How Embassy Pristina Helped Kosovo Manage the Foreign Terrorist Fighter Problem
- Greg Delawie
- Content Type
- Journal Article
- The Ambassador's Review
- Publication Date
- Fall 2020
- Council of American Ambassadors
- Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is the most pro-American country in the world. From 2012 to 2013, it was also the world’s per-capita biggest source of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) in Syria. It would seem those two statements could not possibly both be true, but they are. This is the story of how the professional diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Pristina, aided by experts from the United States, played a major role in helping the new country bring the FTF problem under control for our mutual benefit.
Between 2012 (when the Syrian civil war started) and 2016, more than 300 Kosovo citizens went to fight with al-Nusra, or ISIS. U.N. Development Program analysts who interviewed FTFs identified two categories of reasons for this phenomenon: “push factors” and “pull factors.”
Among the push factors were Kosovo’s poverty, weak rule of law (enabling porous borders), corruption and high unemployment, especially among the young (60%, compared to 30% overall, in a population with 50% age 25 or younger).
The pull factors were more complicated:
After the 1998-1999 Kosovo war, “humanitarian” NGOs from the Middle East came to build mosques and provide aid, also importing Wahabi-style Islam, which is very different from Kosovo’s Hanafi Islamic tradition.
Some Kosovo imams trained in Middle Eastern religious schools came back with a more radical Islam.
ISIS recruiters proclaimed a religious duty for Kosovars to help Syrian Muslims threatened by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Radical imams operating outside the Kosovo Islamic community recruited young men, often offering computer or English classes as bait.
- Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Conflict, Rule of Law
- Political Geography
- Europe, Kosovo, Balkans