Radical Muslims from the region participate in many al-Qaeda terrorist attacks and foreign wars, including the conflict in Syria that poses a direct threat to Turkey's security.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 07/02/14
Hundreds of radical Muslims from the region are fighting in Syria. [AFP]
According to security experts, white al-Qaeda is one of the most dangerous terrorist threats to the region because its members passionately follow radical Islam principles and are being trained to fight in foreign wars in Syria and elsewhere.
Darko Trifunovic, a member of the Southeast Europe Experts Team Fighting Terrorism and Organised Crime and secretary of the Institute for Security Studies at the Belgrade Faculty of Security, said white al-Qaeda members are not of African or Asian origin, are imbued with the idea of Islamic fundamentalism and fatalism, and are recruited to participate in the operational activities of the military committee and the military wing of al-Qaeda.
There are about 400 fighters from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia in Syria, according to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.
"The biggest problem for the region will be the return of these people here since they are coming back not only imbued by radical ideas but also as military instructors capable of destabilising this part of the world," Trifunovic told SETimes.
Dragan Simeunovic, a terrorism specialist at the Belgrade Faculty of Political Science and acting director of the Academy for National Security, said radical Muslims in the region participate in many terrorist acts.
"The roots of white al-Qaeda are from the civil wars in the 1990s when a large number of Mujahidins came to the area from Islamic countries, which sowed the seeds of radicalism, especially through the militant interpretation of Wahhabism. This has been having influence on Balkan Muslims," Simeunovic told SETimes.
Milan Mijalkovski, a professor at the Serbian Faculty for Security, told SETimes that the war in Syria is contributing to the extension of the group.
"The link between radical Islamists and terrorists is very functional, which proves the assentation that all Islamists are not terrorists, but all terrorists who belong to Islam are radical Islamists. Their final product is terrorism and, if there is a chance, mass armed violence, civil war," he said.
Simeunovic said those from the Balkans who fight abroad are mostly from lower social classes.
"Al-Qaeda recruiters strive to gain members from all social levels, but their followers are mostly the poorest because they are in need of aid. Those with low levels of education are also recruited because they are easy targets for propaganda and manipulation," he said.
Experts said Balkan citizens are recruitment targets for terrorist groups because of their visage.
"They are a good terroristic force because they are very familiar with other Europeans and look different from other Muslims. It is easy to place them in order to manage terroristic acts without being easily noticed," Aida Corovic, a human rights activist from Novi Pazar and the former director of local NGO Urban IN, told SETimes.
Mijalkovski said tightening legislation could help stop the phenomenon.
"Islam is legal religion and it is guaranteed by the constitutional act, as well as all other religions in Serbia, and the state is not allowed to intervene. But it can try to manage it by adopting a law by which everyone, even those who just go for training and do not fight, will be prosecuted for the crime of terrorism," he told SETimes.
BIH, Macedonia and Serbia are making headway.
The Social Democratic Party of Serbia filed a draft law with parliament on January 15th that said the departure and recruitment of Serbian citizens for participation in wars worldwide would be treated as a crime.
BiH security minister Fahrudin Radoncic initiated amendments to the criminal law that would sanction citizens who participate in foreign wars. It passed in parliament last December, and is now pending approval in the House of Peoples.
Macedonia is also amending its criminal law to sanction recruiters and citizens for participating in foreign military or paramilitary formations.
What can governments and citizens in the region do to stop the spread of extremism and terrorism? Tell us your thoughts below.