|A poster of NATO General Assembly in Tirana. Photo: LSA/Malton Dibra|
Albania is expected to open a NATO excellence centre this year that will conduct studies into foreign terrorist fighters.
The project got the green light from the alliance’s military committee in May and Albanian Defence Ministry officials are now discussing modalities with alliance counterparts.
Colonel Bardhyl Kollcaku, director of the Defence Intelligence and Security agency, AISM, told BIRN that Albania pitched the initiative after spotting a vacuum in NATO over this phenomenon.
Col Kollcaku said that the phenomenon had existed for decades before growing in scale in recent years.
“We have the right experience to contribute to knowing, studying, addressing and further combating the phenomenon of foreign fighters.
“Albania’s geographical position as part of Western Balkan has made it an origin for foreign fighters and we aim to share our lessons and experience,” he stated.
With the creation of this new centre, Albania will be hosting the first such NATO institution in the country after seven years of membership. The centre for studies of foreign terrorist fighters in Albania will be the first of this of its kind.
“Our ambition is to … activate the centre within this year. This is going to bring added value for the alliance,” the colonel emphasized.
A report in March by the Albanian Institute of International Studies, AIIS, says the number of fighters from Albania joining ISIS in Syria and Iraq peaked in 2014, when between 90 and 150 people departed from Albania, 31 of whom were children and 13 women.
Arrests and tough legislation have in the meantime curbed numbers and brought some success in the fight. Authorities in the country report that the number of those departing to Syria from Albania in 2015 was near zero.
Albania joined NATO in April 2009 together with Croatia. Albanian officials have long backed the need for NATO to expand into other Balkan countries like Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia in order to secure sustainable peace in the region.
In May for a first time, a NATO Parliamentary Assembly was held in Tirana, when security in the Western Balkans and the risk that Europe faces from Russia were in the spotlight.