Rome is bracing itself for terrorist attacks by Albanian ISIS recruits based in Italy, La Repubblica reported last week (7 January).
Contacted by EurActiv.com, Albania’s Ambassador in Brussels, Suela Janina, said that the report was fake and questioned the validity of the unnamed sources who were quoted.
According to La Repubblica, the terrorist threat for Italy does not come from the desperate migrants seeking a better life but on the contrary, from Albanian villages “which have raised ISIS flags”.
The report focussed on villages bordering with Kosovo, and quoted a source from the Italian intelligence services as saying, “this is a powder keg […] Italy is an exposed country”.
The risk is particularly apparent in the province of Puglia, a stone-throw from the Balkan country across the Adriatic sea, and it’s believed that the local Albanian mafia, organized crime, and drug trafficking are involved.
Since the birth of the Islamic State, a significant number of foreign fighters have been recruited from the Western Balkans, including at least 1,000 fighters from Albania.
At least 3,000 EU citizens have left for conflict zones in Syria and Iraq to fight for Islamic State. Some received training in Balkan countries, according to a Europol report which has raised alarm in the Czech Republic. EurActiv.cz reports.
However, the report says that the flow from Syria in the past year has been significantly reduced due to the “deepening of radicalisation” in Albania recently.
Meanwhile, top police chief Franco Gabrielli shocked Italians last week when he said that “ISIS will strike Italy soon”.
“I say it openly: we will have to pay a price as well,” Gabrielli warned.
In late December, Italy expelled a Tunisian who planned terrorist attacks in the country.
“In mid-November, he had been instructed to carry out terrorist attacks in Italy, similar to those that took place in France and Belgium, in retaliation for Italian firms in Libya,” the Italian ministry of domestic affairs said in a statement.”
A distorted reality
“We regret to see in a respectable newspaper a distorting article about the fake news that flags of ISIS are flying in the Albanian villages,” Albania’s Ambassador Suela Janina told EurActiv, adding that the only flags which fly high in her country are those of the Albanian state and its close partners, NATO and the EU.
“Without wanting to speculate on the sources that the newspaper has used, there is only one reliable source of information in this matter meaning the one that comes from an intensified cooperation between security and law enforcement agencies between Albania and Italy, as well as with other partner countries,” the diplomat noted, adding that all measures had been taken to counter the risk of terrorism and of the foreign fighter’s returnees.
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Janina continued, saying that presenting Albania as a source of danger is a distortion of reality.
“Targeting examples that can offer positive achievements and manipulating with the sensitivity of the topic without real facts and serious sources at least is not helpful in effectively tackling the risks that we jointly face,” she said.
Fight against ISIS
For the Albanian diplomat, there is no doubt that radicalisation, violent extremism, and terrorism are difficult challenges, to which no country is immune.
Janina emphasised that Albania had been playing an active role as part of the global coalition in the fight against ISIS, as well as has taken concrete legislative, administrative and security measures, to prevent the participation of its citizens in conflicts and wars overseas.
“We increased and strengthened cooperation with other partner on intelligence and security related issues […] we adopted a National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism and we are also working with NATO to establish in Tirana a NATO Center of Excellence (COE) which will address the phenomenon of foreign fighters and we are also working to set up a regional centre on CVE.”
“All these measures have had a very concrete and sharp impact: there have been no FTFs from Albania since 2015,” she concluded.
Commission: Albania shows commitment
Contacted by EurActiv, an EU spokesperson stressed that Brussels was aware that a number of trials and investigations are ongoing, in the context of regional cooperation between prosecution offices and law enforcement agencies.
Poor information sharing between security services is one of the great shortcomings of European cooperation. About 5,000 Europeans are thought to have joined extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, but only 1,615 appear on Europe’s official list. EurActiv Spain reports.
“This demonstrates the commitment of Albanian authorities to tackle and prevent recruitment of terrorist fighters,” the EU official noted, emphasising the EU Council’s conclusions that the Union was enhancing its action on issues related to fight against terrorism presented by the risk of radicalisation throughout the Western Balkans, a “priority region for external action on counter-terrorism”.
The official explained that in the context of the EU Global Strategy, the EU would encourage greater information sharing and intelligence cooperation between member states and EU agencies.
“This entails shared alerts on violent extremism, terrorist networks, and foreign terrorist fighters, as well as monitoring and removing unlawful content from the media.
“The European External Action Service and Commission services are already enhancing cooperation between EU agencies and relevant Western Balkan authorities on counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism, focusing on coordination efforts through the Western Balkan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (WBCTI) initiated by Slovenia,” the official stated.