On March 20, 2014, three foreign fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) killed three people and wounded five others, including law enforcement officials, in Nigde, Turkey.[1] Although the three were variously reported as Albanian, German, or Swiss, later reports indicated that two were citizens of Macedonia, one of whom had previously resided in Germany. The third was a Kosovar, who had lived in Switzerland.[2] Three weeks later, on April 10, two female teenagers of Bosnian origin traveled from Vienna, Austria, to Syria.[3] These incidents pointed to the presence of foreign fighters from the Western Balkans in Syria as well as ties between the Western Balkans and Western Europe.[4]

Although attention has been given to foreign fighters originating in Western Europe who have traveled to Syria in the past two and a half years, less notice has been paid to foreign fighters originating from other parts of Europe. To date, no consolidated estimates of numbers fighting, returned or killed have been made available for the Western Balkans region.[5] This article provides a brief background on prior foreign fighting activity by militants from the Western Balkans. It gives overall estimates for involvement in the Syria conflict, and provides analysis of the Western Balkans foreign fighter groups in Syria and comparisons with other foreign fighter contingents. It concludes with an examination of efforts by states in the region to counter foreign fighter activity. Research for this article found that between 218-654 foreign fighters have traveled from the Western Balkans to fight in Syria since 2012. Initially the vast majority of fighters (83%) joined Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) with 10% joining the ISIL. Reports from late 2013 and early 2014, however, suggest that foreign fighters from the region are increasingly joining and fighting with the ISIL over other groups.

Foreign Fighters from the Western Balkans: Then and Now
Prior to the war in Syria, a small number of foreign fighters from the former Yugoslav Republics (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Montenegro) and Albania reportedly traveled or attempted to travel to fight or train in various jihadist conflicts between 2003 and 2011.[6]

A Bosnian with connections to Germany trained in Afghanistan in 2005.[7] In October 2005, a national of Macedonia was listed in a Multinational Force in Iraq (MNF-I) briefing containing captured foreign fighter nationalities.[8] In the same month, an Australian national was alleged to have been introduced to the Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi network via a Bosnian based in Lebanon.[9] In November 2005, Syrian authorities arrested an Albanian national in Damascus on suspicion of being involved with foreign fighter activities.[10] In September 2007, the identification details of a resident of Bosnia-Herzegovina were listed in documents recovered by U.S. military forces at Sinjar in Iraq.[11] An associate of the Rustempašic group[12] is believed to have fought in Chechnya.[13] An undetermined number of Bosnians traveled to Yemen.[14]

In sum, perhaps fewer than a dozen known individuals from the Western Balkans had engaged in foreign fighter activity prior to the conflict in Syria.

Based on a review of press reporting between January 2013 and June 2014, it is estimated that since mid-2012 between 218-654 foreign fighters from Albania (50-90 fighters), Bosnia (50-330 fighters), Kosovo (80-150 fighters), Macedonia (6-12 fighters), Montenegro (two fighters) and Serbia (30-70 fighters) have traveled to Syria.[15] The number killed in Syria is 38-51 individuals (Albania: 6-8; Bosnia: 10-15; Kosovo: 12; Macedonia: 4-10; Montenegro: 1; Serbia: 5). The returnee total varies from 69-93 (Albania: 22-28; Kosovo: 15; Bosnia: 32-50).

What is Known about Foreign Fighters in Syria?
To date, details of 159 individuals associated with foreign fighter activity in the Western Balkans have been made available in press reports.[16] The analysis that follows draws from this smaller but more detailed dataset of foreign fighters from the Western Balkans compiled by the author. Based on the roles attributed to these individuals, 125 are foreign fighters, 18 are facilitators, 10 are identified as the wives of foreign fighters, and the role of six people could not be clearly identified. The majority of the persons listed are male (94%) with a small number of females (6%).

In terms of nationality, the dataset contains 70 individuals from Bosnia-Herzegovina, 42 from Kosovo, 25 from Albania, nine from Serbia, five from Macedonia, and two from Montenegro. There are also a number of dual nationals, including one from Algeria/Bosnia, two from Egypt/Bosnia, one from Lebanon/Bosnia, one from Syria/Bosnia, and one from Switzerland/Bosnia. The dual nationals, with the exception of the Swiss/Bosnian, are all ex-members of the disbanded el-Mujahid unit that was active during the conflict in the former-Yugoslavia in the 1990s.[17]

