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Exclusive Interview with Security Expert Prof Dr. Darko Trifunović

Terrorist attack in Vienna and the Russian Agenda in Serbia

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Exclusive Interview with Security Expert Prof Dr. Darko Trifunović

New York ( — Four individuals were recently sentenced to long prison terms for their role in the 2020 terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria. The attacker, Kujtim Fejzulai, targeted the city’s popular nightlife district known as the Bermuda Triangle, killing four people and injuring 23 others. The four men on trial were accused of aiding Fejzulai prior to the attack. Two additional suspects were acquitted of being accomplices to murder but were still convicted of other terrorism-related charges. The attacker had previously been radicalized in Austria and had served time in prison for attempting to join the Islamic State group, who claimed responsibility for the attack. In an interview, renowned security expert Dr. Darko Trifunović was asked to share his expertise on terrorism. Dr. Trifunović is a well-respected security expert who is the founding Director of the Institute for National and International Security. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal “Science of Security” and holds several academic positions, including a guest professorship at FUDAN University in Shanghai and a research professorship at the Faculty of Security Studies at the University of Belgrade. Dr. Trifunović has also served in various governmental positions, such as First Secretary of the Foreign Service of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the UN and as an adviser to the State Secretary for War Crimes and the Minister of Police of the Republic of Srpska.

How do you interpret the verdict for those responsible for the 2020 Vienna terrorist attack?

It’s difficult to comment on court decisions, especially since they are not yet final. These are first-instance judgments, and based on the way they were pronounced and the severity of the penalties, it can be said that citizens of Austria can have faith in the country’s judicial system. However, Austria’s intelligence system is highly questionable. During the court proceedings, it was clearly established that a strong and widespread terrorist network exists in Austria, which even leads to self-radicalization. Every planned and executed terrorist attack is a huge failure and highlights the lack of security measures in place. It’s a bitter fact that for years Austria has been a “safe haven” for various groups of Islamic extremists from the Balkans and North Africa. The Austrian security services have been approvingly watching the darkest terrorists of Al Qaeda and other Wahhabist terrorist organizations spread their network in the heart of Vienna for years. In the end, that network turned against the citizens that those services were supposed to protect. So what’s the problem? Is it bad training, ignorance, lack of political will, or lack of laws? It’s up to the Austrian institutions to analyze the situation after this attack. It is clear, and now proven, that they did not do their job well.

How do you anticipate terrorism to develop in 2023 and beyond?

It’s difficult to predict the future of terrorism with certainty, but it’s likely that the main trends of the terrorist threat will continue to vary depending on the source of motivation in 2023 and beyond. Generally, they can be divided into threats coming from the circles of radical Islamists and threats coming from dangerous left-right circles. Countries that are considered “sponsors” of terrorism, such as Russia, will require special attention from states, as designated by the European Parliament in its resolution. States will need to focus on both internal and external risk factors of terrorist threats, and work on de-radicalization and prevention of radicalization, as the radicalization of both jihadists and left-right movements and organizations are key to the motivation of carrying out terrorist attacks. Open dialogue between nations, social groups, and members of different religious groups is becoming increasingly necessary to establish tolerance and understanding.

Which security challenges are most critical for the world today in your opinion?

The most critical security challenge facing the world today, in my opinion, is Putin’s aggression against Ukraine and its impact on European and global security. Putin has led Russia and its people into a dangerous adventure of aggression, destruction, and the threat of nuclear weapons. Additionally, there are old Stasi-KGB networks in Europe that have never been dismantled, and were established as “sleepers,” especially in Germany and Austria, to execute the Kremlin’s goals and Putin’s agenda. Examples of this include the Russian attempt to assassinate the President of Montenegro or the Prime Minister of North Macedonia, and the attempt to take over the oil industry in Croatia after the successful seizure of the oil industry in Serbia. There have also been recently discovered Russian spy networks, including one in Romania that used the Serbian Oil Industry as a cover. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has united the EU and NATO, and led to the lifting of the “New Steel Curtain” in Europe, leaving Russia completely isolated. It should be noted that Russia is waging a kinetic war against Ukraine, but the biggest victim of Russia’s hybrid war is Serbia, where Russia has created an entire hybrid army. The question that arises is what a small country like Serbia can do to defend itself if it is attacked by a hybrid Russia, and what are the chances of defending itself without the help and understanding of neighboring countries and the EU.

