used without permission, for "fair use" only

Kopriva Spend, political-religious commissar of the Jihad Unit "Abu Bekir Sidik"

Story of Love and Holy War

by Miroslav Filipovic

Danas, Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia, December 20 1999

When Miroslav Ivanovic, the president of the District Court in Kosovska Mitrovica gave me a permission to visit three members of "the staff of the Jihad unit 'Abu Bekir Sidik'", in the prison Zabela near Pozarevac, he mysteriously mentioned that the permit was not a guarantee that I would be able to realize that visit.

"This should be enough," he said, "but many more people need to give their approval. I am not optimistic."

At first it seemed that the Court president was right. However, a several-hours-long wait at the entrance booth ended positively. All individuals who needed to give their agreement apparently did so and I finally entered the Forbidden City. My permit gave me the right to talk to three leaders of the unit: Ekrem Avdiju, Spend Kopriva, and Nexhmedin Lausha.

An officer of the Ministry of Justice who escorted me to the place for visits left me in a spacious room. Walking through a long corridor I saw several tied prisoners and a mass of prison guards. Two individuals entered. One of them, older, in his fifties, in whom I recognized Nexhmedin Lausha, and the second one, who introduced himself as Spend Kopriva. The third one, the leader of the unit, did not come. Apparently he refused to talk to journalists, and I could have sworn that I had seen more than two prisoners at the far end of the corridor.

Lausha was not terribly interesting. It turned out that he was arrested for driving Ekrem and Spend from Kosovska Mitrovica to Deneral Jankovic. Spend Kopriva was another story. He is a young man, with an educated and authoritative air, talks very concisely and seems very focused. According to his own confession, he was some sort of a political, therefore religious-sharia "commissar" in the unit. He said that he had been "in charge of discipline and faith" in the unit. He had visibly lost weight and his hair had turned white in the prison, but his clear blue eyes betrayed almost fanatical dedication to the idea and path he has chosen, and, according to his own confession, that is Jihad.

"When they announced you," said Spend, "I refused to talk. I only accepted when I heard that you write for Danas. Danas is a good newspaper. I used to regularly read it down there." He immediately asked me whether he could give me the address of his brother Beqir who lives in Sweden, so that Beqir could subscribe him to Danas. I took Beqir's phone number. I already knew Spend's address.

"I have money here, but they won't let me use it"

I taped my conversation with Spend on a cassette. During the conversation, which went on for about an hour and a half, I was alone with prisoners. The prison guards were in front of the door.

Therefore, Spend Kopriva, a sharia-jihad political commissar:

My name is Spend Kopriva. I was born in Kosovska Mitrovica in 1968. I am a father of four children. At the moment I am in Pozarevac prison. I have been in captivity for 16 months and am awaiting a trial which, allegedly will be held at the end of this or early in the next year. I was arrested because I was a member of the military unit Abu Bekir Sidik. That unit was a branch of the KLA. We were really a part of the KLA. All of us were believers and that's why we named our unit Abu Bekir Sidik. I was arrested on August 5 1998, on the border with Macedonia, at the border crossing Deneral Jankovic together with my friend Ekrem Avdiju.

The commander of the unit?

(Smile)No, he was not the commander of the unit, he is too young for that. You know, he is a theologian, very educated, and that's why the Police said that he was the commander. We did not want to spoil their "discovery", that even worked for us, so that Ekrem was due to circumstances "promoted" into a commander. The real commander was a different individual, Ekrem's brother, but fortunately, he is far from the reach of the Serb police.

What is his name?

Why don't you ask the Serb Police. They should know, shouldn't they?

Was Ekrem Avdiju the chief of the "Bureau for Islamic Calling in the Balkans"?

You'll have to ask other sources about that as well, although that should not be a reason for repression. "The Bureau for Islamic Calling in the Balkans" is a religious organization whose goal is to spread Islam. That is an absolutely legal organization which exists in many countries and is legal everywhere. Besides, every religion has its organization which is a counterpart of the Bureau for Islamic Calling and many religions, when it was necessary, formed military units for the protection of the people and religion. Through the Bureau, we educated people, our faithful, about Islam, its secrets, assisted people in realizing the beauty and beneficial nature of Islam. We tried to help them grasp their identity.

What was your duty in the unit?