Based on the dataset, foreign fighters from the Western Balkans range in age from 16-74, and on average they are 32.6-years-old. Given that the majority of ages are not known, it is possible that the average is not representative. In comparison, French foreign fighters are reported by government sources to be an average of 27-years-old, and the Belgians 23.5-years-old based on estimates compiled by Pieter van Ostaeyen, a Belgian researcher.[18] There are very few minors in the Western Balkans sample in contrast to France (3.5-4.6%) and Belgium (4.7%).[19] The minors from Belgium and France are reported to be engaged in fighting, whereas those who are mentioned in the Western Balkans dataset appear to be the children of the foreign fighters.[20]

The data provides some insight into the arrival of foreign fighters to Syria, although the sample is limited to 40 out of the 159 cases. Based on the author’s dataset, the earliest recorded mention of foreign fighters from the Western Balkans arriving in Syria is August 2012, when a group of seven reportedly arrived. The next group—comprised of four individuals—allegedly arrived in January 2013, while small numbers continued to arrive throughout 2013: seven in February, five in March, three in May, three in June, five in July, two in August, three in October, and finally one in December 2013—with no reports yet of travelers in 2014. There were 23 cases of foreign fighters traveling with their families to Syria.[21] In some cases, press reports suggested that some of the children in their late teens were being trained for military operations.[22] In eight cases, the date of arrival and the date of death are known. Based on this figure, time spent in Syria ranges from one to eleven months, with an average of five months between entry and eventual death.

In 65 cases, there is information about whether the foreign fighters are dead, have returned, or have been arrested. There are 35 persons who have died fighting in Syria, 19 who have been arrested in their country of origin, eight returnees who have not been arrested, and three returnees who were arrested in Turkey.[23] Unlike the European or Australian foreign fighter contingents where the number of known former military personnel is low—one Australian, one Dutch, and one French national—there are almost a dozen foreign fighters from the Western Balkans with prior military service.[24] These include the seven Bosnians, who are former el-Mujahid unit members, as well as four former members from the Albanian Army’s Commando Brigade based in Zall-Herr.[25]

The number of dead foreign fighters in this dataset (22%) is much higher than the estimates for France (4%) and Belgium (8%), but if the higher estimates—218 or 654—are used, then the figure falls to between 5% and 16% of the Western Balkans contingent.[26]

In 71 cases, the group that the foreign fighters joined is known: 83% joined JN, 10% joined the ISIL, 3% joined Kataib al-Muhajirin in Latakia, 3% joined the Free Syrian Army, and 1% joined JN and then switched to the ISIL. The connection to Kataib al-Muhajirin is based on that group’s provision of training to incoming foreign fighters from the Western Balkans in Azaz.[27] At one period, approximately 40 foreign fighters from the Western Balkans were staying in the same villa near Azaz managed by Bajro Ikanovic.[28]

The division between the groups is likely to have altered, as the ISIL continues to attract more foreign fighters. The three individuals involved in the firefight in Turkey were reported to have initially joined JN and then switched allegiances to the ISIL.[29] A Kosovar who died recently in a suicide attack in Iraq was also fighting with the ISIL.[30] Bosnian press reported on the Bosnian government debriefing of a returnee who stated that foreign fighters from Bosnia now found themselves caught up in the inter-group rivalry, with sets of brothers fighting on different sides—one for JN and the other for the ISIL.[31] Facebook pages of foreign fighters from the Western Balkans now tend to display ISIL material, images of ISIL operations, pictures of foreign fighters from the region who have died in Iraq, and comments that are hostile to JN.[32]

Foreign Fighter Clusters
The data suggests that there are a number of clusters or small groupings within the foreign fighter community from the Western Balkans. The smallest identified cluster consists of 11 individuals who were members of the now disbanded el-Mujahid unit. This cluster is comprised both of Bosnians (seven individuals) and dual-nationals (four individuals from Egypt, Algeria and Syria). Some of these individuals appear to have traveled relatively early to Syria in August 2012.

A second cluster is comprised of at least 18 individuals associated with the community based in Gornja Maoca, which was established by Nusret Imamovic.[33] In June 2014, Bosnian press reported that Imamovic himself had traveled to Syria, possibly in December 2013.[34] This radical community in Gornja Maoca, which was at one point 300-strong, has been the subject of a number of security investigations and was raided by Bosnian security forces in 2010 and 2012.[35] The community is based in an isolated rural area and its members had over time purchased all of the houses in the village.[36] The community lived according to their interpretation of Shari`a and “functioned as an extraterritorial zone.”[37] It was connected to individuals in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Montenegro, Serbia and Switzerland, who traveled to live or stay in the community or contributed money for others to purchase homes.[38] Mevludin Jašarevic, a Serb from Novi-Pasar, convicted for his attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo in October 2011, was a former resident of the community.[39] Gornja Maoca is not the only such community; others have been set up along similar lines in 10 villages across Bosnia.[40] The International Crisis Group refers to these communities as “unincorporated Islamists” as they do not accept the supremacy of the official or recognized Islamic community or the state.[41]

