analysis 03 Jul 15

Lax Precautions for Kosovo Terror Suspects

In spite of admitting terrorist activities, six Kosovars have been released from custody and placed under house arrest or ordered to check in with the police.

Ervin Qafmolla, Skender Govori

Larger numbers of policemen in bulletproof vests have been visible on the streets of Pristina in recent days in response to heightened concerns of an attack, according to an internal police communication that BIRN has seen. Six admitted members of terror groups meanwhile remain in the relative freedom of house arrest as they stand trial.

Police arrested Kujtim Bllaca, Bejtim Ibrahimaj, Adil Bushi, Hajrush Lajci, Skender Syla, Muxhahid Brava in September 2014 along with about 80 other terrorism suspects. Most of those arrested were later released due to a lack of evidence.

However, 32 others, including Bllaca, Ibrahimaj, Bushi and Lajci, were indicted and have been on trial since June 1. All 32 are charged with active membership of, or affiliation to, Islamic State, known as ISIS, and Al-Nusra.

After spending seven months in custody, in which Bllaca, Ibrahimaj, Bushi, Lajci, Syla and Brava admitted to organizing or participating in terrorist activity, their defence lawyers asked for the custody measures for their clients to be reviewed following their admissions of guilt.

Special prosecutor Blerim Isufaj agreed and the Basic Court of Pristina released the suspects from custody earlier this month.

Bllaca, Ibrahimaj, Bushi, Syla and Brava were put under house arrest, while Lajci was ordered to regularly appear at a local police station.

Most of the other suspects in the case have not had their security measures lifted and remain in custody.

Gezim Baloku, the lawyer for Artan Kadriu, who is fighting the charges made against him, said the conditions of release for Bllaca, Ibrahimaj, Bushi and Lajci were a form of blackmail. “What it means is, ‘Plead guilty and we’ll let you out of jail.’ This isn’t fair, it’s blackmailing the suspect,” Baloku said.

Baloku said while an admission of guilt clearly affects the verdict in a trial it should not affect the security measures ordered before or during the trial.

“An admission of guilt is not a reason or condition for security measures,” Baloku added.

Under Article 190 of the Procedural Penal Code, custody measures can be extended up to 18 months in high security cases involving serious crimes, such as terrorism. This means that Bllaca’s, Ibrahimaj’s, Bushi’s, Lajci’s, Syla’s and Brava’s admission of guilt was legal cause to extend their custody, not end it.

Special prosecutor Blerim Isufaj would not say whether the six suspects represent a high security risk but said their security measures were comparable to those concerning illegal possession of arms. 

The six are not the only suspects in the case to have their security measures lifted.

Samedin Halimi and Kujtim Berisha (who pleaded guilty of illegal firearms possession) were never placed in custody but were required only to make regular check-ins with the police.

In early June, this security measure was also lifted with Isufaj’s approval after they pleaded guilty to firearms charges.

When BIRN asked Isufaj why he agreed to release terrorism suspects from custody, he said: “That’s the court’s job; drop this, it’s none of your business.”

Kreshnik Gashi, a legal expert with the “Justice in Kosovo” TV show, said it was strange that the prosecution had agreed to such light security given that police poorly implement house arrest measures.

“Usually the only verification is a daily visit by police from the suspect’s local police station. Imagine where a person who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges can go in 24 hours,” Gashi said.

“I don’t know what kind of analysis the special prosecution did to confirm that these people won’t commit similar crimes,” he added.

A few days after the custody measures for the suspects were lifted and their trial began in Prishtina, ISIS released a video on YouTube warning of impending attacks in the Balkans and on Kosovo specifically.

The threats came from three Albanian ISIS fighters, from Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania, and the video was narrated by Abu Muqatil Al Kosovi, formerly Ridvan Haqifi, an ice cream seller and self-declared imam from Gjilan.

“Dark days are approaching you … We will kill you with Allah’s permission. We will come to you with explosives,” Al Kosovi said in the video.

Al Kosovi’s threats have been taken seriously, which is why, following additional information about potential attacks on Prishtina and Skopje, police in both countries have raised their level of alert.

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