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News 16 Jun 17

Balkans Remains Key Route for Terrorists, EU Warns

New Europol report warns that the Balkan region remains vulnerable to Islamist terrorism - and remains a well-established route to and from the conflict zones for terrorist fighters.

Maja Zivanovic

Islamic State Militant Group. Photo: Flickr/Testing freeSetup

The EU's annual Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, released June 15, says terrorists are still joining the conflict in Syria from the Balkans, which remains a route to and from the conflict zones in the Middle East.

More than 800 foreign terrorist fighters have travelled to Syria to join the armed conflict there from the Western Balkans, it says.

So-called Islamic State has meanwhile targeted the region. It vowed to decapitate "infidels" and kill Serbs, Croats and Muslim ‘traitors’ in the Balkans in a new threat published in June’s issue of the Bosnian version of the jihadists’ magazine.

“We swear by Allah, we have not forgotten the Balkans,” the Bosnian version of ISIS’s magazine Rumiyah warned.

Europol's June 15 report says the conflict in Syria has had major resonance in majority-Muslim Albania and Kosovo, as well as in Bosnia, Macedonia, and Serbia.

“In some parts of the Western Balkan region, radical Islamist ideology promoted by radical preachers and/or leaders of some salafist groups, challenging the traditional dominance of moderate Islam in the region, has gained considerable ground," it says.

"Bosnia and Herzegovina, the so-called Sandzak region [between Serbia and Montenegro], Albanian-speaking territories in Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, and Albania until recently were considered the main hotspots for radicalisation, recruitment, and facilitation activities of FTFs destined for Syria,” the report added.

It says the region has become a well-established travel route to and from conflict zones in the Middle East.

Europol warns that the battle experiences gained amongst Western-Balkan returnee fighters may pose a significant threat to the region's security.

BIRN reported in March 2016 that large numbers of Balkan nationals – including suspected fighters – have returned to their home countries.

All states in the region regard returnees as potential security threats and have changed the law to allow the prosecution of those suspected of fighting, or inciting others to fight illegally, in foreign conflicts.

The report by Europol warns that the presence of illegal weapons, especially small and light weapons, as well as mines and explosive devices is another security issue in the Western Balkans.

The report downplays fears of training camps for fighters in the Balkans, however.

“Available data do not corroborate media reports on the existence of so-called ‘training camps’ in the region similar to those allegedly present in Syria, aimed at providing combat training,” the report says.

It adds that the number of arrests made across the region attests to the fact that the primary terror threat to the region has been, and will continue to be, jihadist terrorism - represented by returnees from the conflict zones and home-grown radicalised and inspired individuals.

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