Today, Kosovo police arrested three ethnic Albanians on charges of terrorism and recruitment. The men, said to be linked to the world’s most infamous rising jihadist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), are reported to have recently returned from Syria, where some 150 Kosovar Albanians are waging jihad. The good news is that the Kosovo Intelligence Agency (AKI) tracked down the men before they perpetrated any terrorism (unlike French intelligence of late); the bad news is they are said to have been plotting mass casualty suicide bombings, which would represent a dark new page in the region.
In truth, there have been warnings for some time that Kosovo has become a significant breeding ground for the global jihad. Eyes were opened back in late March, when Blerim Heta blew himself up in Baghdad, killing over fifty people. In some ways, Heta did not fit the normal profile, in that he came from an intact family that was not poor, had no criminal record, and was employed (in fact he worked at Camp Bondsteel, the main U.S. Army base in Kosovo); yet in his sudden and profound radicalization Heta did reflect a depressingly common pattern. He attended sermons by Shefqet Krasniqi, the popular imam at Prishtina’s Grand Mosque, who praised the martyrdom of the first Albanians to die in the Syrian jihad.
In advance of today’s arrests, Kosovo has been aflutter with speculation about an impending wave of terrorism brought by ISIS veterans coming home filled with hate and know-how, with multiple press reports this week warning of a rising threat. Express Online reported that ten Kosovar Albanians had been trained by ISIS to become “kamikazes” to inflict suicide bombings at home. While this report smacks of sensationalist Balkan journalism, today’s arrests indicate that it may not be wide of the mark.
In a more analytical vein, the Prishtina daily Zëri explained that the rise of ISIS constitutes a serious threat to security in Kosovo and across Southeastern Europe. Thanks to the participation of many local radicals in the Syrian and Iraq jihads, “It was a low-scale threat but now it has risen to a medium-scale threat and it is gradually growing to high-scale threat,” explained a local security expert. Moreover, it is far from clear that the AKI and the Kosovo police, which are underfunded and strained, are up to the task of blunting this rising threat; neither do the international organizations that oversee many aspects of life in this small and impoverished country seem fully cognizant of the extent of the ISIS threat either.
Fatimir Mediu, Albania’s former defense minister, explained in the Tirana daily Panorama that the rising threat represented by Albanian jihadists returning from Syria is likely to become more acute, and young Muslims across the region are prone to recruitment thanks to widespread and seemingly intractable local concerns and troubles. Specifically, the Balkan-wide problems of dismal economics combined with very high unemployment, weak state structures, deeply embedded corruption, and persistently ugly ethno-religious politics, mean that Salafi radicalism will appeal to a certain subset of young men, particularly among the poor and disempowered. Fixing this, Mediu argued, requires taking the threat more seriously as a social and economic as well as security problem, bolstered by closer engagement with NATO and the European Union on counterterrorism matters, as well as local actions to isolate radicals before they move into terrorism.
Those are good ideas, and Kosovar authorities, the AKI particularly, are to be applauded for stopping something awful before it happened, but given the size of the threat represented by ISIS veterans coming home to Europe, combined with the region’s deep-seated socio-economic problems, it seems only a matter of time before the terrorists get it right, somewhere in the Balkans.
hang in there John
Wasn’t it Bismarck who said something about “some damned thing in the Balkans?” Prescient fellow.
No worries, no worries.
They will be neutralized sooner or later. The secret service has all their names as per albanian media.
I hope, we have decent intel over there. The “spontaneous” clashes in the Balkans still seem to surprise the Bundeswehr again and again.
The ironic thing is that without American intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, these jihadi networks in the Balkans would have never existed. Albanians have traditionally been the least Islamist of all Balkan Muslims to the point where many, inside and outside of Albania and Kosovo, concede that ‘Albanianism’ takes precedence over their nominal Muslim, Catholic, or Orthodox faith.
The war in Kosovo opened the doors for Gulf Arabs and associated jihadis to spread their teachings and radicalize those who were unaware of Salafism.
More worrisome is Bosnia where the Salafists found more fertile ground and where there are active networks that have taken over several villages, albeit under the microscope of state security agencies who are watching their every move.
Back in 2003, I went to the town of Bugojno and visited the large mosque complex that was financed by Saudi donors. Unlike traditional mosques in Bosnia that were built and decorated in the colourful Ottoman style, this one had the sparse look attributed to Wahhabism. Beyond that it had a dormitory and around 30 computer terminals for those staying there. I posed as a Muslim from the diaspora to gain access to all these facilities.
Only a few years later a local who frequented this mosque attacked the local police station by bombing it.
Salafism was simply a faraway and foreign concept, alien to the Balkans until the wars and the arrival of the jihadi networks.
Yes, right you are – I agree so strongly that I wrote a book about it. 🙂
Salafism really is an import in SE Europe, but due to war, disorder, and above all Saudi money it has taken root, sadly.
My very good friend, she is a Bosnian but married in Slovenia with one of my wonderful friends, was a journalist and worked with the security agencies at the time, explained to me that salafis were entering the war before the NATO intervention. She basically said that Alija Izetbegović was basically the one who began importing jihadis and salafis. Now, near her birthplace Goražde, are actually some salafi villages. She was shocked to go back to Goražde when her brother died of a stroke – her borther was one of the chiefs in the police – to see a strange habit that the local mosque would not allow women during the funeral services – they had to stay away from the procession, and observe it from far away! She would not even be able to see her brother again – this is a very new habit showing how far have things gone. This is interesting because I’ve lived in Egypt for a few years now, and women have no restrictions on attending the funeral services.
Yes, Alija oversaw the introduction of foreign radicals well before the intervention. Hate to repeat myself, but have you read my book on BiH and the jihad? All there. 🙂
Albanianism still takes priority nationwide.
Religion is personal and does not conflict with albanianism.
Unlike greeks or serbs, we do not mix religion with nationalism.
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