Bosnian Muslim leaders launch appeal against extremism

Muslims pray in front of the Gazi-Husref Bey's mosque in Sarajevo, Bosnia, a country home to 3.8 million people, 40 percent of whom are Muslim (AFP Photo/Elvis Barukcic)

Sarajevo (AFP) - Religious, political and intellectual Muslim leaders in Bosnia launched a joint appeal Friday against Islamic extremism in the country, admitting they had not initially realised the extent of its threat.

In the Balkan country of 3.8 million people, 40 percent of whom are Muslim, the unprecedented call came three weeks after deadly attacks in Paris and the killing of two Bosnian soldiers in Sarajevo five days later in a suspected Islamist attack.

"We are concerned because of terrorist acts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Europe and around the world and we are aware of our responsibility to preserve freedom, peace and inter-communal life in our country," said the declaration.

Adopted at a meeting of about 40 leading Muslim figures in Sarajevo, including spiritual leader Grand Mufti Husein Kavazovic, the appeal called on the authorities to oppose extremism.

"We oppose any form of radicalism, extremist violence or terrorism," said Bosnian Muslim political leader Bakir Izetbegovic, who spoke of the need to defend an "inclusive Islam".

"I must admit that we did not recognise in time the size of the danger from the spread of this ideology," he added.

The signatories also asked the "authorities in Muslim countries" to "respect the religious tradition... institutions and autonomy" of Bosnian Muslims and their "European identity".

During and after Bosnia's 1992-1995 inter-ethnic war, Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, financed the reconstruction of homes and mosques.

Local analysts have consistently warned against the religious influence that accompanied this aid.

"Violence and terror are not our way," said Kavazovic. "Islam must be taught in the way our ancestors have always done so here."

Strict strands of Islam, including Saudi Wahhabism, were also imported into the country by jihadists who joined Muslim forces during Bosnia's 1990s conflict.