PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo’s government considers the possibility of attacks by Islamic State fighters returning from Iraq and Syria one of the main threats to national security, according to a new strategy document.
Around 300 Kosovars have gone to Syria and Iraq since 2012 to fight with the Islamic State group for the establishment of a caliphate ruled by Islamic law. Some 70 have been killed but many, including women and children, are still believed to be in the conflict zone, despite the group’s expulsion from almost all the population centers it had held.
The document, “State Strategy Against Terrorism and Action Plan 2018-2022”, was posted on a government website on Friday. It said potential threats included “attacks by members of terrorist organizations through foreign terrorist fighters, inactive cells, but also by sympathizers and supporters who may be inspired to commit violent acts”.
International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters, and in 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
The report said there had been “public calls for terrorist attacks in Kosovo and the region” and called terrorism “one of the biggest threats to national security”.
Kosovo’s population is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but largely secular in outlook.
There have been no Islamist attacks on its soil, although in June, nine Kosovar men were charged with planning attacks at a soccer match in Albania against the visiting Israeli national team and its fans the previous November.
The state prosecutor said some of the men had been in contact with Lavdrim Muhaxheri, a prominent Islamic State member and the self-declared “commander of Albanians in Syria and Iraq”, from whom they had received orders to attack. Muhaxheri was reported to have been killed in the Syria the same month.
The government strategy, compiled by the Interior Ministry, said that a form of radical Islam had been imported to Kosovo by non-governmental organizations from the Middle East after the end of its 1998-99 war of secession from Serbia.
Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Kevin Liffey