Fighting against radical Islamic indoctrination in Kosovo

Kosovo is the country in Europe with highest rate of foreign fighters Photo: Paula Cámara

“Kosovo is the first country to export foreign fighters in proportion to its population in Europe and the Official Islamic Community is behind it” explains journalist Visar Duriqi.

“Some imamsthe main figures of the community, are involved in radical speeches promoting the war in Syria as a jihad. It is scary because the Islamic Community controls the 90 per cent of the population in Kosovo,” Visar adds.

Kosovo has 125 foreign fighters per capita for every 1 million citizens, being the highest of the ranked countries in the Report inquiring into the causes and consequences of Kosovo citizens´ involvement as foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq by the Kosovar Center for Security Services. 

A high number of Kosovars that went to Syria to fight with the ISIS have come back and the Government has been doing some efforts to fight this extremism with the arrest of more than 80 people involved in terrorist actions, but more than 60 per cent were released. Now the Government is trying to work in a program for integration to these fighters in the transition from jail to normal life.

Only a few weeks ago Albert Berisha was put in jail, accused of fighting for ISIS. Despite it, he stated that he ended up in the ISIS by mistake. Other people like Stephen Schwartz, jounralist and founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Islamic Pluralism, says that people that state not to know that they were going to fight the ISIS “lie”.

Educated in terrorism

After the war in 1998-1999 between Kosovar and Serbian forces around 13,000 people had been killed and 2,000 were still missing.

“Kosovo was also destroyed in terms of infrastructure and some NGOs mainly from the East came to rebuild houses, school and more. But some of these organizations came with the objective to spread also Islam. They also gave scholarships, free accommodation, free English courses… Later that people had changed their appearance and started to pray differently in the mosque. Around 2012 or 2013 they decided to travel to Syria and Iraq” explains Kujtim Bytyqi.

The Kosovo-born ISIS leader Lavdim Muhaxheri became well-known after being pictured beheading a prisoner and according to Visar Duriqi, Lavdim was used as an example by the Islamic Imams that indoctrinates young Kosovars to go to Syria.

Lavdrim Muhaxheri on the right. Photo: ISIS Propaganda video

The lack of opportunity, low-quality education, poor institutional capacity and an increase in perceived Islamophobia have been used as a tool by some Islamic radical groups to recruit Kosovars to join foreign wars, according to the report Understanding Push and Pull factors in Kosovo.

“Kosovo is also isolated from the EU. We are out of the Schengen Agreement: Bosnia, Serbia, Albania… all of them can travel to Europe but not Kosovars. This isolation is perfect for the radical Islamic figures. The biggest capital city that the Kosovars can travel to without a visa is Istanbul and all the travels to Syria go Pristina-Istanbul-Syria” explains Berat Buzhala, CEO of the Gazeta Express.

“People are sick. These Islamic Radicals preach ‘we don´t belong to the EU but we do to Turkey, they don´t have a visa for us’ and this is a very symptomatic problem for our society” he adds.

Rebuilding values

“Until now, the radical Islamists travelled to Syria and joined ISIS but now ISIS is losing strength and they are not leaving anymore. The bad news is that they are staying here because they exist and for our pragmatic reasons was better –for us- them to go” explains Berat.

After 10 years of independence, Kosovo is fighting against Islamic Radical values. Photo: Paula Cámara

“After the increasing number of people leaving to Syria, we started a prevention strategy with activities in schools, public lectures, TV debates… and the Islamic Community of Kosovo was really active and collaborative” Kujtim explains.

“We have built a unit for reintegration and re-socialization of this foreign fighters and their families in order to make them part of the society as well” he adds.

Despite the intentions of the Government, 40 per cent of the Kosovo population thinks that these foreign fighters should be arrested or banned from Kosovo, according to the KCSS.

“The majority of the families of them weren´t willing for them to go to Syria so now they don´t want these fighters as part of their families anymore” explains Kujtim.

The De-radicalization programs are seen as an answer to the incognita of what to do with the high number of radical extremists that have been arrested in Kosovo and that have been and are coming back from Syria. Despite it all, Kosovo is still in a process of training this method to manage this radical views and people.