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news 25 Sep 17

ISIS Appeal Remains Challenge For Kosovo, Report Warns

New report by the Kosovar Center for Security Studies warns that Islamic State will remain a challenge for Kosovo until its institutions mount a comprehensive, multifaceted campaign to combat its message and 'narrative'.

Die Morina
ISIS fighters in Syria. Photo: Dabiq Magazine.

A new report, “The Islamic State Narrative in Kosovo Deconstructed One Story at a Time”, by the Kosovar Center for Security Studies, KCSS, says Kosovo has much to do if it is to counter Islamic State's appeal to Kosovo citizens.

Looking at municipalities that have been more affected by radicalisation, KCSS says blanket claims, ignorance and lack of critical thinking are among the determining factors that have made the ISIS narrative appealing to Kosovo’s young.

KCSS’s research focused on close analysis of the lectures and sermons of five controversial imams in Kosovo who have been detained on suspicion of aiding and abetting ISIS's recruitment efforts in Kosovo.

“While those lectures do not explicitly call on Kosovo citizens to join terrorist organisations – with the exception of those delivered by Zeqirja Qazimi, who encouraged support for IS – they advocate a resurgence in the Muslim identity of Kosovo,” the report reads.

Qazimi was arrested in June 2014 while hiding in woods, according to a police report. He was accused of making jihad the main subject in many of his sermons. He was also accused of being a mentor to the notorious Kosovo ISIS fighter Lavdrim Muhaxheri who was reportedly killed in January 2017 and who also appears to have been instrumental in inspiring foreign fighters.

The report relies also on four interviews with former foreign fighters from Kosovo, including those currently in detention.

It states that there is no doubt that at least some of the people who joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq believed they were heeding the call to fight a holy war in Syria, explaining that for years, through direct personal contact, local imams worked on their indoctrination, encouraging contempt for the secular state.

The wives of the defendants often appear to have encouraged their husbands to go to Syria and also joined them, the study finds.

KCSS study found that ISIS recruiters and violent extremists use Facebook and YouTube extensively as platforms to spread their propaganda.

“With nearly half of the population [of Kosovo] on Facebook, Kosovo’s citizens can access numerous Facebook pages, closed and open, that disseminate IS propaganda,” the report notes.

KCSS concludes with a list of relevant stakeholders that should be key in producing an effective counter-narrative.

“Kosovo’s key institutional leaders must make a concerted effort to reach out to cities and towns in weekly visits to explain Kosovo’s commitment to creating a secular state, by conducting an inclusive debate on what secularism is, with a particular emphasis on its commitment to treat all faiths equally and to guarantee the freedom of worship – and engage with audiences on these questions,” the report suggests.

According the KCSS, the government should also appoint an envoy that will reach out to vulnerable communities to communicate their needs to the authorities, and explain to them Kosovo’s foreign policy goals, including developments in the Middle East ... working together with civil society to help identify former ISIS fighters, and fund a media awareness-raising campaign that counters every layer of the ISIS narrative with facts.

KCSS recommends leaders of the Kosovo Islamic Association, BIK, to increase efforts to counter the religious interpretations in the ISIS narrative and to delegitimise the organisation’s spokesmen.

The report also suggests civil society could play a key role “as the most credible player and in essence the mediator between ISIS sympathisers, vulnerable communities and the general public.

"Civil society organisations in Kosovo must urgently create a coalition or an umbrella organisation to prevent overlap and double their efforts,” it concludes.

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