When foreign fighters return home from the Syrian civil war, countries should be prepared for violence from Islamic radicals, experts say.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 25/02/13
Residents gather at the scene of an explosion in the northern city of Aleppo on February 20th. [AFP]
Balkan governments that are seeing some of its citizens join the Syrian civil war should increase domestic security programmes and be prepared to handle Islamic radicals at home, some experts said.
More than 70,000 people have died in the fighting, with an unknown number of Islamists from the Balkans involved, according to the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute. Fighters from dozens of nations are involved.
Regardless of how the Syrian situation plays out, eastern European countries should be prepared for the aftermath, Ioannis Michaletos, who co-ordinates the Southeast European Office of the World Security Network, told SETimes.
"The first basic consequence of fighting foreigners in Syria is the involvement of these people with dangerous global Islamic networks, which they may facilitate into infiltrating the Balkans once they come back in their homelands," Michaletos said. "Already Bosnia and Kosovo had issues like this in the past, so mercenary involvement will likely bring more problems of that nature in the future.
"First and foremost, Balkan countries should boost up their own domestic security programmes relating to counterterrorism and secondly to co-operate between them and with the rest of their partners like EU, NATO, OSCE in order to fight against terrorists," he said.
The UN's Commission on Human Rights warned in October of the increasing risk of foreign Islamist militants radicalising the conflict in Syria.
Lead investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said the presence of hundreds of "radical Islamists or jihadists" was particularly dangerous.
"Even if we don't have any numbers about fighters from the Balkans in Syria, people from the Balkans are mentioned in our reports about conflict in this country," Richard Wachtel, spokesman for the Middle East Media Research Institute, told SETimes. "One of the essential principles of jihad’s ideology is the concept that in our era, whenever a non-Muslim country or entity invades a Muslim land, jihad becomes a personal obligation for all Muslims."
Arsim Krasniqi, leader of an Islamic-based Kosovo organisation, Movement to Unite, told SETimes that there are dozens of Kosovars involved in the Syrian fighting, although he said his organisation was not involved.
The Kosovo Islamic Community also denies any engagement in the matter. Ahmet Sadriu, community spokesman, said the Syrian conflict has similarities to the fighting that led to Kosovo's independence.
"During the war in Kosovo, individuals from East and West joined the Kosovo Liberation Army in the cause for freedom, and this is the case with these people," Sadriu told SETimes.
He rules out any religious background as a motive for Kosovars to join the uprising.
“In Syrian conflict both sides belong to the same religious belief, they are Muslims, so there is no reason for them to join one side,” Sadriu said, calling religious motivation an illogical reason to join the fighting in Syria.
During the 1990s conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovinia (BiH), an "El Mujahid" unit was comprised of as many as 400 fighters from the Middle East, mainly from Syria.
Numerous testimonies of former members of the squad detailed war crimes that the group committed against Serb and Croatian fighters and civilians. Nobody from the division was prosecuted for war crimes.
Borislav Bojic, deputy chairman of a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Defence and Security in BiH, said Balkan nations have a serious problem with Islamic militants and that the authorities should do more to prevent it.
"That is not an imaginary thing. I believe my eyes. And my eyes have seen that terrorists attacked US Embassy in the heart of Sarajevo. The police bodies need to do more. And we, the politicians, also need to do more. This had become a long-standing problem and our reactions needs to be more efficient," Bojic told SETimes.
Richard Barrett, a former British diplomat and an intelligence officer, told SETimes that there is evidence that al-Qaeda is encouraging the fight in Syria.
"Most fighters who are going to Syria from elsewhere are doing so on their own. However, the al-Qaida organisation in Iraq is certainly helping. There is a danger that when people go to fight elsewhere they will become so radicalised that when they return home they may continue to attack targets that they perceive as the enemy. However, this has not been true in the great majority of cases. The fighters see Syria as a battle for soldiers to fight in rather than an opportunity for terrorism," Barrett said.
Correspondent Safet Kabashaj in Pristina contributed to this report.