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News 20 May 16

Kosovo Jails Hard-line Imam for 10 Years

Zekerija Qazimi, an imam from Ferizaj suspected of recruiting for ISIS and inciting hatred, was found guilty and jailed for 10 years by a court in the town.

Labinot Leposhtica
BIRN
Pristina
Zekerija Qazimi's sermons on jihad are still available in YouTube, although without direct references to ISIS or Al Nusra. Photo: Youtube

Zekerija Qazimi, a hard-line imam from Ferizaj in Kosovo, was found guilty on Friday and given a 10-year prison sentence by a first instance court in the town.

Qazimi was accused of recruiting for terrorist organisations and of inciting hate. According to the prosecution, he was responsible for recruiting several Kosovars to join ISIS, some of whom have died in battle.

“The evidence... confirmed that Qazimi inspired several persons to go to Syria, some of whom have died,” prosecutor Elez Bakaj said during the trial.

Qazimi denied involvement in recruiting Kosovars to go to Syria, arguing that if he thought that participating in the Syrian conflict was necessary, he would have taken up arms himself.

“If I considered jihad a personal obligation, I would not be here today but rather in Mosul or Raqqa, because it is forbidden for a religious leader to instruct others and not follow [the same instructions] himself,” Qazimi said.

At the same session two other suspects, Ilir Berisha and Sadat Toptani, on trial together with the imam, were jailed for eight and seven years and six months respectively.

The imam was arrested in June 2014 while hiding in the woods, according to a police report at the time.

He was also accused of making jihad the main subject in many of his sermons, reportedly comparing one hour of jihad with 30 days of prayer.

He was also accused of being a mentor to the notorious Kosovo ISIS fighter Lavdrim Muhaxheri and of being close to the current leader of the Kosovar fighters in ISIS, Ridvan Haqifi.

According to the indictment, Qazimi had such a high profile among Albanians that have joined ISIS, that he changed the command of Kosovar fighters for ISIS himself, from Muhaxheri to Haqifi.

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