Sunday, August 28, 2016

Tracking Islamic State

Report Finds Alarming Outflow Of Kosovars To Islamic State

Ethnic Albanian Kosovar Lavdrim Muhaxheri (holding microphone) appears in an IS video calling on Albanian Muslims to join militants fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Ethnic Albanian Kosovar Lavdrim Muhaxheri (holding microphone) appears in an IS video calling on Albanian Muslims to join militants fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

At least 232 Kosovo citizens are fighting alongside militants in Syria and Iraq, making Kosovo rank eighth overall (and first per capita) among the 22 Western states with citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq, a new report has found. 

The Kosovar Center for Security Studies (KCSS), a nonprofit think tank established in 2008 in Kosovo to research security issues, has found that, as of January 2015, there are 232 confirmed cases of Kosovo citizens fighting alongside militant groups in Syria and Iraq, including Islamic State (IS).

The first Kosovo citizen to be killed fighting alongside opposition forces in Syria was a militant named Naman Demolli from Pristina, whose death was announced in a video uploaded to YouTube in November 2012.

Demolli's death "raised some eyebrows" in Kosovo, the report said, because it became apparent that he was not the only person from Kosovo who was fighting alongside militants in Syria.

The majority of Kosovars fighting in Syria and Iraq are thought to have joined militants there in 2013. During that year, the recruitment of Kosovars intensified as IS and other foreign fighter factions strengthened their positions in the country, the report said. 

In October 2013, another Kosovar -- 24-year-old ethnic Albanian Lavdrim Muhaxheri -- appeared in an IS video calling on Albanian Muslims to join the militants fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

Muhaxheri appears alongside other ethnic Albanians from Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania in an IS propaganda video, Clanging Of The Swords Part 4. In the footage, Muhaxheri is shown brandishing a sword and vowing to conquer both Rome and Spain. He and his fellow Albanians then burn their passports.

Muhaxheri, who hails from the town of Kacanik in Kosovo, gained even more notoriety in July 2014, when a news report published graphic photographs of him apparently cutting the head off a young man. Muhaxheri went on to explain his actions in an interview with Tirana daily Dita on August 2, 2014, saying that he had decapitated the teenager because he suspected him of being a spy and that he had done "nothing more than what members of the KLA [the Kosovo Liberation Army, an ethnic Albanian paramilitary organization] did during the war [in Kosovo]."

A Kurdish television station reported that Muhaxheri had been killed in August 2014,  but a man claiming to be a friend of the militant denied the report on social media.

Rooted In Poverty, Corruption

Shpend Kursani, one of the authors of the report, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that poverty, corruption, and weak state institutions are among the reasons driving Kosovars to join IS and other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

However, the outflow of Kosovars to join IS and other extremist groups is not a phenomenon that occurred in a vacuum.

After the Kosovo War ended in 1999, religion became more popular in the country thanks to societal disorientation and weak economic and political conditions, the report says.

The KCSS accuses international and local government structures of neglecting Kosovo's rural communities after the war, which the report says created space for "Middle Eastern charity organizations to massively penetrate these areas."

The poor economic conditions experienced after the war have continued, the report says, and have meant that religious and political Islamic groups have gained more credibility than the government, state institutions, and the secular elite.

Kursani told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that those in Kosovo who embrace the IS ideology are opposed to state institutions.

"They are against all the state institutions, police and army, they’re against voting, against handshaking with a police or a soldier for that matter, because in such a case, you would be immediately regarded as infidel," Kursani said.

Despite this, those who have fought and died in Syria are treated with caution or even rejection by local people.

"For instance, when we met a brother of a person who was killed in Syria, he was very isolated, neighbors kept calling him a 'terrorist'," Kursani told RFE/RL. 

The report recommends that efforts to deradicalize those who have embraced the IS ideology be stepped up.

As part of those efforts, the report says that secular institutions must join efforts by religious leaders to tackle radicalization.

According to the KCSS report, Kosovo has already taken a number of steps to fight radicalization. In a wave of arrests in January, the republic's security services detained over 80 individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist groups. However, police have lacked evidence to file indictments against over 60 percent of those arrested, who have been released in house arrest or freed completely, the report said.

IS Ideology

Just as in the former Soviet Union -- particularly in the Chechen Republic and Russia -- the KCSS report to some degree blames what it describes as "Wahhabism" for the phenomenon of Kosovars becoming radicalized and joining foreign extremist groups like IS. 

While in Russia the term "Wahhabism" is used as a derogatory term to refer not only to the radical brand of Islam practiced by Islamic militant groups such as the Caucasus Emirate but also to other Islamic activist groups, the word's original meaning refers to an Islamic revivalist movement that emerged on the Arabian peninsula in the 18th century.

The KCSS report said that while "Wahhabi" influences were an "enabling factor" for "schisms within and between Kosovo's Islamic community and.... the secular part of society," the ideology that pushed Kosovars to join IS was "much more complex."

According to the report, the ideology embraced by Islamic State is a "Takfir radical extremist ideology," which focusses on Koranic verses dealing with "punishment" while ignoring those referring to "mercy and rewards."

The IS ideology came to Kosovo via a "number of Skopje based imams who have visited and studied in the Middle East," the report said.

In terms of recruiting Kosovars to fight in Syria and Iraq, Kosovar militants fighting alongside militants in the Middle East are targeting uneducated people back home, the report found.

