By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina — 13/11/13
Kosovo authorities this week announced the arrests of six Islamic extremists, including at least one who purportedly has ties with al-Qaeda, who are believed to have been planning terrorist attacks in Pristina and Gjilan.
A group representing the men, Xhemati i Teuhidit dhe Xhihadit ne Kosove, sent an e-mail message to Kosovo authorities on Monday (November 11th), warning that it would retaliate with “terrible and painful attacks” if the six are not released.
“No doubt, we have men who want death more than you want life in this world. It is the army of Allah which will triumph and the one of Brankovic which will be drowned in their blood,” the message said.
Kosovo’s intelligence agency and police conducted surveillance of the group for several months prior to making the arrests. The men were charged with smuggling weapons and other criminal acts. The arrests were conducted November 6th and announced by police on Monday.
“During the development of the investigation, there was close co-operation between the Kosovo Police and the Kosovo Agency for Intelligence,” Sabrije Kamberi, a spokesperson for Kosovo Police, told SETimes.
Police conducted seven searches of the group’s premises in Pristina and Gjilan, and confiscated weapons, ammunition, money, cars and other evidence.
Police did not provide more details, but Kosovo media reported the group is suspected of planning to carry out terrorist attacks in Pristina and Gjilan, including the use of cell-phone activated explosive devices.
One of the arrested, Genc Selimi, aka Ebu Hafs Al Albani, has identified himself with al-Qaeda. He is a former fighter in Syria. Another four members of the group have also been arrested on activities related to Syria, according to Kosovo daily Koha Ditore.
Police said two of the arrested are suspected to have been involved in a November 3rd attack in Pristina against two American citizens who are members of a Christian organisation.
Analysts warned there is not much information yet about the group and the threat it represents.
“The threatening email may be an indicator that this group is more extended and more structured than being just a unit,” Avni Zogiani, executive director of the Cohu Movement (Stand Up), toldSETimes.
While Kosovo is a secular state, almost 90 percent of the Albanians in Kosovo are Muslim.
A division between extremists and moderates within Kosovo’s Islamic community has been brewing in recent years.
The email is the first reactive action of radical groups, said Abit Hoxha of the Kosovo Centre for Security Studies.
“We would have to see how (the situation) develops, but this is exactly how radicalisation starts, as process of division between ‘them and us,’ and by … placing themselves opposite of law enforcement in Kosovo,” Hoxha told SETimes.
Hoxha said the police operation is important to Kosovo and the Balkans, given that many people who fight in Syria are returning to Kosovo.
“This has very important implications for the security in Kosovo and wider. Security is not exclusively a national issue and should not be seen like that, having in mind joint regional security challenges for the Balkans,” Hoxha said.