A third grouping is the “Albanian” cluster comprised of fighters from Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia. This cluster appears to have developed when fighters from Albanian-speaking areas arrived in Syria and organized themselves into a semi-structured unit.[42] Benjamin Hu and Muhamed Zekiri, two of the individuals arrested in Turkey in March 2014, met in this unit commanded by Hu’s father, Nimetula Imeri.[43] A video entitled Albanian Mujahideen Joins Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and subtitled in English was released in early June 2014, via the Dawla Islamiya YouTube channel.[44] The video featured a speaker outlining the unit’s support for the head of the ISIL, surrounded by approximately 16 individuals, supposedly Albanian foreign fighters. Zekiri was also reported to have attended a mosque in Tirana, although it is unclear if his voyage to Syria was organized during his time in Albania.[45] Press reports have suggested that radical imams operating between Kosovo and Macedonia may have played a role in radicalizing potential foreign fighters, although the details remain vague.[46]

A final grouping consists of individuals connected to past terrorist activity in Bosnia-Herzegovina through direct involvement, friendship or kinship ties. Emrah Fojnica, a foreign fighter, was previously acquitted of the charge of helping Mevlid Jašarevic, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in December 2012 for attacking the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.[47] Elmedin Velic, another foreign fighter, is the brother of Edis Velic, who was convicted of terrorist offenses as a member of Rijad Rustempašic’s group.[48] Edis Velic was alleged to have fought in Chechnya.[49] Bajro Ikanovic, the reported head of the Western Balkans guesthouse in Azaz, has connections to Mirsad Bektaševic as well as Rijad Rustempašic.[50] In June 2014, a Swedish journalist reported on his blog that Bektaševic had posted pictures on a Facebook page that seemed to indicate that he was in Syria fighting.[51] There are also connections between the clusters; Rustempašic is a former member of the el-Mujahid unit and Jašarevic has connections to the Imamovic cluster.[52]

Similarities and Connections with Western Europe
The data for the region suggests that patterns observed elsewhere in Europe are present in the Western Balkans: there are larger numbers of fighters than for previous conflicts, and there are a small number of females traveling with their husbands to Syria, in some cases with their children. Similar to Belgium, where a large number of foreign fighters were associated with radical groups like Sharia4Belgium, a number of the foreign fighters from the Western Balkans have connections to radical communities in Bosnia and the Sandzak region of Serbia.[53] These communities have tended to be isolationist and based in remote villages.[54] Physical networks as well as kinship and friendship connections appear to play a role in facilitating foreign fighter activity. In the case of Albania, it is possible that one network, led by Genci Balla and Bujar Hysa, was responsible for the quasi-totality of known foreign fighters.[55] This network operated around two informal mosques and radical communities associated with Balla and Hysa.[56]

As with the Belgian and French foreign fighters, the Albanian, Bosnian, and Serbian foreign fighter clusters have a social media presence. Mevuldin Cicvara and Mirza Ganic ran a series of Facebook pages, including their personal pages as well as group pages for the Balkan foreign fighters in Syria.[57] These Facebook pages show multiple connections within the region, to Europe as well as further afield to Saudi Arabia. Since the death of Ganic, some of the Western Balkans foreign fighter pages have ceased activity, although other sites remain active.[58] The Albanian group led by Balla and Hysa ran three websites, but the facilitation of foreign fighting activity appears to have been based more around the radical community developed through the two mosques and a religious school attached to one of the mosques.[59]

Foreign fighters from the Western Balkans are reported to have traveled a number of routes to Syria. One report indicates that fighters from Bosnia flew from Slovenia to Austria and then to Turkey.[60] Another report suggests some drove by car from Bosnia to Turkey via Serbia and Bulgaria.[61] Fighters from Albania have either flown by plane from Albania to Turkey or traveled overland via Macedonia and Bulgaria to Turkey. It has been suggested that some of the travelers may have used false identities.[62]

Once in Turkey, the foreign fighters have used at least two points of entry into Syria. One report indicates that they gathered in Reyhanli and crossed over through Bab al-Hawa into Syria.[63] A returned foreign fighter told Bosnian investigators that this route was used, as well as an entry point near Kilis where guides helped them cross illegally.[64] He also stated that the majority of fighters from the region gathered in Azaz, Syria, where they underwent initial training.[65]

