Experts say there are extremist cells in Macedonia, but no evidence to support a recent report from a Russian media outlet.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 17/08/13
Macedonia Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska said there is no serious risk to security. [AFP]
A report by Russian media about alleged terrorist training camps in Macedonia is being debunked by officials, but has security experts raising caution about an increase of Islamic extremism in the region.
The report by the Russian radio station Voice of Russia cites unnamed sources as saying that the alleged terrorists, described as Bosnians and Albanians, are being trained to make suicide attacks as part of a plot to form a united Islamic state that would include Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and parts of Serbia.
Macedonia's internal affairs ministry discounted the report, which was quoted in the Macedonian daily newspaper Vecer.
"Macedonia's security services are in excellent shape, are doing their job well and are following all relevant activities and the overall situation in the country and beyond," Gordana Jankulovska, internal affairs minister, told SETimes.
"We account for the security in the entire territory of the state. At present, the security situation in Macedonia is stable," Jankulovska said.
Ivan Babanovski, security expert and retired professor at the Security Faculty in Skopje, said citizens should be cautious because there used to be training camps in Macedonia. He said the country's security services must establish closer ties with foreign counterparts to follow any renewed presence.
"They were located in Leshnica, Tri vode and Shipkovica. A camp active at present that recruits mercenaries for the conflict in Syria is somewhere between Jazhince [in northern Macedonia] and Kachanik in Kosovo," Babanovski said.
Babanovski said that foreign intelligence services have detected in Macedonia and the region the existence and activities of terrorist organisations and Islamist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
"The Islamists are readying to join the wars in the Arab countries. At present, some of them are joining the conflict in Syria. Previously, former veterans of the paramilitary structures of the Albanian National Army or ANA were present in Libya as well as other countries," Babanovski told SETimes.
Three Macedonian citizens have been confirmed killed in Syria this year.
The entry of Islamic extremism in Macedonia follows its spread from BiH, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and the Sandzak area of Serbia, according to Frosina Remenski, professor at the Security Faculty in Skopje.
"The problem with Islamic fundamentalism is also based in the [findings in] many reports of relevant international security services that openly write about it," Remenski told SETimes.
"The support of Arab countries in financing and spreading of this ideology must be mentioned, which cannot always be readily connected to Islamist groups' activities in the Middle East," Remenski said.
Remenski explained the Islamic extremism in the Balkans is in its infancy but tries to recruit young Muslims who can be used to achieve political goals by violent means.
Surveillance of Islamist groups is made more difficult by their attempts to hide behind the work of non-governmental humanitarian organisations that are based in the Middle East, she added.
The Islamic Community in Macedonia said it is not in a position to have information about the existence of training camps in the country.
"It is not our job to follow people to see what they do. We have no information about such camps nor do we deal with such issues, because that is a job for the competent state institutions," Tabaz Abazi, spokesperson for the Islamic Community in Macedonia, told SETimes.
Zlate Dimovski, professor of intelligence and terrorism at the Security Faculty in Skopje, said people in the region should be on guard.
"At certain times, we used to think radical Islam was a phenomenon happening far away from us. But radical Islam is expanding and we cannot predict what will happen in the future nor put a full stop to it without mapping where it poses the greatest danger," Dimovski told SETimes.
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