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Returning Terrorists Threaten Balkan Security, Europol Says

Europol report highlights return of foreign terrorist fighters from conflict areas to the countries of the Western Balkans as a matter of concern.

Europol’s latest report on the terrorist threat in the EU says one of main threats to the countries of the Western Balkans is the return home of foreign terrorist fighters, FTFs.

“Hungary asserts that around 1,000 individuals from the Balkan states joined IS between 2014 and 2016 and expects a significant number of them to return to their former home countries, facilitated by organised crime groups engaged in illegal migration,” the report, published on Thursday, said.

The report by the EU’s law enforcement agency said Bulgaria had reported concerns of being used as a transit route by FTFs or linked individuals passing through Bulgaria on their way to and from Syria – but that due to entry bans for Turkey, they were returned back to Bulgaria.

It added that Romania had been also used as a transit area or secondary route for FTFs travelling to and from Iraq and Syria.

In 2017, 68 victims lost their lives as a result of terrorist attacks in the European Union, Europol noted.

“The numbers in this report are not just statistics. We must never forget that behind every number, there is an innocent victim,” Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle, said on Europol’s website.

The report added that none of the Western Balkan countries had reported acts of jihadist terrorism on their territories in 2017.

Listing arrests in 2017 per EU member state, according to data, Bulgaria arrested 14 jihadists, and Romania two.

“Kosovo reported a decline in jihadist propaganda activities and no apparent cases of financial or logistical support of terrorist groups. The country shares its concerns about the possibility of returning FTFs from the conflict areas with EU and non-EU countries,” it said.

In 2017, it added, Kosovo authorities initiated 54 cases of suspicion of participation in terrorist activities in Iraq and Syria.

“These include cases in which there was no evidence of involvement of its nationals in fighting in the conflict areas. Arrests made in Kosovo were primarily based upon suspicion of engagement in propaganda activities,” it noted.

The report pointed out that members of Serbia’s Albanian, Bosnian and Roma minority communities are predominant in jihadist groups in Serbia.

Serbia also reported propaganda activities in 2017, both through personal contacts in informal religious groups, from some informal religious venues as well as via the internet and social networks.

“These propaganda activities were aimed at the radicalisation and recruitment of new members for terrorist organisations,” it said, and added that women are increasingly being approached, as are members of the Roma community.

Montenegro, the report said, had reported the presence of several radical groups in the country, including takfiris and jihadists.

As it explained, takfiris rigidly interpret basic Islamic postulates and follow strict Sharia rules. They distribute propaganda materials via the internet but are not regarded a viable terrorist threat, it added.

Bosnia up to December 2017 believed about 300 persons had travelled to Iraq and Syria, the report noted.

“As per 31 December 2017 an estimated 107 were still in Syria, of whom 61 men and 46 women. It is believed that by that date 41 FTFs had returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina and that 71 FTFs had lost their lives,” it said.

It added that in 2017 only one failed attempt was recorded of an individual attempting to travel from Bosnia to the conflict areas.

Europol also noted that in Bosnia “there is little reporting to indicate that extremist groups susceptible to violence have an organised and systematic network structure”.

“Indeed, there is evidence that within the extremist groups there are factions with different religious and ideological beliefs, creating opportunities for internal disagreement and disputes,” the report concluded.

Read more:

ISIS in the Balkans

ISIS Threatens Terror Campaign in the Balkans

250 Islamist Fighters Return to Balkans: Report

Maja Zivanovic