No, Bosnia is not "arming ISIS"

Reporting on the illegal arms trade is an admirable task, and one that surely requries a lot of personal courage and professional skill. Making up stories about it -- not so much.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
No, Bosnia is not "arming ISIS" - NewsMavens
Toy, PixaBay

Why this story matters:

The public news agency of Republika Srpska (SRNA) has recently published an article stating that 80% of the weapons manufactured in Bosnia and Herzegovina end up in the hands of ISIS. Were this true, it would be very alarming news indeed; however, not a single part of the story checks out.

As in many similar cases, instead of evidence, the article simply cites "an anonymous source close to the intelligence community" (the go-to move of propagandist media in the Balkans). But even if the identity, credibility -- or indeed the very existence -- of the "source" are conveniently impossible to establish by external fact-checking, it was possible to check the presented figures, procedures and "implicated" companies. All turned out to be entirely false.

Another thing which can be established with considerable certainty is the reason for making up the story in the first place.

It claims that the whole operation is run by the SDA, which is the largest Bosniak party and the political nemesis of the SNSD (the largest Serb party). The SNSD effectively controls all the public media in Republika Srpska, including "SRNA". 

Clearly, there's no lengths that the politically controlled media won't go to in order to execute on-demand smear campaigns -- even if it means falsely presenting the entire country as an ISIS enabler. 

Facts and fiction

Claim:

  • 80% of BiH-made weapons ends up with ISIS.

Fact:

  • The most recent report of Conflict Armament Research, "Weapons of the Islamic state", found precisely one piece from BiH in Syria and exactly two cases of ammo in ISIS-controlled territories in Iraq.
  • All were exported from Bosnia more than twenty years ago and probably made their way to Syria and Iraq through Turkey.
  • The investigation did not find a single weapon made in BiH after 2000 in ISIS-controlled areas.

Claim:

  • The manufacture of weapons in Bosnia grows by 30% each year, due to a partnerhsip with "Howell Machine," a US-based company which controls five out of six weapons factories in the Federation of BiH.

Fact:

  • The exact scope of weapons production is considered confidential information and isn't disclosed to the public. However, the company claimed to be in charge of it has never started doing business in Bosnia.
  • The company did negotiate with the government of the Federation of BiH about buying a share in most of the major weapon manufacturing facilities in 2013. The contract, however, fell through.

Claim: 

  • SDA is the only actor overseeing the arms export, through the Ministry of Energy, Mining and Industry of the Federation of BiH (another entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Fact:  

  • In the current period, the ministry in question was never run by the SDA, nor is this the case now. 
  • As confirmed by the state Ministry of External Trade and the state Ministry of Security, each request for arms exports must go through these two institutions, as well as institutions in the intelligence sector and several international organizations before the final permit is issued.
  • It is virtually impossible to export 80% of the entire production on the black market without catching attention in at least one of those instances -- and this, as both ministries confirm, has never happened yet.

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