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News 17 Nov 15

Albania Warned to Take Islamist Threats Seriously

Warnings about attacks by ISIS that were emailed to Albania’s interior minister and several media outlets should not be ignored by the Muslim-majority NATO member state, experts said.

Fatjona Mejdini BIRN Tirana
Islamic State militants. Photo:Beta/AP.

Albanian police spokesperson Genti Mullai told media on Monday that officers are investigating people believed to have been responsible for an Islamist attack threat to Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri.

"We don't have anyone under arrest yet, but we are interviewing people who have information about this threat and those who might be behind it," said Mullai.

A threatening email received by Tahiri on Saturday said that “holy war has started against all those who are involved in the war against the Islamic State”.

NATO member Albania has troops serving with the coalition fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and has collaborated with foreign intelligence agencies involved in combatting ISIS.

Threats were also sent to some media after they reported on the email that was sent to the minister.

Fabian Zhilla, an organised crime researcher for the Open Society Foundation in Albania, told BIRN that the threats must be taken very seriously because ISIS has pledged to attack Muslim-majority countries that have alliances with the West.

Zhilla argued however that the Albanian state should not just impose repressive measures but take a more subtle, grassroots community approach.

"We have to have a very professional approach towards the problem and not a repressive one which can bring further damage and create stereotypes for the innocent Muslim community," Zhilla said.

The head of the Muslim community in Tirana, Ylli Gurra, also told BIRN that Albania should take extremist threats seriously.

“We don’t have any immunity from extremist attacks, Albania has to bear this in mind,” Gurra said.

He said that the Muslim community in Albania and state institutions have been communicating more frequently recently in an attempt to avert any potential problems.

“We have kept in close communication with state structures these days in order to pass on the information we have about every radical religious place in the country and any extremist individual in Albania. It is important that we all collaborate in this difficult moment that the world is facing,” Gurra said.

In the last census in 2011, around 60 per cent of Albanians declared that they are Muslims.

Investigative articles published by BIRN Albania have found that around 90 men, women and children from Albania who went to Syria from 2012 to 2014 to join ISIS.

From 2014 onwards, the Albanian authorities have put more investment into anti-terrorist units as well as tightening up legislation.

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Background

Western Balkans on Alert Over ISIS Threat

Countries in the region have raised security levels and introduced new precautions to counter the threat of terrorist attacks by Islamic State.

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