Officials are trying to prevent imams and others from recruiting Muslims to fight in foreign conflicts.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 21/03/14
Muslims arrive at a Tirana mosque whose imam, Genci Balla, and six others were arrested on charges of recruiting believers to join the Syria conflict. [AFP]
Albanian authorities are pursuing extremist groups that recruit Muslims to fight in Syria and elsewhere, officials said.
The country's state police arrested a seven-member group last week that allegedly recruited about 50 Muslims and organised their transport to Syria.
The two main suspects are Genci "Abdurraman" Balla, 35, who runs a mosque in Tirana, and Bujar Hysa, 43, who runs a mosque in Mezez near Tirana. Neither man was appointed by the Albania's Islamic Community.
Police said they confiscated firearms and ammunition, phones, bank account contracts, computers, radios, camouflage bags, and a military uniform.
"The fact this cell was discovered shows the high-level [of readiness] of the state police," said Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati.
Bushati said the nine-month operation showed the government's resolve to fight extremism.
Police said the recruits travelled to Syria by car via Istanbul and underwent military training in Aleppo. Per Albanian law, each fighter faces a 10-year prison sentence if they return.
A Tirana court issued arrest orders for five Albanians that are currently in Syria and Turkey.
"The arrests are important because they increase security and show that while such activities were tolerated in Albania [in the past], they will not be tolerated anymore," Fatos Klosi, former head of Albania's secret service, told SETimes.
Albania's Islamic Community reaffirmed its stand against the country's Muslims getting involved in Syria and other conflicts.
"Participation in conflicts and inciting violence is not in accordance with the spirit of the Islamic religion," it said in a statement.
Islamic Community officials said most mosques are not yet legalised by the government, but their imams were appointed by the Islamic Community, while a smaller number are both illegal and have self-appointed imams.
"The imams have been asked to prepare the files for legalisation and hand them over to the authorities, and they complied. Time has come to end informality in this as in other fields," Agron Hoxha, Islamic Community spokesperson, told SETimes.
"We are happy the government responded to the threat to Albania's youth," said Rudina Hoxha, a teacher from Durres.
"One of my pupils used to go to those mosques every Friday. He told me he will be ready to go and fight. The state should have reacted much earlier," Hoxha told SETimes.
What other measures can Albania authorities take to prevent citizens from participating in foreign conflicts? Share your opinion in the comments space.