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News 07 Aug 15

Macedonia Arrests Nine ISIS Suspects

Nine people have been arrested and the police are searching for another 27 in a large-scale operation across the country aimed at detaining suspected Islamist radicals.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic BIRN Skopje

Macedonian Interior Minister Mitko Cavkov | Photo by: MIA

Police confirmed on Thursday that they have arrested nine people suspected of having links with Islamic State during raids in Skopje’s districts of Gazi Baba and Cair, as well as in the towns of Tetovo, Struga, Kumanovo and Gostivar.

All those arrested are suspected of recruiting militants for the wars in Syria and Iraq and of participating in the conflicts themselves. They were remanded in custody on Thursday.

Those detained include one self-proclaimed imam from Skopje who is in conflict with the country’s second biggest religious organisation Islamic Religious Community, IVZ, which has warned in the past about radicalisation at mosques not under its control.
Twenty-seven suspects are still at large, police said, most of them suspected of still being in some of the conflict zones.

“The very fact that there are individuals and groups who have participated or are returnees from the battlegrounds, is an indicator by itself that attacks inside Macedonia are a possibility,” Interior Minister Mitko Cavkov told a press conference.

He said that the police raided 24 houses, the Jaja Pasha and Tutunsuz mosques in Skopje and two Islamist NGOs.

“All the arrested are Macedonian nationals with different ethnic backgrounds,” police said.

Regarding the arrested Imam, Rexhep Memishi, Cavkov said that "according to the preliminary evidence gathered, he is being considered one of the ideologists... for the recruiting and coordinating of these terrorist networks."

According to Macedonian law, being part of a foreign paramilitary organisation or in any way helping it is a punishable act. The minimum prison sentence for joining a paramilitary group is five years.

The US embassy in Skopje said on Wednesday that it had been informed by the Macedonian authorities that the operation had been launched after a long and careful investigation. It said that the operation represented a contribution to the regional and global efforts to put an end to the “evil of terrorism”.

According to media reports, at least several hundred people from Macedonia are fighting in the conflict zones of the Middle East.

The Interior Ministry says it has information that at least 19 people, all ethnic Albanians, have been killed so far in the fighting there.

Roughly a quarter of the Macedonian population are ethnic Albanians who are predominantly Muslim.

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