Fighters appear to use a mix of travel facilitators and cover stories. Nusret Imamovic is alleged to have used the services of a former human smuggler to organize his trip to Syria.[66] The same individual was said to have organized the travel of many foreign fighters from Bosnia.[67] Mirza Ganic, the now deceased Serb foreign fighter from Novi-Pasar, used a cover story to explain his departure for Syria to his parents. He told them he was going to Cairo, Egypt, to study Arabic. He phoned his parents from the Turkish border to tell them that he was in fact entering Syria to fight.[68] Another fighter told his employer he was going to Germany for medical treatment for a month; he then spent eight months fighting in Syria.[69]

Following the April 2014 departure of two teenage females of Bosnian origin from Vienna, reports emerged that individuals based in Vienna, but born in Serbia, were allegedly involved in organizing and facilitating the travel of children of former Bosnian refugees residing in Western Europe to Syria.[70] The two are connected to the community in Gornja Macoa and were reportedly Imamovic’s “key people” in Vienna.[71] One of the girls was supposedly met by her future husband, a Chechen foreign fighter, and another report suggested that the celluar phone signal from one of the girls had been tracked to northern Syria.[72] This again points to links not just within the Western Balkans, but also to the wider diaspora in Western Europe.[73] There is also some anecdotal evidence that foreign fighters from the Western Balkans in Syria are mixing with other contingents from Europe, such as the Belgians.[74]

Responding to the Foreign Fighter Mobilization
There have been attempts to counter foreign fighter activity in Kosovo (November 2013 and June 2014), Albania (March 2014), and Serbia (March 2014) where individuals involved in foreign fighter facilitation or travel to Syria have been arrested.[75] In the case of Kosovo, the arrests were connected to terrorist attack planning and preparation. While investigators recovered weapons and “explosive devices connected to cellphones,” no target was mentioned in press reports about the arrests.[76] One of those arrested had returned from Syria, where it is alleged he took part in combat operations.[77] Two other people arrested were alleged to have been involved in a physical assault on two U.S. citizens in Pristina three days before the counterterrorism operation.[78] To date, no further details have emerged about the arrests.[79] In June 2014, Kosovo authorities arrested three people and were looking for a fourth suspect in relation to forming a terrorist group and recruiting foreign fighters.[80] The individuals arrested are alleged to have fought for both the ISIL and JN. One of the individuals arrested has a social media presence with photographs of trips into Syria showing the individual dressed in military garb and handling weapons.

Bosnia, with the largest number of foreign fighters, has yet to launch operations similar to that of Kosovo or Albania against identified networks and facilitators. There have been media reports that Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) had interviewed individuals in relation to facilitation activities, but no arrests have been reported.[81] The absence of arrests has been explained by loopholes in Bosnian law, which did not criminalize facilitating or participating in foreign fighting.[82] In June 2014, media reports suggested that Bosnian authorities could soon start investigations into approximately 20 returnees once a new law passes targeting foreign fighters.[83] The new law provides for sentences of up to 10 years for recruitment and participation in foreign fighting and four years for inciting via media channels participation in foreign conflicts.[84]

In Bosnia, the head of the Bosnian Islamic community and other figures have made statements against foreign fighters traveling to Syria and in support of changes to the criminal code.[85] Some of these statements have caused a virulent online reaction from within the pro-foreign fighter community in the region but also among the diaspora in Western Europe.[86] Others have taken a more ambiguous line, refusing to condemn outright involvement in foreign fighting.[87]

Albania has also introduced changes to the criminal code to allow for the prosecution of individuals traveling abroad to participate in conflicts, and in Macedonia there have been calls for changes to the law to criminalize travel for the purposes of fighting as well as facilitation activities.[88] Similar to France and the United Kingdom, however, the announcement of these measures and their eventual implementation come more than two years into the conflict, and after the departure of large numbers of foreign fighters. Whether these measures will prove dissuasive is unclear.

Furthermore, the measures come without apparent coordination between the countries in the region despite the intra-Western Balkans connections. They also seem to have been slow to take the initiative to engage with international partners; countries from the region were not among those who participated in an INTERPOL foreign fighter meeting in July 2013.[89] Officials from the U.S. and some EU countries traveled to Sarajevo to discuss the issue with Bosnian authorities in June 2013.[90] In May 2014, the counterterrorism coordinator of the European Union outlined measures that the EU was in the process of taking in relation to foreign fighters. The countries in the Western Balkans are mentioned as an area where increased cooperation is required and a number of proposed initiatives are outlined.[91]

It remains to be seen whether these responses to the foreign fighter challenge at the national level or wider coordination efforts to mitigate against the risk of terrorist activity by returning foreign fighters will prove enough to avoid terrorist attacks in the region or in the European Union. The May 2014 attack in Belgium by a returning French foreign fighter is an indicator that greater coordination between foreign fighter source countries is necessary. The threat posed by foreign fighters is no longer limited to the fighter’s country, but also to neighboring states.

