Dealing with ISIS Threat in the Balkans
By By Fatmir Mediu
Albanian Daily News
Published February 25, 2016

During a recent roundtable discussion in Washington
D.C., on the ISIS threat and the Balkans, organized by Senate ASC,
representatives from most of the states of this region agreed that the ISIS
threat and other terrorist organizations remained a top security priority for
their countries. Unfortunately, it was also clear that despite some
improvements, there was an imminent need for better regional cooperation,
especially in intelligence sharing, reciprocal communication and cooperation
between security institutions.


Although the American participants were most
concerned about the ISIS capacity to organize and launch terrorist attacks in
Europe (Paris) and U.S. (San Bernardino), it was clear that terrorism is a
global threat to all states and that the Balkans had a special role in
combating this threat, being a major route into Europe and a bridge for ISIS
funding, supplies and recruitment, or other radical terrorist groups.
Unfortunately, the attacks in France and other western states, the ongoing
global economic instability, the war in Syria and the flood of refugees and
migrants into Europe have created a major distraction for Europe and the U.S.,
reducing support and understanding for the gravity of the potential terrorist
threat in the Balkans.


The facts on the ground in the region, stress the
need for immediate and greater actions in curbing the ISIS virus infestation
and dealing with homegrown terrorist “lone wolves,” cells and networks that are
facilitating the infiltration of our societies, but more importantly are using
our geographic position to secure their strategic positions in Europe, with an
eye on America as an ultimate target of their hatred.


isis flagRecent arrests and trials of fighters
returning from Syria and Iraq in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo,
highlight the real problem of terrorist-trained and battle-tested individuals
to regional security. The appearance of ISIS flags in Bosnian villages,
involvement of individuals from the region in foiled terror plots in Sweden,
Germany and Austria, like that of the four Bosnian nationals and an Arab trying
to smuggle a bomb from Bosnia into Sweden; and more importantly the links to
actual attacks in Spain, France and in the region itself, like those on a
police station and the murder of two soldiers in Bosnia, all show the urgency
to increase regional efforts to contain and eliminate this threat.


According to some media and intelligence sources the
Balkans have become one of the largest recruiting stations for ISIS. No one
really knows how many fighters from the region have made their way to Syria and
Iraq, but estimates range from 700-850 or more.


The volunteer flow from the region has continued,
despite local efforts to prevent recruitment. These fighters are determined to
take the risk, regardless of the potential risks and legal punishments they may
face. Many have already been killed in combat in Iraq and Syria, many have
abandoned their wives and children, some have made propaganda videos revealing
identities; all of this shows the extent of their radicalization and commitment
to the ISIS cause. This is why, once returned they represent grave threats to
our institutions and societies. Most of them have passports which allow them
access through EU, because of visa liberalization and Schengen agreement,
extending the geography of the threat.


Radical Islamic indoctrination over the last two
decades has not only created shelters, indoctrination and training centers, and
safe transit routes, it has also destabilized the Islamic tradition of the
region, known for its secular character, historic tolerance and cultural
integration. Now a foreign, radical and heretical Islam has taken root and is
destabilizing the region, inter-confessional cooperation and peace; already
troubled by ethnic and national strife.


The Balkans is especially vulnerable for several
reasons:


Our strength as a diverse ethnic and multi-religious
region has also seen historic conflicts, some still simmering, others dormant,
which can be ignited by this new seed of radicalism.



Ethnic-based conflict, while historically comprising
a religious element, now sees the possibility of real religiously inspired
conflicts, that threaten peace within the multi-confessional states and the
region as a whole.



The increasing return and presence of fanatical
fighters trained in Syria, Iraq and Libya creates a serious and immediate
threat to peace and stability.



Most of the states in the region have very unstable
political situations, weak government and security institutions, stretched thin
by economic crisis, war, political infighting, corruption and the increasing
tides of refugees and migrants trying to get to the EU, representing another
serious threat to regional security.



Prolonged economic crisis and high unemployment have
alienated many, exposing youth especially to radicalization.



The communist legacy of inefficient governance,
fear, bloated bureaucracies and public sectors have created a serious
impediment to better responding to this and other threats, contributing to
political and societal instabilities.



The communist legacy of large militaries and recent
wars have left large quantities of weapons, explosives and ammunition that have
filtered into the black market through corruption and organized crime networks
that have traditionally put profit ahead of national security and patriotism.



The sputtering EU expansion and lack of will to
receive new members in the near future have diminished hope and optimism among
citizens, creating more opportunities for radicalization, and undermining
political will for reforms and enhancement of regional security. There is also
a widespread feeling among the region’s peoples that in essence the terrorist
threat and the new migrant crisis are EU problems that have been dumped on the
backs of the Balkans and as a result solidarity with the EU has been shaken.



Outside “big power” rivalries often play out in our
region and the conflicts between the EU and Russia, the U.S. and Russia, Turkey
and Russia, Turkey and the EU all create instability and undermine regional
cooperation.



It is because of these factors, and a few others,
that the Balkans has been an attractive recruitment, indoctrination and transit
zone for ISIS and other terrorist groups. It is also why this threat has
greater impact and significance as this region is still far from the ideal in
securing peace and security.





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