The report says that the majority of Kosovo citizens in Syria have only completed a secondary education.

One former militant named as A.A. and who spent about a month in Syria told the KCSS that notorious militant Lavdrim Muhaxeri had asked recruiters in Kosovo, including an imam named Zekirja Qazimi, not to send educated people. Uneducated people were better able to follow orders without asking questions, Muhaxeri reportedly said.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: TheSaucyMugwump from:
April 15, 2015 16:29
This story is the last nail in the coffin of the "moderate" Muslims myth. Kosovo is probably the most European Islamic country (the CIA World Factbook lists it at 95.6% Muslim and yes I know it's not really a country), yet the author reported that it is "(first per capita) among the 22 Western states with citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq." Kosovo and Turkey have no place in the EU or Schengen and their EU accession plans should be shredded. NATO should leave Kosovo because its mission is not to protect jihadists and those troops are needed in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

by: Jack from: US
April 15, 2015 16:39
Kosovo was illegally carved out of Serbia by US and its NATO minions, and handed over to Muslim militants from so-called Kosovo Liberation Army. Now the West got what it asked for - Al Qaeda and IS-infested dumpster in Europe. Which is good - more Muslims will move to Germany and Britain. After all, Germans love Muslims and hate Christians. Kaiser Frau Merkel said: Muslims below to Germany
In Response

by: Nick from: Dulic
April 17, 2015 21:42
It was illegally carved in 1918 from Albania. Whats your point??

by: Nick from: Dulic
April 16, 2015 01:27
Those who went to fight majority went for money.
But lets see what is happening in Kosovo..

Kosovo was and still is most US loving country in Europe.
BUT, EU has has made Kosovo and its people poorest in Europe.
No visa liberisation, no promised investment, one condition after another, divided Kosovo in north and south, unrecognised by 5 EU states. They are not even alowed to compete in sports, and yet Israel can, Scotland and Northern Ireland too.
Bashed by European media left, right and centre. etc etc etc
Need I say more??

by: arianita from: köln
April 18, 2015 06:38
@ joanna paraszczuk
could you please report wich person on the world is fighting for peace and ho ist fighting without money. Tell us please you as slav Woman with slabe blood what Russia is dooing with your brothers und sisters in blood and also the othes balkan russians- serbs in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosova before 2000? How much money you get from serbians for this shir report? Shame in YOU
In Response

by: JJ from: Missouri
April 21, 2015 23:46
Serbs were fighting for their lives in Croatia, BiH and Kosovo against western-sponsored proxies.

The Serbs were being attacked from the get-go. Just because the western mainstream purposely kept silent about it doesn't mean it wasn't going on. Because it was BIG-TIME. The west had an agenda and that meant being silent about the ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Serbian population (& the CENSUS RECORDS SHOW SERBS WERE THE MOST ETHNICALLY CLEANSED BY FAR), while grossly exaggerating or falsely blaming Serbs. This includes calling Bosniak, Croat and KLA soldiers as "innocent civilians."

Serbs were being killed by Croatian death squads and the Croatian army invaded BiH even before the official beginning of the war and was killing Serbian villagers, including children.
Croatia sent 40,000 troops into BiH and they were stationed there through the whole war - it was an OPEN SECRET in the "international community" and UN. They knew Croatia had its troops in there but Croatia was not sanctioned nor even threatened.

The Bosniaks were putting Serbs in grain-silo concentration camps - such as the on in Tarcin - and they were CIVILIAN Serbs.
Their police were also breaking into Sarajevo Serb homes and shooting Serbs while eating lunch - the Ristovic family, for example.
They had scores of torture and rape camps within Sarajevo.

Further, they had the largest number of forces within BiH by far, and they had the largest number of forces AND Snipers.

The UN soldiers have testified that the Bosniak snipers used several buildings in the infamous "Sniper's Alley" and that they did shoot at civilians and the UN.

The fact that the mainstream media would automatically blame Serbs and say nothing about the Bosniak Snipers, despite them being witnessed by UN officers who were living there, actually gave a GREEN LIGHT TO THE BOSNIAN FORCES TO SNIPE CIVILIANS.

They knew it would demonize the Serbs - it did not help any military objective to snipe civilians when the city was closed (& the people couldn't leave because the Bosnian government wouldn't allow anyone to leave in the part of Sarajevo it controlled without their permission).

French UN officers caught Bosnian army forces FILMING THEMSELVES SNIPING SARAJEVO CIVILIANS in which a boy got injured.

They'd made films and pictures for the "news" and have Serbs be blamed for WHAT THEY DID.
In Response

by: Nick from: London
April 22, 2015 13:56
I do not know which planet do you come from?

It has never been denied by the Serbs themselves that they are responsible for the shelling of Sarajevo.
Its all over the youtube for anyone to see the tank shelling.
I find your denial when they themselves have admited the shelling totally ignorant.

Do you also deny the Holocaust?

I suggest you should go and ask the Dutch soldiers who witnessed the mass killing in Srebrenica, maybe you should help them with their PTSD by simply saying, it never happened and that they are just imagining it.

I find it unbeliavable that your comment was published in the first place..

250 000 Bosnian (muslims) children, women and men died in that war, do you also suggest that it was a mass suicide?
The victims have been long forgoten and it was less then 30 years ago..

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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