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03/12/2016

Police operation exposes Kosovo jihadist links

Justice & Home Affairs

Police operation exposes Kosovo jihadist links

Italian special police [difesa.it]

Italian and Kosovo police have detained four Kosovo citizens allegedly linked to the Islamic State group (IS) for spreading Islamist propaganda and for making threats against Pope Francis and a former US ambassador.

The four are all suspected of “condoning terrorism” and “inciting racial hatred,” Italian police said.

An operation simultaneously conducted by police of the two countries early Tuesday (1 December) resulted in three arrests in Italy and one in Kosovo.

All four allegedly often visited a jihadist Facebook group, whose members are known to be in Syria, where a few hundred Kosovo-born volunteers have joined Islamic State.

“They were threatening the Pope, celebrating the recent attacks in Paris and threatening the former US ambassador to Kosovo,” said a police chief in the northern Italian city of Brescia, where the investigation was based.

The three men in Italy were detained as police conducted searches in four cities – Brescia, Padua, Perugia and Vicenza – one is being held, while two are being expelled under anti-terrorism measures because the evidence against them was not deemed strong enough to seek prosecution, a top security official said.

The man in Kosovo is an ethnic Albanian arrested south of the capital, Pristina.  He is suspected of being the group’s leader, which police say is trying to recruit fighters to go to Syria and Iraq and promoting terrorist activities on social media.

Italy has tightened its controls on Islamist suspects in the wake of the 13 November attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. Last week, it expelled four Moroccans suspected of promoting jihadism.

While Muslim-majority Kosovo remains a staunch US ally, several hundred Kosovo-born fighters have joined the Islamist extremists.

Kosovo is the only country in Europe the nationals of which need visas to visit the EU border-free Schengen zone. Many Kosovars have crossed illegally to the EU via Serbia and have applied for asylum. Their requests are usually turned down. But these development haven’t’ discouraged the government of Kosovo from lobbying hard to lift the visa barrier.

>> Read: Thaçi: ‘Rumours caused the exodus of Kosovars’

BalkanAnalysis reports that one of the “starting points” on the route of jihadists to Syria is the small southwestern Kosovo town of Restelica, south of Dragas.

Interestingly, in this little town almost everybody speaks Italian and a third of all citizens have worked in Italy; this connection has much to do with how Italian security officials became aware that parts of the Dragas area now represent a major center of ISIS recruitment for Albanians in Kosovo, according to BalkanAnalysis.

In August, The Telegraph reported that two dozen men from the Kosovar city of Kacanik went to fight jihad in Iraq and Syria.