Timothy Holman is a first year Ph.D. candidate at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. He holds a BA (Hons) in Persian and Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and an MLitt in Terrorism Studies from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is a former criminal intelligence analyst with INTERPOL, The Swiss Federal Police and The International Criminal Court.

[1] Semih Idiz, “ISIS Emerges as Threat to Turkey,” al-Monitor, March 25, 2014.

[2] Branko Gjorgjevski and Biljana Arsovska, “Ohrid-Born Jihadist Aged 18 Has Fought in Syria for Three Years,” Dnevnik, March 26, 2014; Branko Gjorgjevski, “Chinese From Grcec Village Also Among Jihadists Who Attacked Turkish Police,” Dnevnik, March 27, 2014.

[3] S. Degirmendzic, “Police ‘Tighten Noose’ Around Wahhabis in Vienna,” Dnevni Avaz, April 24, 2014; Suzana Mijatovic, “Have You Seen the Girls?” Slobodna Bosna, April 24, 2014.

[4] An individual from Sweden with family connections to Albania is mentioned in Per Gudmundson, “The Swedish Foreign Fighter Contingent in Syria,” CTC Sentinel 6:9 (2013): pp. 5-9.

[5] An exception was an article in Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst that noted the presence of militants from the Balkans in Syria in September 2013. See “Balkan Salafists Join ‘Jihad’ in Syria,” Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst, September 1, 2013. In December 2013, Aaron Zelin provided initial estimates for Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia, but not Montenegro. See Aaron Y. Zelin, “ICSR Insight: Up to 11,000 Foreign Fighters in Syria; Steep Rise Among Western Europeans,” International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, December 17, 2013.

[6] Suzana Mijatovic, “Gornja Maoca Is Transit Point for Wahhabis Who Go to Jihad,” Slobodna Bosna, March 29, 2012.

[7] Ibid.; Anes Alic, “Re-Arrests Hope to Prove Bosnia Terror Plots,” ISN Security Watch, December 11, 2009.

[8] Dexter Filkins, “Foreign Fighters Captured in Iraq Come From 27, Mostly Arab, Lands,” New York Times, October 21, 2005.

[9] Martin Chulov, “Sydney Fugitive Linked to Zarqawi,” Australian, October 30, 2005.

[10] “Syrian Police Reportedly Arrested Albanian Terror Suspect on 17 November 2005,” B92, January 4, 2006.

[11] Brian Fishman, Al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq: a First Look at the Sinjar Records (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2007).

[12] Rijad Rustempašc, Abdulah Handžic and Edis Velic were accused of being part of a “..group [that] was formed and acted with the intention of carrying out a terrorist attack on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina…” Rustempašic and his brother were also charged with weapons trafficking offenses. On November 10, 2011, Rijad Rustempašic, Abdulah Handžic and Edis Velic were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to four years. Rustempašic and his brother were acquitted of weapons trafficking charges. In a decision on September 6, 2012, the Court upheld the sentences. See “The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina: First Instance Verdict in Rijad Rustempašic et. al.,” Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, November 10, 2011; “The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina: Written Copy of the Second Instance Verdict Sent in the Case of Rijad Rustempašic et al,” Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, September 10, 2012.

[13] Anes Alic, “Bosnia: Catching Up with ‘Terrorists,’” ISN Security Watch, October 1, 2009.

[14] Alic, “Re-Arrests Hope to Prove Bosnia Terror Plots”; Mijatovic, “Gornja Maoca Is Transit Point for Wahhabis Who Go to Jihad.”

[15] These estimates are based on 36 articles from regional press between January 2013 and April 2014. The lowest and highest estimates are cited. In one case, a report suggested that there were 1,500 persons from Bosnia. This figure is not used, as it is unlikely to be accurate based on what is known about the broader European foreign fighter mobilization in Syria. See Zelin.

[16] The author compiled a datasheet of 159 individuals. The datasheet contains among other items biographic details, information related to network or group affiliation and dates associated with travel or death of foreign fighters. The information comes from press reports. Searches were run in BBC Monitoring from 2012 to June 2014 to identify press articles mentioning foreign fighters from the Balkans. Regional press and magazine sources were also monitored using keyword searches. Facebook and other webpages were searched using names from press reporting or links from Twitter. Additional searches were run on names of individuals in BBC Monitoring and additional reports dating back to 2010 were located about the activities of individuals prior to their engagement in foreign fighting. Online records from the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina were checked and information about current foreign fighters and their prior activities was found. The data sample does not include all foreign fighters from the Balkans but it likely contains the majority of persons publicly identified in press, media and social media sources since 2012. This dataset represents 24.3% to 72.9% of the reported estimates for foreign fighters from the Balkans.

