Analysis 30 Mar 16

Scale of Balkan Jihadist Extremism ‘Underestimated’

The scale of online radicalisation and Islamic extremism in key Balkan states is likely underestimated, warn experts, as the refugee crisis and heightened security after the Paris and Brussels attacks stretch resources.

Compiled by Anita Rice from BIRN journalists’ reports
The scale of online radicalisation and Islamic extremism in key Balkan states is likely underestimated, warn experts

Regional security and intelligence experts have warned that despite crackdowns on radical Islamic extremists and other security measures, significant numbers of young people from the Balkans continue to be radicalised online and the scale of extremism is probably much bigger than originally thought.

Some have told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, that this puts those states with significant numbers of jihadists at risk of possible attacks.

Dr Fabian Zhilla, a cybercrime expert and professor at the Canadian Institute of Technology in Tirana, says a significant number of young Albanians, mostly those with little religious knowledge, continue to access ISIS propaganda via popular social media networks such as Facebook.

“ISIS has made permanent efforts to spread a sort of propaganda online and their audience is mostly comprised of individuals supporting violent acts,” he warns.

Dr Mimoza Xharo, a security expert and academic who has worked with the Albanian intelligence community for more than 20 years, also believes the scale of the problem is underestimated, noting there was an uptick in sharing violent extremist material via social networks immediately after the Paris attacks last November.

She describes young Albanians with little mainstream religious education who actively access and share violent propaganda as “potential fighters in the shadows”.

“Albania is threatened by the boom in online supporters [of violent extremism] who tomorrow might act as lone wolves,” she says.

In Bosnia, Uros Pena, deputy director of Bosnia’s Directorate for the Coordination of Police Bodies, says: “We don’t even know how big this problem of terrorism and radicalisation is.”

Pena warns the problem cannot be tackled or monitored effectively until the scale is known.

“And that means going back to basics, to community policing, being among the people, which we don’t do anymore,” he says.

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