I did not have a specific post. You should understand that this was a specific unit. We were believers and our faith was for us sufficient to maintain the cohesion of our unit. We did not have classical military titles, there were no officers. We had commanders, and it is true that I was a member of the command staff, but we did not have titles. Members of the unit obeyed because someone had to issue orders. Therefore, the authority that was given by our faith and the holy book Qur'an were the basis for subordination in the unit, rather than some military titles and command hierarchy. We did not have uniforms nor any sort of insignia.

When I was arrested, they brought the a TV crew to take pictures. They ordered me to put on a KLA uniform with some eagles. That is nonsense since believers cannot wear any insignia or pictures on themselves during fighting. Besides, they gave me a too small uniform. I weighed 90 kilos at the time and couldn't get in the uniform even after many attempts. I complained and got beaten up.

Were you some sort of political or religious commissar? If you say yourself that all members of the unit were believers and that you fought a war, or were preparing to fight a war for faith, your position in the unit would be very important?

Yes, you could say that.

Tell me more about the unit "Abu Bekir Sidik".

The story about the formation of that unit demands an introduction, and that introduction speaks of love for one's people and fear for its fate and future. My people was in great and terrible danger and its protection demanded Jihad. But not Jihad as a majority of uninformed individuals imagine it, as some sort of a holy war, war at any cost, war without rules until the extermination of one side or the other. It is true that Jihad can be all of these things, but only if it is impossible to protect one's own people in any other way. By the way, the meaning of "Jihad" is struggle and it has its degrees.

The pretext for the formation of the unit "Abu Bekir Sidik" are events from the early spring of 1998, when the Serbian Police carried out a massacre in the villages of Drenica, when whole families with small children were needlessly murdered. This did not only happen to the Jashari family; many anonymous families were needlessly wiped off the face of the Earth in this manner. That terror required a military response and we formed a unit with the intention to respond to the terror of the Serbian Police in the only manner possible, with weapons. Preparations took a while, and then, in early June 1998 we gathered about 100 people, bought weapons and started with training.

The core of the unit was made up from Albanians from the Drenica region, patriots, men who loved their families and freedom more than their lives. We also had thirteen foreigners, since all of us Muslims have the obligation to assist each other; at least that is what our holy book Qur'an says. All of them were Muslims, although some of them were from Western Europe and were born as Christians. They spent only two weeks with us. I know that the Serbian authorities refer to these people as mercenaries, but they were with us without financial compensation and as volunteers. It is true that they had better combat knowledge than we did, but Jihad forbids a reward in struggle for the faith. Therefore, our instructors, as you say, worked with us because of their belief that they were fighting for the right cause. The rest of us had some military training, to the extent that is acquired during a mandatory military service, and you know yourself that that is not much.

I did not have a lot of contact with the foreigners, I did not speak their languages, and they did not seem to be in a mood to make new friends.

I want to repeat here that we had no mercenaries, since our holy duty is to fight a war for our faith against those who are expelling us from our homeland. That is written in our honorable book Qur'an which was revealed by our and your God; there is only one God and we obey only him.

One more thing! It is forbidden to us, Muslims, to attack first. We have the obligation to only defend ourselves. And it is well known that Muslims have never started a war. Neither in Bosnia, nor in Kosovo, nor in Kashmir, nor in Afghanistan.

So, are you actually describing Jihad?

Yes, I am! But Jihad is divided into three branches, it has three levels, and the applicable level is chosen based on need and circumstances. Jihad actually means struggle, or striving and, as I said, needs and circumstances determine the mode of that struggle. Sometimes it is necessary to assist people with financial contributions, sometimes by writing books, and sometimes with weapons, as was the case in Kosovo.

You know, Serbs and Albanians have been living together in Kosovo for centuries. They did not exactly like each other, but they managed to maintain a normal life. Someone spoiled that normal life and rivers of blood were spilled in Kosovo. Mostly Albanian blood, blood of Albanian children, women and elderly. Of course, blood was not immediately spilt, but relations were slowly deteriorating, my people was increasingly endangered and at first we tried to assist people financially, then we began to distribute books, and when we realized that it was necessary to assist with arms, we formed a military unit. We though that it would be necessary to activate the unit but during that summer of 1998 there was no need nor chance for something like that and we withdrew. That was a wrong decision and we are sorry that we disbanded the unit since it turned out that later its activities were needed and that we should have waited with the disbanding of the unit. It is well known what later happened in Kosovo.