[17] The el-Mujahid, el-Muzahid or el-Mujahedin detachment was formed in August 1993 and was comprised primarily of foreign fighters already fighting in Bosnia but also Bosnians. The detachment was part of the Bosnian Third Army Corps. For a detailed account of the formation of the unit, see pp. 39-75 in “The Prosecution Final Public Redacted Trial Brief in The Prosecutor versus Enver Hadzihasanovic and Amir Kabura,” The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), August 10, 2005. A copy is available with the author.

[18] “L’inquiétant Retour Des Jihadistes en France,” Le Parisien, April 3, 2014; Pieter Vanostaeyen, “Belgium’s Syria Fighters – A Statistic Analysis,” Pietervanostaeyen blog, March 21, 2014.

[19] Ibid.; “24 candidats au jihad en Syrie signalés en dix jours, dont cinq ont quitté la France,” Agence France-Presse, May 8, 2014; Patricia Tourancheau, “French Counter Terrorism: A Matter of Proper Sorting,” Liberation, June 16, 2014.

[20] Suzana Mijatovic, “Trip to Promised Land,” Slobodna Bosna, December 26, 2013.

[21] A. Corbo-Zeco, “B¬H Women Also Go to Syria,” Dnevni Avaz, November 28, 2013.

[22] Mijatovic, “Trip to Promised Land.”

[23] The number of dead foreign fighters in this dataset, 22%, is higher than the estimates for France (26 to 31 persons or 3.6% to 4% of the contingent of 650 to 850) and Belgium (27 persons or 7.6% of the contingent of 357 persons). The number of returnees in the dataset for the Western Balkans (6.9%) is lower than France (105 to 160 persons or 16.2% to 18.8% of the contingent) and Belgium (29 persons or 8.1% of the contingent). See “L’inquiétant Retour Des Jihadistes en France”; Stephane Mantoux, “GUEST POST: “Hide These Jihadists That I Can’t See: The French Volunteers In Syria,” Jihadology.net, February 25, 2014; Tourancheau, “French Counter Terrorism: A Matter of Proper Sorting”; Vanostaeyen, “Belgium’s Syria Fighters – a Statistic Analysis.”

[24] “Former Dutch Soldier Trains Jihad Fighters in Syria,” DutchNews.nl, January 27, 2014; Dan Oakes, “Former Australian Soldier Caner Temel Killed Fighting Alongside Syrian Rebels,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, March 19, 2014; Klodiana Lala, “Four Zall-Herr Commandos in Syria,” Gazeta Shqiptare, March 21, 2014; Georges Malbrunot, “Un militaire français passé au djihad en Syrie,” Le Figaro, April 22, 2014.

[25] The Albanian Commando Regiment and the Special Operations Battalion are based at Zall Herr, a few miles from Tirana. Units are trained by the U.S. military and have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. See Lala, “Four Zall-Herr Commandos in Syria”; Blerina Toslluku, “12th Contingent Leaves for Iraq,” Rilindja Demokratike, September 5, 2008.

[26] “L’inquiétant Retour Des Jihadistes en France”; Vanostaeyen, “Belgium’s Syria Fighters – a Statistic Analysis”; Tourancheau.

[27] Suzana Mijatovic, “Bosniak Fratricidal War,” Slobodna Bosna, March 20, 2014.

[28] Ibid. Ikanovic had previously been sentenced to eight years for terrorism offenses linked to the Bektaševic case on January 10, 2007, which was reduced to four years on appeal on May 21, 2007. He was released from prison in 2011. According to the prosecution, “Mirsad Bektaševic and Abdulkadir Cesur [had] the intention of committing a terrorist act on the territory of BiH or some other European country…the aim of this attach [sic] was to force the Bosnian government or government of another state to withdraw their forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.” For more information on the Bektaševic case, see “Mirsad Bektaševic, Abdulkadir Cesur, Bajro Ikanovic and Senad Hasanovic Found Guilty,” Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, January 10, 2007.

[29] Gjorgjevski and Arsovska.

[30] “Kosovar Albanian Blerim Heta Announced ‘Meeting with Allah,’” Independent.mk, April 3, 2014.

[31] Mijatovic, “Bosniak Fratricidal War.”

[32] For example, the Facebook page of Lavdrim Muhaxheri, an Albanian foreign fighter, carries comments about fighting for ISIL against JN. A second Facebook page has references to an ISIL produced video, Saleel al Sawarim 4 (Clanging of the Swords 4). A YouTube channel for Albanian foreign fighters carries a five minute video titled, ISIS Albanian Mujahideen Celebrating the Liberation of Mosul in Irak.

