PRISTINA (Reuters) - Police in Kosovo arrested an imam on suspicion of recruiting Kosovars to fight in Iraq and Syria after 40 men were rounded up this week and on Thursday ordered to remain in detention.
The 30-year-old imam from the eastern town of Gjilan is accused of recruiting for the purpose of terrorism and organizing and participating in a terrorist group.
“He is suspected of being one of the main inspirers of jihad,” police said in a statement.
The imam’s arrest follows that of 40 men on Monday suspected of having fought with Islamist insurgents in Syria and Iraq. They were remanded in custody on Thursday for 30 days.
The phenomenon has alarmed many Kosovars, who are mainly Muslim ethnic Albanians but whose lifestyles are largely secular.
Police say 16 Kosovars have been killed in Syria and Iraq and intelligence sources believe between 100 and 200 are fighting there.
The landlocked and impoverished country, one of the poorest in Europe, became independent from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after NATO went to war to halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians by Serbian forces under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
Kosovo’s parliament is expected to pass legislation soon banning citizens from joining foreign insurgencies, with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison on conviction.
A number of European countries including Britain, France and the Netherlands have begun cracking down on citizens, mainly of an Islamic immigrant background, going to join radical Islamist insurrections in Syria and Iraq.
They are concerned such volunteers could eventually return to Europe battle-hardened, radicalized and posing a security threat.
Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; editing by Matt Robinson and Janet Lawrence