What changes do you think Austria may undertake to address terrorism?

It’s important for Austria to assess and evaluate its current counterterrorism strategies and policies. This could involve a review of security services and their efficiency in preventing and responding to terrorist threats, as well as exploring new technologies and approaches in security science. Additionally, building relationships and trust with different religious groups and communities, including those who may feel marginalized or excluded, could help in preventing radicalization and identifying potential threats. It is also crucial to understand the reasons why Vienna has become a hub for the Balkan Wahhabi movement and take appropriate actions to address this. Finally, cooperation and information sharing between different national and international agencies is vital for preventing and responding to terrorist incidents.

How important is international cooperation in the global fight against terrorism?

Yes, international cooperation is crucial in the global fight against terrorism. Terrorist threats often transcend national borders and require coordinated efforts from multiple countries to prevent and respond to attacks. Sharing intelligence, best practices, and resources can help to identify and disrupt terrorist networks, as well as prevent the spread of extremist ideologies. It is also important to work together to address the root causes of terrorism, such as poverty, political instability, and social exclusion. In addition, as you mentioned, international cooperation in the field of Security Science can help to improve the effectiveness of security assessments and response strategies.

What improvements do you believe are necessary for a more effective counter-terrorism response?

  • Enhancing international cooperation and intelligence sharing to better identify and track terrorist networks and their activities across borders.
  • Strengthening community engagement and building trust with local communities to prevent radicalization and recruitment of individuals by terrorist organizations.
  • Investing in technology and tools for better detection, surveillance, and analysis of terrorist threats, including cyber security.
  • Providing adequate training and resources for law enforcement and security personnel to effectively respond to terrorist incidents and prevent future attacks.
  • Implementing effective de-radicalization and rehabilitation programs for individuals who have been radicalized, to prevent them from carrying out attacks in the future.
  • Addressing the root causes of terrorism, including political, economic, and social grievances, to prevent the growth of extremist ideologies and violent extremism.

What is your analysis of the extent and nature of Russian influence in Serbia?

As I have previously mentioned, Ukraine has been the primary target of Russian aggression, while Serbia is facing the brunt of the Russian hybrid war. Russia has a significant presence in Serbia, consisting of a hybrid army with four main components:

  • Political – pro-Russian parties and movements.
  • Military – groups involved in visa pressure and execution of actions (such as People’s patrols, alleged fans, Cossacks, Putin’s motorcyclists, Wagner’s mercenaries, and others).
  • Media – pro-Russian media outlets, portals, and other information dissemination channels, including social media and Russian bots.
  • Logistics – Russian or pro-Russian “funds” (such as Gorchakov, Putin’s Soros Konstantin Malofeev), the Russian secret service, and energy resources provided by the Russian network in Serbia.
  • It is difficult for a small country like Serbia to counter the Russian hybrid effect. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the position of Serbia and the Serbian people, especially after the painful issues such as NATO’s aggression in 1999, the seizure of Serbian territory of Kosovo and Metohija, and other factors that Russia exploits to turn Serbia and its people against the West and the EU.

We heard there are issues with your security?

I have received over 20 death threats on social media from individuals associated with the Russian hybrid army in Serbia. I reported these threats to the Serbian Prosecutor’s Office. These individuals are extremely aggressive, and some have even scratched my car or waited for me on the street with threats. The police have been informed about these incidents. These threats are clearly motivated by a pro-Russian orientation, and it is evident that my public appearances and efforts to expose the truth about Russian aggression against Ukraine cause significant pain and suffering for those associated with the Russian intelligence network in Serbia. By presenting them with the truth, it becomes clear that they have received money for betraying Serbia and justifying the killing of Ukrainians and Serbian citizens. Ultimately, their attempts to justify their actions simply crumble under the weight of the truth.

Thank you for the interview.

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