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Kosovo Islamic State commander killed, police and family say

KACANIK, Kosovo (Reuters) - A self-proclaimed commander of Albanians fighting with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, notorious at home in Kosovo for a video showing him beheading a man, has been killed, police and his family said on Thursday.

Lavdrim Muhaxheri, 28, died in the Middle East, but it was not clear in which country, they told Reuters.

A video posted on the Internet in 2014 showed Muhaxheri beheading a young man in Iraq accused by IS of spying for the Iraqi government. Another showed him killing another person with a rocket-propelled grenade.

In 2014 the U.S. State Department put Muhaxheri in the list of the most wanted terrorists.

A police official, who declined to be named, told Reuters that he had been killed, but gave no other details.

“A friend called last night to say that he was killed in an air strike,” a close family member of Muhaxheri told Reuters in his hometown of Kacanik, declining to give more details.

Many people in the town queued on Thursday to express their condolences to the father of the IS fighter. As requested by the family, Muhaxheri’s death was announced on loudspeakers at the town’s main mosque.

“He was a nice person while he was here but later, like many other youngsters, he was brainwashed,” said Behar Latifi after meeting Muhaxheri’s father.

Most of the 300 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo known to have left to fight with Islamic State are from the small town of Kacanik and nearby villages.

More than 50 have been killed, Kosovo officials say. About 120 people are estimated to have left to join the Sunni Islamist militants from neighboring Albania, and about 100 from Macedonia’s Albanian minority.

Pristina-based investigative news portal Insajderi, in an editorial, said of Muhaxheri: “Today we should celebrate his death. Go to hell, that’s where you belong.”

Confirming the death, an uncle of Muhaxheri asked a Reuters reporter: “Is everyone happy now?”

Kosovo has not seen any militant attacks on its home turf, but at least 200 people have been detained or investigated for alleged offences related to Islamic State.

Most of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority are nominally Muslim but follow secular lifestyles. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with the backing of the West.

In 2015, it adopted a law introducing jail sentences of up to 15 years for anyone found guilty of fighting in wars abroad.

Additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Andrew Roche