New police operations in the Balkans against Islamic extremists

Police in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) resumed operations against alleged Islamic extremists following arrests of 43 people last month suspected of being involved in terrorist-related activities.

Kosovo detained five Islamic extremists on September 4th, including Shefqet Krasniqi, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Pristina.

The police released the suspects after questioning, but said the investigation will continue.

Police searched 10 locations and confiscated evidence, said Syle Hoxhaj, acting chief prosecutor of Kosovo.

“Investigations are ongoing against all of the suspects and we expect to gain sufficient evidence to submit charges,” Hoxhaj told SETimes.

Hoxhaj said the prosecutor’s office is investigating an additional 17 people suspected of financing, recruiting and inciting terrorist activities and conspiring to organise a terror cell.

He also said the existing criminal code provides sufficient legal basis to arrest and charge such threatening groups dealing with organised crime and terrorism.

Earlier this month, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) police undertook a large operation code-named Damascus against radical Islamic groups, arresting 16 and holding another 15 people for questioning.

Moreover, the State Investigation and Protection Agency executed a court order and searched 17 locations used by the suspects and seized large quantities of various weapons.

Among the arrested was Bilal Bosnic, self-proclaimed leader of the BiH’s Wahhabis, and Hamdo Fojnica, father of one of the attackers of the US Embassy in Sarajevo in 2011.

Experts said the police actions in Kosovo and BiH were undertaken after the security agencies’ assessment that it was time to act, and especially focus on extremist organisers and financiers.

“It is always easier to work preventively to the problem than to cure its consequences,” Vlado Azinovic, a professor at the Political Sciences Faculty in Sarajevo, told SETimes.

Azinovic said Operation Damascus is part of a broader international campaign aimed at the terrorism threat by organisations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as was the case in Kosovo.

“The important thing is the police and prosecutors act on evidence and the arrests will have an epilogue in court,” Azinovic said.

The Kosovo Islamic Community (KIC) expressed support for the latest police action.

“KIC supports Kosovo institutions against any kind of extremism or narrow interpretation of religious principles, while at the same time we remain committed in promoting tolerance and inter-religious understanding,” Ahmet Sadriu, KIC spokesperson, told SETimes.

What can the Balkan countries do to deal with terrorist threat by Islamic extremist groups and individuals? Share your opinion in the comments space. (Safet Kabashaj and Ana Lovakovic for Southeast European Times)