SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia’s presidency summoned the French ambassador on Friday to protest over President Emmanuel Macron’s comment that the country is a “time bomb” due to returning Islamist fighters.
Macron, commenting on France’s refusal to support the start of negotiations for European Union accession with North Macedonia and Albania, said a real concern for the EU was Bosnia.
“If you’re concerned about this region, the first question is neither North Macedonia nor Albania, it’s Bosnia-Herzegovina, the time-bomb that’s ticking right next to Croatia, and which faces the problem of returning jihadists,” Macron said in an interview with British weekly The Economist published on Thursday.
Zeljko Komsic, a Croat who currently chairs Bosnia’s inter-ethnic presidency, summoned Ambassador Guillaume Rousson and informed him about the numbers of foreign fighters and Bosnia’s efforts to counter terrorism, the presidency said in a statement.
He also invited Macron to visit Bosnia.
Macron’s comments prompted angry reactions among Bosnian Muslims who make up a half of the population.
Officials and analysts dealing with the phenomenon of fighters who went abroad to join Islamist militant groups also voiced surprise.
“As for the threat from the return of foreign fighters, there are no returns, nobody is returning,” said Vlado Azinovic, an expert on terrorism. “All these people are stuck in camps and prisons in Syria, and ... when they are returned, they will be screened and those found breaking the law will be jailed”.
However, reflecting the country’s ethnic divisions, the presidency’s nationalist Serb member Milorad Dodik welcomed Macron’s remarks, saying he had repeatedly warned of the same problem.
Bosnia introduced a law in 2014 that included prison terms of up to 10 years for those who fought in foreign wars or recruited fighters. Most of the fighters who have returned have been tried and jailed.
Bosnian Muslims generally practise a mainstream form of Islam but some adopted radical beliefs from the foreign fighters who came during the 1992-95 war and fought with Muslims against Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.
Some were among Europeans who left to fight for Islamic State. With the Islamist militant group down to its last shred of territory, many are asking to come home.
According to Bosnian intelligence, 250 adults and 80 children left Bosnia or the Bosnian diaspora from 2012 to 2016 for Syria and Iraq, where 150 more children were born.
About 100 adults, including 49 women, remained there, while at least 88 have been killed or died. About 50 came back. Others returned to their homes abroad.
Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Frances Kerry