In general, how much is ISIS (other jihadists) a potential threat for the Balkans, do you see any chance that the jihadist activities may find some fertile soil in the region? Read few comments.
Marko Prelec, Executive Director, Balkans Policy Research Group
There is a serious jihadi threat in the western Balkans. In most ways, the threat is similar to that in western Europe, where there have already been important terror attacks in the UK, Spain and France and smaller ones all over. There are a few distinctive threats in the western Balkans, the worst of which is potential infiltration into security structures – something that has not, as far as I know, happened yet but could cause huge damage. There is also the risk of a short-circuit between jihadi violence and unresolved national issues. The audience for jihad in the western Balkans is significant but small, maybe several thousand people or a little more in each country, but if they were to attack a national minority like Kosovo’s Serbs or Bosnia’s Croats, or anyone in Macedonia, it could ignite violence among much larger numbers of people.
Andrew MacDowall, Freelance Correspondent and Analyst focusing on South East Europe
Those who have studied it say that there is an increasing threat from ISIS returnees in particular. My own judgment would be that jihadists of Balkan origin would be of more threat in the Middle East and in Western Europe than at home. Nonetheless, there is a risk of lone-wolf attacks on public property and targets associated with the West, as we saw in the Sarajevo US Embassy attack in 2011.
The analyst Marko Prelec has suggested that large-scale attacks on public property in particular in the Balkans could be used to encourage government crackdowns on Islamists (the majority of whom are peaceful) which would lead to greater radicalisation. High levels of youth unemployment and weak coordination between law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in different countries (and entities) and lack of administrative capacity for tracking threats are downside risks.
The “threat” of jihadists can be used by politicians of Christian minorities as a paper tiger. The supposedly “Islamist” intent of the Bugojno attacks in 2010 and Zvornik in 2015, at least, has since been questioned. Political Islam is still a fairly marginal force in the Balkans (not to be confused with ethnic nationalism among Muslim groups), and there is very low public support for violent Islam in the region. Nonetheless, a tiny, violent, minority, many with military experience, do pose an ongoing low-level threat.
Ioannis Michaletos, Political & Security Analyst, Associate at Institute for Security and Defence Analysis
Central and Western Balkans already have an infrastructure that can facilitate infiltration of ISIS-Jihadists. That is due to the multiple extremist cells and groups operating there since the 1990’s, plus a significant number of people that volunteered from there to go already and fight the Jihad in Syria & Iraq. The “hot spots” are Central Bosnia, Sanjak, Kosovo and smaller groups in Albania, Southern Bulgaria and the region between Montenegro and Bosnia..
Moreover the above are coupled by a tremendous refugee and illegal immigration wave from Turkey-Greece/Bulgaria to Central Europe via ex-Yugoslav states. The numbers are of more than 1,000 people per day,most of them unidentified thus there is potential for infiltration of terrorist pretending to be immigrants as they move their way into the Balkans.
Benjamin Weinthal, Research Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
I think Jihadism is a major threat for the Balkans, especially Iranian influence in Balkan institutions. I have reported on Iranian diplomats, one of whom , was is believed to be in terrorism, operating in Bosnia. After John Schindler and I exposed their activities, Bosnia expelled them. Here is my original report.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Iran maintains contacts with Sunni radicals and has allowed a branch of al-Qaeda to operate in Iran. The Iranian diplomats in Bosnia Iranians Hamzeh Doolab Ahmad and Jadidi Sohrab
served as the embassy’s second and third secretary. The worked with Nusret Imamovic, a leader of Bosnian followers of Wahhabism.
I believe IS is an enormous danger to Bosnia, largely because of radical Sunni and Wahaabism ideological and grassroots followers and infrastructure. Saudi money has poured in over the decades.
Marko Babić, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Journalism and Political Science, University of Warsaw
Our times are not exceptional when it comes to potential terrorist threats. Terrorism has been in existence for two centuries and there are no signs that it will fade away by itself. Radical groups prepared to use military power to achieve their goals search for supporters from the regions of great poverty, lack of perspectives for better life or from the people disappointed with axiology of a liberal/democratic type western societies where most of them were born and raised.
The former applies to the Muslim populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania. In my opinion, the main problem with Islamic radicalism in these countries lies not in number of supporters fighting in Syria for ISIS (officially 330 from BiH, 70 from southern Serbian province of Raška/Sandžak mainly inhabited by Muslim population, 100-150 from Kosovo, 15 from Macedonia, 90 from Albania. I think though that real numbers are much higher) , or possible reasons of their extremism.
Islamic Communities officials in these countries officially distance themselves from actions of Islamic terrorism but do not condemn Wahhabism as such. Even worse, some Islamic religious teachers give them a tacit support. Source of Islamic terrorism in the Western Balkans’ countries can be found in the organized “import” of Mujahedeens during the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-1995 and their later planned co-optation into the Muslim society (by granting them citizenships or by organizing Wahhabi communities in Bosnian villages of Bočinja and Maoča etc.). Responsible for more or less active support for Islamic extremist communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are Alija Izetbegović, his son Bakir Izetbegović, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Haris Silajdzić and former long-time head of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina reis-l-ulema Mustafa Cerić. Thanks to these people BiH remains the key factor of radical Islam in the whole region of the Western Balkans. I am afraid that the ISIL and other extremist Islamic groups that are being active in recruiting fighters for Syria by aggressive religious indoctrination through mostly media activities, absolutely know that there is no serious security system that can oppose them. This particularly applies to such countries as BiH, Kosovo and Macedonia. Even worse, in these countries there are no signs of any kind of de-radicalization process within Muslim populations. I do not notice any serious public appearances of Muslim religious and political leaders that would lead to opening the process of de-radicalization.
Nevertheless, there is no serious threat of any kind of a great-scale organized military action of ISIL branch in the region. The real threat though remains in terrorist actions of, so called, “lone wolves” that could strike at any time and any place in the region. This is completely in accordance with a new phase in the global terrorist threat. This is a problem various security agencies in the Western Balkans countries will cope with in the upcoming years.