terrorist groups - and speculated that bin
Laden may have been behind the operation.

(During that same month, three Britons and a New Zealander were
murdered by Islamic rebels in Chechnya, but they were telephone workers,
not tourists.)

Three weeks ago, the BBC reported that KFOR raided a Saudi charity
operating in Kosovo after being tipped off by U.S. officials that it may have
links to bin Laden and be planning terror attacks. The Islamic relief
organization strongly denied the allegations.

This is not the first time reports have surfaced speculating on the possibility
of the involvement in the Balkans of Bin Laden and other "Afghans" -
Arabs from various countries who participated in the Muslim war to oust
Soviet forces from Afghanistan.

Before last year's NATO air campaign, the Yugoslav government said on
its website that KLA fighters from Kosovo had been attending terrorist
training camps in Arab states, "financed by some renegade Saudi
businessmen" - an apparent reference to bin Laden.

Last May, the Washington Times reported that the KLA had borrowed
money "from known terrorists like Osama bin Laden."

Two months earlier, Israeli investigative journalist Steve Rodan wrote that,
according to European security and diplomatic sources, "Kosovo has
become the latest and most significant arena for radical Islamic states and
groups that seek to widen their influence in Europe."

A Philippine newspaper, the Manila Bulletin, quoted military officials
Wednesday as saying Bin Laden had paid a secret, one-day visit to that
country on March 18, to bring in weapons and hold talks with Islamist
militants subsequently involved in a hostage drama still being played out.

Suryamurthy Ramachandran contributed to this report.


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