Saturday, April 5, 2014

Western Balkans face incoming terrorist threat, by Ioannis Michaletos

The Western Balkan region and in particular Albania are threatened by the incoming Jihadists from Syria that have started rising in prominence over the past few months and have proved to be capable of substantial terrorist action.

According to a public report by the Albanian intelligence service (SHISH) there are 86 confirmed citizens of that country fighting in Syria nowadays on the side of terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al Nusra. Their recruitment took place in the country a while after the Syrian conflict erupted and they were sent to the battle field via Turkey, while it is estimated that they received additional training near the borders with Syria before venturing into the battle zones. Already the Albanian prosecutor for serious offences has issued legal action against 13 of those and it is of interest to note that the recruiters and coordinators for these individuals from Albania originate from Kosovo who has a larger and more upscale presence in Syria than any other Balkan region.

On the 21st of March the general Albanian prosecutor Adriatik Llalla and the head of SHISH Visho Ajazi Lika met with the political authorities to discuss the issue that can -if not opposed - destabilize the country and pose serious security burden in the near future and in the neighboring countries. From what it seems the Albanian authorities are going to get tougher in that field and try to uncover the exact composition of the networking involved that allows transfer of people to the battle fields. It has to be noted though that these networks are transnational and have a great spread amongst different countries. Moreover the involvement of Kosovo figures inhibits a strict response by the Tirana government in most cases. 

The implications of the ongoing "Jihadization" of Albanians in Syria pose a direct threat for the rest of Europe. All information available by credible media sources and governmental executives that follow up on the developments, talk about preparations of sending freshly trained and battle hardened Islamists to the West via in the Balkans, as well as, in other Middle Eastern terrains with Sinai Peninsula and Iraq as the new 'Jihadi frontiers". The head of the CIA, John Brennan in a recent reporting of its service noted on the danger of Syria becoming the springboard for global terrorism.

Already the Kosovo- Albanian national Blerim Heta has blew himself up in Baghdad, killing dozens of bystanders recently in what becomes the first Albanian "kamikaze". It is important to note that in various internet forums that are directed mostly to young Albanians, trials of glorification of such acts and significant number of adherents and supporters has been noted, identifying the issue as having a broader social consensus rather than actions of isolated figures. Moreover the mutation of Jihadism from Syria to Iraq is clearly illustrated in that case. 

Due to the lack of serious border control between Albania, FYROM, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Sanjak-Raska in Serbia the probability that a new generation of Jihadists will flourish aiming to strike in Western European countries is not out of the question. Coupled with a lack of reliable data on the actual intentions of the residing Jihadists and those returning back, it is safe to assume that the threat level in that particular geographical zone is certainly on the rise. 

In parallel, across Turkey there are literally masses of Jihadist from tens of countries going back and forth to the Syrian battle zone. Turkey does not have visa regime with a country such as Libya, further facilitating the connections between radicals across the world, who are mainly congregating in Istanbul. At the same time the incumbent Erdogan-AKP administration faces tremendous tasks which are related to its collision with the strategic plans of mostly USA and to a second degree Saudi Arabia, due to its continuous affiliation with Qatar and its failure to secure a "win" in the Syrian war. 

Its close relations at times with Iran have alienated Israel and in sort Turkey is steadily becoming a territory where various Jihadist groups may strike within as the situation becomes more and more blurred and various state and non-state interests are in conflict. Thus it is safe to assume that Ankara sooner or later will enact a project to either repatriate or simply throw out a large number of Jihadists, which will then become a problem for the rest of the countries involved. 

The Western Balkan states, although they do have a concrete knowledge for their own radical Islamic communities and still retain an extensive domestic surveillance network, they have almost a complete lack of information regarding the international coordinators and the wider strategic trends involved, as well as, the collaborating Middle Eastern and Magrebian networks that will supply with finance, training and weapons the potential local Jihadists.


- Broader security collaboration between Western Balkan countries and the international community

- Re-assessment on the vulnerability of the so-called "soft targets"

- Establishment of regional task force groups to evaluate the problem and propose practical solutions

- Wider political and regional initiatives on the educational and religious sector with the engagement of law abiding local elements

- Exchange of information and collaboration between Western Balkan security authorities and specifically those in Egypt, Israel, Iraq and Algeria

All the above of course include the tactical theater of the Western Balkans. On a global level only a swift and decisive defeat of the Jihadists in Syria, along with a world power consensus on their marginalization could be a "success story" regarding the battling of international terrorism.