Balkan countries have undergone an upsurge in the number of its citizens joining the ranks of the Islamic State (IS) in recent months. Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Kosovo are in the front line of the phenomenon after several of their compatriots either died in Iraq or were arrested on their way to jihad. These events underline the reticular organisation of the Islamic State, which attracts more and more European Muslims to join the fight for the caliphate.
A multiplication of Balkan jihadists
Despite measures to stop the traffic, an increasing number of Bosnian and Kosovar citizens have moved to Iraq and Syria to fight on the side of the Islamic State (IS). Several events have occurred in the last two weeks. On August 8th, Bosnian Emrah Fojnica died in a suicide bombing in Iraq on behalf of IS, before a Kosovo police raid in sixty different locations led to the arrest of forty suspected Islamic radicals. The London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalism (ICSR) released last April a report that estimated to about 6 percent the number of Balkan young men fighting in Iraq and Syria. In this regard, the Kosovo police says 200 citizens have left for the Middle East while 16 have already been killed there.
Both Bosnian and Kosovo bills aiming at criminalizing mercenary activity have so far remained ineffective in preventing them from fighting for the IS as well as block the radicalization of some young men. Deputy in Bosnian Parliament Mehmed Bradaric explained how Islamic extremism has been introduced in some Bosnian villages by a Wahhabi [conservative branch of Sunni Islam] community that gradually set up their own rules, without being challenged by national authorities. At the same time, Emrah Fojnica – the Bosnian who died in Iraq on August 8th – had previously been involved in a terrorist attack against the US embassy in Sarajevo in October 2011 without being imprisoned. Vlado Azinovic, a political science professor in Sarajevo analysed the issue as a “paradoxical situation in which it makes more sense for a 19- or 20-year-old man to go to war in a distant country [...] that he can't even find on a map than to stay in Bosnia and search for some meaning here.” This can be explained by the current society crisis in the country, ethnically divided between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. The International Crisis Group highlighted in its 2013 report the Muslim Bosniak community’s “frustration with the dysfunctional government, flawed constitution and economic stagnation”. Popular anger was channelled by the religious organisation Islamic Community which has had an important political role as driver of the Bosniak national identity.
A similar situation exists in Kosovo. Mentor Vrajolli, a senior researcher in Kosovo Centre for Security Studies explains that there are “well-organised cells that have been operating in Kosovo for a long time and they have been recruiting through the so-called imams or some ghost so-called NGOs, whose main activity was to indoctrinate and recruit individuals, mainly of young ages, without any quality education or life perspective." The Islamic Community of Kosovo condemned the outflow of Kosovo citizens and supported the police’s action, saying that it “invites once again the believers, and in particular our young people, not to fall prey of different radical groups that call upon the name of the so-called jihad and some caliphate.”
As the IS ranks grow with Balkan and other European fighters, the United States have launched airstrikes on the region in order to block their progression while the European Union has agreed to send arms to the Kurdish forces who have opposed IS since mid-July.
Sources : Balkan Insight, The Huffington Post, Yahoo News, Radio Free Liberty I, Radio Free Liberty II, International Crisis Group, In Serbia, Der Spiegel, Le Courrier des Balkans, Le Monde I, Le Monde II.