From: Exit Staff
Threat of Terrorism in Western Balkans Could be Exacerbated by COVID-19 Pandemic Fallout

While Albania, Serbia, BiH, Kosovo and Montenegro reported no terrorist attacks in 2019, the countries remain home to radicalised communities. This was the findings of the European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2020.

The report noted that religious radicalisation was most prevalent in BiH, but also present in Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia. In addition to returning FTFs, the threat of terrorism also comes from local radicalised groups and individuals.

These comprise of both formal and informal groups as well as those that self-radicalise online through contact with jihadist ideologues. Both al-Qaeda and IS have specifically targeted Balkan Muslims due to a view that the social and economic issues in these countries leave an opening for radical ideas to be formed. These issues also make recruiting easier, according to the report.

Serbia reported that its “radical circles” were dominated by members of the Bosniak, Roma, and Albanian communities. Interestingly, these communities that are accused by Serbia of being radical are the same that had genocide and widespread ethnic cleansing committed against them by Serb forces during various Balkan conflicts.

None of the Western Balkan countries reported travel movements for terrorist purposes toward conflict areas in 2019. Serbia noted a marked decline in the intensity and activity of recruiters on its territory for travelling to join terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria in 2019. North Macedonia reported some failed attempts by individuals to travel to the Middle East via Turkey.

BiH reported that it received 26 of its citizens from Syria in 2019. Of the 26 arrivals in 2019, eight were men, six women and 12 children aged between 1 and 8. At the end of 2019, Bosnia and Herzegovina estimated that approximately 80 of its adult citizens remained in refugee camps or other locations in Iraq and Syria. 

Kosovo also received former IS members from camps in Syria in 2019. In April of last year, a group of 110 Kosovo citizens were returned, including 32 women and 74 children, nine of whom were orphans of IS members. The four men in the group, one of whom was a minor, were immediately detained on charges of terrorism. Several women were put under house arrest following interrogation. On trial, one of the men reportedly confessed to being a former IS member. He had travelled to join IS in Syria in August 2015 and was arrested by SDF forces in 2017.

The report also noted that lockdown measures introduced to combat the spread of COVID-19 could further escalate some of the trends identified in the report. This is due to the economic and social impact of the pandemic.

“These developments have the potential to further fuel the radicalisation of some individuals, regardless of their ideological persuasion. Activists both on the extreme left and right, and those involved in jihadist terrorism attempt to seize the opportunity the pandemic has created to further propagate their aims,” the report said.