The indictment charges you, I mean the unit, with preparation for military actions against the state and regime. It claims that you trained and acquired weapons with that in mind.

I am not contesting that part of the indictment. When someone forms a military unit, trains its members, acquires weapons, it is clear what his intentions are. We were not getting ready for a wedding, but for war. The pressure of the Serbian regime was unbearable. Albanians were murdered, their property was destroyed, mosques were set on fire, we had to defend ourselves. However, something happened and we did not enter the war. The unit did train for fighting but it did not carry out a single military action. The circles that decided that the unit be formed suddenly decided that circumstances had changed and that there was no need for its existence and the unit was disbanded. Later it turned out that that assessment was wrong and that there was a need for the actions by the unit, but by then it was too late.

Besides, the purpose of the unit was not to fight the state and the regime, as you say. We only wanted to fight for the protection of our people. To you that may sound the same but to us, believers, that is not the same.

When the unit was disbanded in mid July 1998, I was for twenty days at home. I led normal life, worked, went out to the city and there were no indications that I would be arrested. Only when I tried to leave the country, I was taken into custody. And I was on my way to Sweden to see my relatives. I asked my acquaintance Nexhmedin Lausha to give me a lift to the border crossing. I was arrested at the crossing together with another member of the unit Ekrem Avdiju. That took place on August 5 1998. Since then, until June 10 of this year, I was held in prison in Kosovo, and on June 10 I was transferred to Pozarevac.

As far as weapons are concerned, we had most ordinary weapons, such as machine guns manufactured in China. These special weapons they talk about, that was planted. We did not have any of that, no machetes, no "nitroglycerin"...

What were your relations with the KLA?

We had no relations with the KLA. We were a branch of the KLA, we would have perhaps, cooperated with them in some larger actions but, I repeat, we did not carry out a single military action. We only existed for about a month and all that time we spent in training for actions we never carried out. In that phase we were not subordinate to anyone.

The investigators claim that the unit "Abu Bekir Sidik" is a follower of the Mujahideen unit "El Mujaheed" which was active during the war in Bosnia and which, according to the Serb sources, committed numerous crimes?

The investigators can claim whatever they want, but what is important is what they can prove. Our unit had no connection whatsoever with that or any other unit. We have heard of the unit "El Mujaheed", it still exists and could have been invited to Kosovo. However, we formed our own unit which, I repeat, had no connection nor similarities with that unit.

Did you have a camp?

Yes, there was a locality where we were camped out. That was a large yard with three large houses. We were at that locality during all the time the unit existed. We did not leave that yard because we were concerned about secrecy, we wanted to make sure that our activities remained hidden. When it was decided that the unit be disbanded, people left in small groups. In the end we left, but were later arrested on August 5.

Do you know what happened in Kosovo after your arrest, and would you care to comment on that?

Only partly, to the extent it is possible to find anything out in a prison. As far as my comments are concerned, you'll have to wait for my release from prison since I would very gladly comment, but that would most likely make my position in prison significantly worse. But there is no need for that, my comments and attitude are widely known.

Instead of a comment, let me remind you of the words of bishop Artemije: "Milosevic has inflicted a lot of evil on this people. Both Albanians and Serbs". I support him in that sense. Look, isn't that the true picture of the present Serb regime. An Albanian who is about to be tried for terrorism, therefore according to the regime a true enemy of the people, and a [Serb] Orthodox bishop have the same opinion about the president. Therefore, who is the enemy of the Serb people?

What do you expect from the trial?

If this were a normal country, I would expect to be punished for what I did, and not for what I did not do. However, Serbia is not a normal state with the rule of law, and as in the past I expect only injustice and more injustice. The war is finished, foreigners have entered Kosovo and we are tried without presence of our defense lawyers. We have been in prison for sixteen months. If they have evidence against us, why don't they try us? But we know that they do not have evidence for their charges. They know that as well. Since we were transferred to Pozarevac we were not given access to lawyers. One of my lawyers, Bajram Kelmendi, was murdered. I expect that I will receive an unjust sentence but, as every prisoner, I am hoping for clemency. There are many Serbs in Albanian prisons and, if Serb authorities do not like us, hopefully they like Serbs whom they can save in that manner.

Translated on May 31 2000