[33] Nusret Imamovic is a 42-year-old Bosnian citizen. According to press reports, he studied at an Islamic school in Sarajevo prior to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he fought in the Bosnian army. He served at some point during the war as a religious instructor and came into contact with foreign fighters. It is alleged that he became more radical in his religious views at this time. After the war, Imamovic went to Vienna, Austria, from where he traveled and studied in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. He returned to Vienna, and in mid-2005 was sent to establish and lead a community in Gornja Maoca near Brcko. At this time, Imamovic fell out with one of his contacts in Vienna. Imamovic has been arrested twice, once in 2010 when Gornja Maoca was raided by the Bosnian authorities and in 2012 in connection with the October 2011 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo by Jašarevic. He was released without charge on both occasions. See “Gornja Maoca – Biggest Joint Police Operation After Dayton: Six Hundred Police Officers, Long Barrel Guns, and Personnel Carriers Against Wahhabis,” Dnevni List, March 3, 2010; Zdenko Jurilj, “Wahhabis in Favour of War Against US, Oppose B-H’s NATO Accession,” Vecernji List, April 24, 2012.

[34] Amarildo Gutic, “Bosnian Salafi Leader Reportedly Joins Jabhat Al-Nusra in Syria,” Bosnia-Herzegovina Federation TV, June 3, 2014; S. Degirmendzic, “Financiers Cut Off Supply,” Dnevni Avaz, June 5, 2014.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Majda Tatarevic, “Our Numbers Are Growing Daily,” Dani, April 5, 2013.

[37] Mijatovic, “Gornja Maoca Is Transit Point for Wahhabis Who Go to Jihad”; “Bosnia’s Dangerous Tango: Islam and Nationalism,” International Crisis Group, February 26, 2013.

[38] “Gornja Maoca – Biggest Joint Police Operation After Dayton: Six Hundred Police Officers, Long Barrel Guns, and Personnel Carriers Against Wahhabis”; Tatarevic.

[39] Mijatovic, “Gornja Maoca Is Transit Point for Wahhabis Who Go to Jihad.”

[40] Dragan Sladojevic, “Wahhabis Creating Community Near Maglaj,” Nezavisme Novine, April 9, 2012; Tatarevic.

[41] “Bosnia’s Dangerous Tango: Islam and Nationalism.”

[42] Gjorgjevski, “Chinese From Grcec Village Also Among Jihadists Who Attacked Turkish Police.”

[43] Ibid.; Gjorgjevski and Arsovska.

[44] The video is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rdIptNnaCU.

[45] Gjorgjevski, “Chinese From Grcec Village Also Among Jihadists Who Attacked Turkish Police”; Gjorgjevski and Arsovska.

[46] Vehbi Kajtazi, “‘Kosovars’ Jihad in Syria,” Koha Ditore, published in three parts on November 6, 7, and 8, 2013.

[47] “First-Instance Verdict Revoked in Relation to Mevlid Jašarevic,” Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 12, 2013; “Mevlid Jašarevic Sentenced to 15-Year Imprisonment,” Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, November 20, 2013.

[48] Alic, “Bosnia: Catching Up with ‘Terrorists.’”

[49] Ibid.

[50] “Mirsad Bektaševic, Abdulkadir Cesur, Bajro Ikanovic and Senad Hasanovic Found Guilty.”

[51] Per Gudmundson, “Mirsad Bektasevic Poserar Med Vapen I Syrien,” Gudmundson Blog, June 5, 2014, available at http://gudmundson.blogspot.sg.

[52] Alic, “Bosnia: Catching Up with ‘Terrorists’”; Mijatovic, “Gornja Maoca Is Transit Point for Wahhabis Who Go to Jihad.”

[53] Vanostaeyen, “Belgium’s Syria Fighters – a Statistic Analysis.”

[54] Dejan Sajinovic, “SIPA Keeping an Eye on Wahhabis,” Nezavisne Novine, April 7, 2012; Sladojevic.

[55] Klodiana Lala, “Interceptions of ‘Imams’: They Sent 50 Albanians to Syria’s War,” Gazeta Shqiptare, March 12, 2014.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Aleksandar Apostolovski, “Road to Hell of Syria,” Politika, September 9, 2013; A. Corbo-Zeco, “Mevludin Cicvara Killed in Combat,” Dnevni Avaz, January 6, 2014; Boris Vukovic, “Serbie: des bancs du lycée au djihad en Syrie,” Le Courrier Des Balkans, December 17, 2013.

