Kosovo police arrest 40 alleged Islamic radicals
PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo police on Monday arrested at least 40 people in a major operation targeting Islamic radicals suspected of fighting alongside extremists in Iraq and Syria.
Spokesman Baki Kelani said weapons, ammunition and explosives were seized as hundreds of police officers and special police units raided 60 locations across Kosovo, including makeshift mosques believed to have served as recruiting centers.
The police operation is the largest ever against suspected Islamic radicals in Kosovo. Authorities have been on alert as a growing number of ethnic Albanians have joined militants in Syria and Iraq and appeared on social media in attempts to lure more followers.
The thorny issue of religion has often brought conservative Muslims at loggerheads with secular Kosovars as the two groups struggle to set up a functioning country in the aftermath of the 1998-99 separatist war against Serbia.
Police said the arrests Monday were the result of two years of surveillance and investigations and that some of the arrested are suspected of being involved in terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State group, or Jabhat Al-Nusra.
They estimated at least 200 Kosovars have joined the ranks of Islamic militants as volunteers and at least 16 have been killed in battles with Syrian and Iraqi authorities.
Kosovo’s government welcomed Monday’s operation and warned it will fight religious extremists in Kosovo.
“Kosovo will not be a safe haven for extremism,” President Atifete Jahjaga said.
Most of the suspects come from central Kosovo’s Ferizaj municipality, which is also home to the U.S. military installation Camp Bondsteel, where some 700 American peacekeepers are stationed.
Maj. Mike Wallace, a spokesman for the U.S. peacekeepers, declined to give details about security arrangements in the U.S.-led command, but said troops remain alert.
In an attempt to distance itself from extremists, the country’s largest Muslim group, Kosovo’s Islamic Community, praised the arrests and urged young faithful to steer clear of “groups calling themselves upon a so-called jihad.”