New risks and old dynamics: Kosovo’s Islamist radicalisation processes

By on July 13, 2018

Analysts agree on the fact that, as its territorial dimension in Syria and Iraq seems close to an end, the Islamic State (IS) might soon retreat to a more classical terrorist approach, with foreign fighters returning to their countries of origin to plan attacks, further propagate radical ideas and attract new recruits. When it comes to the future developments of Islamist terrorism, the Western Balkans play a special role, with Kosovo as a frontrunner. The former Serbian province was the first contributor of manpower to IS in the region (more than 300 Kosovars joined the organisation) and the first European country in terms of fighters per population, with 125 foreign fighters per capita for every 1 million citizens. In recent years, several Kosovo imams and preachers have been quite active in propagating a hard-line Islamist rhetoric and in convincing young radicalised believers to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Some of them reached very high positions, like Zekerija Qazimi, an imam from Ferizaj who was the mentor of two notorious Kosovar leaders of the so-called ‘Balkan Battalion’ of IS – Lavdrim Mhaxeri and Ridvan Hafiqi, both presumed killed. Qazimi was so respected to be able to manage the transfer of power from Mhaxeri to Hafiqi when the former got killed in a US attack: in 2016 he was handed a 10-year sentence by a court in Pristina for terrorist recruiting and inciting hate. Another imam accused of terrorism through the recruitment of young Kosovars to be sent in Syria and Iraq is Shefqet Krasniqi, who used to spread his radical messages from the Grand Mehmet Fatih Mosque in Pristina. The messages of Kosovo’s radical imams have not been confined to its territory, but have often reached nearby Albanian expat communities, like those in Italy. Shefqet Krasinqi, together with Mazllam Mazllami and Idris Bilibani, two other radical imams, have delivered extremist sermons in Islamic centres in the Italian towns of Grosseto, Siena, Cremona and Mantua, while being in contact with local IS recruiters. Such network of radical preachers with strong links to Albanian communities in Italy might have exploited the wave of Arab migrants using the so-called Balkan Route to radicalise some of them as they tried to get to Europe. In a context of weak governance, dire economic conditions and strong influence from the Gulf and Turkey, Kosovo remains a hotbed for further radicalisation and terrorist recruitment, with the potential to reach Albanian communities in neighbouring countries.

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