Following its Defeat in the Middle East and North Africa, ISIS Triggers War Memories to Push its Agenda in the Balkans

August 8, 2017 9:17 pmViews: 18

A report entitled “ISIS Attempts to Exploit Balkan War Wounds with Localized Propaganda” examines the terrorist organization’s contingency plan following its defeat in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. Faced with a new reality, the ISIS terrorist organization has shifted its target in search for another innocent Muslim population to abuse, brainwash, and victimize. In recent months, ISIS has been increasing its propaganda in western Balkan countries that are home to significant Muslim populations. The terrorist group is trying to exploit the wounds of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, which saw people divided along ethnic and religious lines, to arouse people’s bitter memories and gain their sympathy and support.

On June 8, Al Hayat Media, a media outlet for ISIS, published the tenth issue of their online magazine Rumiyah. It was circulated in nine languages, including Bosnian, and each version provided customized content to perfectly cater for their sympathizers in different regions of the world. Rumiyah has always been published in Bosnian, but this issue marked the first time it had a message to the citizens of the Western Balkans. In it, ISIS claims they have “not forgotten” the region where they brought “blood for the enemies and honey for the friends.” The rhetoric is full of menace directed at the “infidel” Serbs and Croats and reminiscences of war crimes that were committed against Muslims in previous wars. The message includes dire threats to the “murtadd”– a term meaning someone who has renounced their own religion — referring to the majority of local Muslims of Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia who do not support any kind of Islamic radicalism. Rumiyah is not the only effort by ISIS to target local audiences; new channels, mostly through the messaging app Telegram, have also been recently created. All the information they contain is in Bosnian, including videos, posters, translations of ISIS statements, and other types of propaganda.

This endeavor by ISIS does not only seek to recruit new members but it also aims at motivating sympathizers, some of whom have returned from Syria, to carry out attacks in the group’s name. There are around 875 Western Balkan fighters in Syria and Iraq. Roughly speaking, between 90 and 200 are from Albania, between 217 and 330 from Bosnia, between 232 and 300 from Kosovo, between 100 and 146 from Macedonia, about 30 from Montenegro, between 50 and 70 from Serbia. There are also fighters from Slovenia and Croatia. Balkan fighters also include Albanians who were recruited by a mosque that operates outside the control of the Muslim Community of Albania. It is important to note, however, that the number of Albanians going to Syria has decreased from 20 in 2012 to only one in 2015 after the country adopted special legal measures against such fighters, making recruiting, funding or supporting fighters punishable with 15 years in prison. Authorities in neighboring Macedonia adopted similar measures in 2015, criminalizing participation in foreign conflicts with five years in prison. In Kosovo, meanwhile, security forces had been openly cracking down on jihadist activity since 2014 when they arrested a dozen suspects including imams.

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