[58] Foreign fighter specific pages included the Balkans Emirat page which has not been updated since November 2013. The page is available at www.facebook.com/pages/Emirat-Balkan/150042905201595. Or see Mirza Ganic’s Facebook page, which has not been updated since his death in early January 2014. Prior to his death, Ganic had more than 1,800 followers. The page is available at www.facebook.com/mirza.ganic.ebu.sheheed.1994. More general pages that are still active include www.putvjernika.com or the Salafi Media Balkans YouTube channel, available at www.youtube.com/user/SalafiMediaBalkans.

[59] Lala, “Interceptions of ‘Imams’: They Sent 50 Albanians to Syria’s War”; Klodiana Lala, “Videos Calling for Jihad Blocked,” Gazeta Shqiptare, March 14, 2014.

[60] Corbo-Zeco, “B¬H Women Also Go to Syria.”

[61] Mijatovic, “Trip to Promised Land.”

[62] Aurora Koromani, “Builder Who Funded Terrorist Cell Revealed,” Gazeta Shqiptare, March 25, 2014; Vesna Peric Zimonjic, “Religion: Balkans Feed the Syria Battle,” Inter Press Service, August 2, 2013.

[63] Zimonjic, “Religion: Balkans Feed the Syria Battle.”

[64] Mijatovic, “Bosniak Fratricidal War.”

[65] Ibid.

[66] Gutic, “Bosnian Salafi Leader Reportedly Joins Jabhat Al-Nusra in Syria.”

[67] Ibid.

[68] Vukovic.

[69] Suzana Mijatovic, “Diplomatic Offensive Against Mujahedin,” Slobodna Bosna, June 13, 2013.

[70] Mijatovic, “Have You Seen the Girls?”

[71] Mijatovic, “Gornja Maoca Is Transit Point for Wahhabis Who Go to Jihad.”

[72] Mijatovic, “Have You Seen the Girls?”; Degirmendzic, “Police ‘Tighten Noose’ Around Wahhabis in Vienna.”

[73] Ibid.; Dan Oakes, “Muslim ‘Cult Leader’ Revealed,” The Age, September 24, 2012; Tatarevic; “Ils ont grandi en Suisse et combattent en Syrie,” Le Matin, May 4, 2014.

[74] Belgians were also involved with the Chechen group Kataib al-Muhajirin. See Pieter Vanostaeyen, “GUEST POST: Belgian Jihadis in Syria,” Jihadology.net, September 5, 2013.

[75] Lala, “Interceptions of ‘Imams’: They Sent 50 Albanians to Syria’s War”; Vehbi Kajtazi, “Police Looking for Intimidator’s Address,” Koha Ditore, November 15, 2013; M. Niciforovic, “Instead of Syria, Wahhabis Land in Jail,” Vecernje Novosti, March 8, 2014; “Kosovo Terror Suspects in 30-day Detention,” Associated Press, June 27, 2014.

[76] Vehbi Kajtazi, “Fighters Who Returned From Syria Arrested as Terror Suspects,” Koha Ditore, November 12, 2013.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid.

[80] “Kosovo Terror Suspects in 30-day Detention.”

[81] Goran Maunaga, “Ex-Mujahedin – Connection to Holy War,” Glas Srpske, May 25, 2013.

[82] S. Degirmendzic, “Investigation Against Syria Returnees,” Dnevni Avaz, June 18, 2014.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Ibid.

[85] A. Nuhanovic: “Sarajevo Could Be Leader in Interpretation of Islam,” Dnevni Avaz, June 15, 2014.

[86] “Disgraceful: After Invitation to Salafis Not to Send Children to Other Peoples’ Wars, Grahovic Attacking Imam Beganovic,” Dnevni Avaz, November 27, 2013.

[87] Kajtazi, “‘Kosovars’ Jihad in Syria.”

[88] “Punishment Against ‘Jihad’ in Albania,” ATA, April 7, 2014; Branko Gjorgjevski, “There Is Nobody to Stop the Jihadists,” Dnevnik, March 27, 2014; Daria Sito-Sucic, “Bosnia Introduces Jail Terms to Curb Recruitment for Syria,” Reuters, April 29, 2014.

[89] “‘Foreign Fighters’ Threat Focus of INTERPOL Counterterrorism Meeting,” Interpol, July 12, 2013.

[90] Mijatovic, “Diplomatic Offensive Against Mujahedin.”

[91] EU Counterterrorism Coordinator, “Foreign Fighters and Returnees From a Counter-Terrorism Perspective, in Particular with Regard to Syria: State of Play and Proposals for Future Work,” Council of the European Union, Brussels, May 5, 2014, available at http://www.statewatch.org/news/2014/may/eu-council-coter-syrian-fighters-9280-14.pdf.

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive updates from CTC.

Sign up