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Albania's Dangerous Past

Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page A24

Joby Warrick's excellent article on Albania's chemical weapons ["Albania's Chemical Cache Raises Fears About Others," front page, Jan. 10] did not mention the 1997 looting of many police stations and military barracks in that country. In April 1997, during an assessment mission to Albania for a Spanish organization, I saw conventional weapons -- assault rifles, handguns and grenades -- for sale at roadside stands; a fully functional pistol was selling for less than $1.

Several international observers I spoke to during my visit expressed deep concern over two possible scenarios: first, that conventional weapons looted from police and military depots would find their way to Albanian insurgents in Kosovo; and, second, that Enver Hoxha's chemical stockpiles would reach the black market.

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The first scenario came true in 1998, contributing to the Kosovo Liberation Army's uprising, which was met with a brutal response from the Slobodan Milosevic regime. It is disturbing to think that eight years after the looting nothing had been done until now to reduce the risk of those chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands.



I was surprised that Joby Warrick's Jan. 10 article did not mention the regular presence of al Qaeda in, and visits by Osama bin Laden to, Albania in the mid to late 1990s.

In 1998 Ahmed Ibrahim Nagar, the head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad in Albania, was reportedly also a financial official for the al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Saudi charity designated by the Treasury Department in 2002 as a financial, material and logistical supporter of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

The Treasury Department cited reports that Osama bin Laden might have opened the office as a cover for terrorist activity in Albania and elsewhere in Europe. Mr. Nagar was extradited from Albania to Egypt in 1998 to stand trial; he reportedly has voiced support for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's August 1998 terrorist attacks against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

In July 1999 then-Defense Secretary William S. Cohen canceled a visit to Albania to avoid a "hornet's nest" of Osama bin Laden militants and operatives, as one television network described the situation.

Al Haramain offices in Albania, which also had operational ties to Hamas, have since been closed by the government, but an employee of the Tirana office was involved in support for al Qaeda and was implicated in the 2002 murder of a senior official of Albania's moderate Muslim community.



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