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Hungary Intelligence Warns of Taliban Involvement in Migrant Smuggling at Serbia Border

An intelligence dossier compiled by Hungary’s government confirmed leaked reports in pro-government media about how the Afghan Taliban are taking control of people-smuggling groups in Serbia to raise money for terror attacks.

An intelligence dossier on possible links between migration and terrorism, published on the Hungarian parliament’s website on Thursday afternoon, concludes that the Taliban’s intelligence service has taken direct control of Afghan people-smuggling groups operating in the territory of Vojvodina in Serbia next to the border with Hungary.

The classified document dated October 25, 2023, compiled from intelligence reports by the National Information Centre, a government agency dealing with national security information, also warns that the war between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has increased the risk of terrorism, and that the Western Balkan migration route could be used by terrorist networks to undermine security and stage attacks in Western Europe.

The report, entitled “National Security Aspects of the Illegal Migration on the Serbian-Hungarian Border Area”, comes amid increasing violence at the Hungarian-Serbian border as people-smuggling groups from Afghanistan, Morocco and Syria vie for control over the lucrative market taking migrants across the border into the EU. BIRN investigations show the groups are arming themselves in northern Serbia, often with weapons supplied by Albanian crime gangs from Albania, Kosovo and southern Serbia. Earlier this week, the Serbian and Hungarian police agreed to work together in the border area to tackle the criminal gangs involved.

In recent weeks, parts of the classified report have been leaked to the pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet, which has regularly published stories about the rising violence on Hungary’s southern border.

The almost daily stories have detailed how the border protection system is under severe pressure and that border patrols are often attacked by migrant smugglers. Between 1,000 and 1,200 attempts to cross the border are recorded every day, often distracting border patrols at one point while another group climbs ladders and crosses at another. The pressure has been increasing as winter approaches, as more migrants try to reach their destination before the cold weather arrives.

The intelligence report, whose declassification was initiated by the parliamentary group leader of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, Mate Kocsis, who is also chairman of the National Security Committee, describes how internal fighting among different smuggling gangs in Vojvodina is on the rise, violence is growing and the Serbian police seem unable to control the situation.

According to intelligence sources cited in the report, two Afghan groups – one called 40-059 and the other 313 – are now controlling most of the people-smuggling business. The former is actively posting propaganda videos on TikTok, glorifying their combat abilities, mirroring the styles of extremist groups like Hamas, ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

There is reason to believe, the report warns, that the Taliban is trying to take full control of the business, particularly on the Serbian-Hungarian border, both in terms of funding and operations. Their aim, it says, is to use the revenue from human smuggling as a resource for financing terrorism operations. The cost of migrant smuggling is rising, reaching 1,000 euros for each person brought over the border into the EU.

The report adds that family members of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and its terrorist organisation, the Haqqani group, are directly involved in the gangs in the region. Terrorist organisations in the Middle East have reputedly expressed interest in buying up entire trafficking networks in the Balkans.

The report also warns that terrorist threats in Europe are on the rise following the Hamas attack on Israel and the resulting conflict in Gaza, and that although Hungary is only a transit country and not a potential target for terrorist groups, the Western Balkan migration route could be increasingly used by terrorists to smuggle their members into Western Europe.

Interestingly, the report also highlights the importance of a Moscow-Belgrade “link”, which could be politically sensitive for the pro-Russian Hungarian government of Viktor Orban. Apparently, the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan is virtually uncontrolled, and Afghans of Tajik origin can easily obtain Tajik passports, allowing them visa-free travel to Moscow and then from Moscow to Belgrade.

“This method allows members of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other Taliban extremist organisations to enter the EU almost undetected, even in a matter of days,” the report says.

Politically useful

The release of the intelligence report fits neatly into the narrative of the nationalist-populist Hungarian government on migration. Orban’s national security adviser, Gyorgy Bakondi, was quick to react on Hungarian public television on Friday morning, saying that, “due to the EU’s failed migration policy, it is now the Taliban’s secret service and the Afghan government who decide who can enter Europe.”

Critics point out the public release of the report could be used by the Hungarian government to shape Europe’s political climate ahead of next year’s European elections, in which the vexed issue of migration into the bloc is expected to play a major role.

“This government has used the intelligence services several times for political reasons,” Bulcsu Hunyadi of the Budapest-based think-tank Political Capital told BIRN. “It is obvious that the government is very concerned about what is happening on the southern border, especially as it has no control over developments in northern Serbia. This report looks a lot like crisis communication.”

Hunyadi added that the Hungarian far-right party Mi Hazank is already planning an anti-immigration demonstration in Asotthalom, southern Hungary, and the government wants to keep the upper hand on migration. Observers say it is somewhat surreal, though, that a government that links people-smuggling to organised crime released 1,400 foreign people-smugglers from prison this summer, citing over-crowdedness.

Source : Balkan Insight