Analysis 29 Mar 16

Ethnic Tensions Complicate Counter-Extremism in Macedonia

Young Muslims are being radicalised online and in mosques resisting full regulation, warn experts, as Skopje weighs security risks posed by returnee fighters amid inter-ethnic tensions and the refugee crisis.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonian police arrested several suspected jihadi fighters in August last year | Photo:

Around 110 Macedonians are in Syria and Iraq, 27 have died in the conflicts so far and more than 70 have returned home, according to police estimates.

Fighter numbers

Around 110 Macedonians, including women and children, are in Syria and Iraq

27 have died in the conflicts so far and more than 70 have returned home, according to police estimates.

There are no official year-on-year estimates for departures to Syria and Iraq.

Source: Macedonian Police estimates (February 2016)

The numbers are startling considering Macedonia has an official population of just 2.1 million, of which roughly one quarter are predominantly Muslim ethnic Albanians.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, senior police sources say radicalisation and recruitment remains a serious concern in Macedonia, despite recent law reforms that have made illegally fighting in foreign wars a criminal offence punishable with a minimum of four years in jail. Those convicted of promoting violent extremism face jail terms of up to five years.

“The problem is still overwhelmingly present… as it is very hard to track radicals who work in small closed groups and anticipate their intentions, including possible terror acts on Macedonian soil,” one police source told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN.

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