Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Kosovo

A Kosovo Mother's Plea: 'Bring My Boy Back' -- From Syria

Pranvera Abazi thought her 8-year-old son would only be gone for the weekend.
Pranvera Abazi thought her 8-year-old son would only be gone for the weekend.
By Konsushevci Arton and Luke Johnson

PRISTINA -- Pranvera Abazi thought that her husband, Arben, and 8-year-old son, Erion, were going on a weekend trip to Rugova, a popular gorge in Kosovo.

But three days after they left the family's house in Pristina on July 7, she received an alarming text message.

"Pranvera, I am in Syria with our son, I will contact you when I get a signal on my phone," read the text message, said Pranvera Abazi in an interview with RFE/RL. "I was at work when I got the message. I read it once and I froze, I could not believe it."

Photographs from the Internet have since emerged and have been broadcast on Kosovo television, showing Erion with fighters from Islamic State (IS).

"Now he looks completely different than before," Pranvera Abazi said.

Abazi is not alone. Kosovar officials said an estimated 100 to 200 ethnic Albanians have joined IS militants in Syria and Iraq. Police say at least 16 have been killed. 40 men were arrested in Kosovo on August 11, suspected of fighting alongside IS militants.

IS has built training camps in Syria to recruit children into armed roles under the pretense of providing them education, an August 13 United Nations Human Rights Council report said. Children in these camps were deployed in combat in active military operations, including suicide-bombing missions.

Screenshots from Kosovo TV showing Erion with an unidentified man and then later with other children in the company of IS militants in Syria
Screenshots from Kosovo TV showing Erion with an unidentified man and then later with other children in the company of IS militants in Syria

Kosovar Islamic officials have condemned the practice of parents bringing their children to fight with them.

"This is something unimaginable that can happen to family members, especially to those who are the most beloved and flawless such as children. I don't know what else to say to this madness, except that it has to be severely condemned," said Resul Rexhepi, the secretary of the Islamic community in the majority-Muslim Balkan country.

A 'Very Quiet Child'

Pranvera Abazi says she did not notice anything unusual in her husband's behavior.

"He was praying, he was a believer, but he never spoke about his son, that he would take him," she said. "He was usually buying trousers with pockets to wear them in town or at work, but I didn't notice anything special. He had a military bag at home, but he had that for a long time."

She only addressed the media recently because she was hoping that her son would come back and she did not want it to come out in public.

"When I saw that nothing has happened for almost two months, I decided that I had enough and I addressed the media," she said.

A Facebook page called "Bring Back Our Boy" created on August 23 has nearly 10,000 likes. Images on the page show Erion enjoying typical 9-year-old things: soccer, birthday cake, and lollipops.

Pranvera Abazi said she is working with the authorities to bring her son back.

She is also under heavy protection from authorities and changing where she sleeps. She has not spoken to her husband since. She last spoke with her son briefly on July 15 in a phone call allowed by IS, and the discussion was short.

"They let him talk to me very briefly and he was only briefly answering my questions," she said.

Pranvera Abazi said that she would tell her husband to "return my son."

"Erion is supposed to be here, next to his friends. September is coming and the school starts soon and I want him to be here, to go to school and be with his family, close to his mother, not there with other families in such an environment," she said.

Abazi described Erion as a "very quiet child."

"I am not saying this because he is my son, but he is very independent; he was always an example to other families," she said. "Sometimes I am thinking how lucky I am to have such a nice boy and I am asking myself why he isn't with me now."

Written by Luke Johnson in Washington based on reporting by Arton Konsushevci in Pristina

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