Capital Prishtina
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 377 (Monaco); 381 (Serbia)
Mobile Codes 44
Currency Euro
Land Area 10,908 sq km
Population 1.8 million
Language Albanian, Serbian, Turkish
Major Religions Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism

Book Review of Catholic Kosovo: a Visitor’s Guide

Catholic Kosovo: A Visitor’s Guide to Her People, Churches, Historical Sites, and Her 1,900 Year Journey

Available in paperback format or in e-book format).
By Marilyn Kott

Reviewed by Chris Deliso

This very useful and illustrated book, published in November 2015, represents the most comprehensive guide (in English, at least) on all historical and modern sites associated with the Catholic Church in Kosovo. As such, it should prove a very handy asset both for those wishing to visit tourist attractions in Kosovo, or learn more about the historic and socio-religious aspects of life there.

Catholic Kosovo is divided into 17 chapters and four appendices. Most of the chapters are devoted to individual churches/Catholic sites in areas throughout Kosovo. The book includes an eclectic selection of factual descriptions and logistical data, bits of personal experience, historical episodes and interviews, including with Kosovo Bishop Dodë Gjergji.

The book starts with an overview of Kosovo’s Catholic sites, and offers handy tips on attending Mass there. An overview of the history of Catholicism in Kosovo is given, but this is enhanced further in the remainder of the book and visits to specific sites. While not every existing church is visited, an appendix provides details of 24 additional ones. Other appendices discuss historical Catholic personalities associated with Kosovo and provide helpful linguistic tips.

The churches and other Catholic-related sites discussed are treated more or less geographically. Pristina sites are discussed first, followed by those of Janjevo and Ferizaj. The southeast route along the northern edges of the Skopska Crna Gorna, is also covered, including Viti, Stublla and the important pilgrimage site of Letnica.

The remainder of the book picks up in the southwest, at the Catholic sites of Prizren and then up to Gjakova, Peja and Klina, before concluding with the sites at Kravasaria and Mitrovica to the northeast. The in-depth discussion of the churches and their histories are complemented by important facts like feast days and patron saints.

The helpful logistical information provided includes maps, directions, Mass schedules, church contact information and online resources.

One of the unique aspects of this book is its collective production process and ultimate beneficiaries. The author and her husband, a former US defense attaché in Kosovo, did not immediately plan to write the book when arriving in 2012. But as practicing Catholics, they quickly found like-minded local and international Catholics who introduced them to local practices and sites, and were thus able to compile a lot of experience and data into something useful for future visitors.

Kott emphasizes that the book was indeed a team effort and developed over time. In her acknowledgements section, the author thanks Msgr. Dodë Gjergji, who provided “access to essential records and photographs,” as well as to several individuals and NGO members who helped with research, translation and writing- people who, in the author’s words, “provided material for this book that only people who live and worship in Kosovo can.” She notes that income from book sales will go to the NGO AYA Pjetër Bogdani, Caritas Kosovo, and the Bishop of Kosovo’s building fund.

European Security, Intelligence and Migration: Interview with Philip Ingram

In this exclusive interview, Director Chris Deliso gets the insights and security assessments of former British military intelligence officer Philip Ingram, MBE. A 27-year veteran of the UK Army Intelligence Corps, Ingram worked in hostile environments including Iraq, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo, where he was involved with intelligence and liaison during and after the 1999 NATO bombing. Mr Ingram now works in the private sector, focusing on counter-terrorism and security issues for the press, governmental and corporate clients.

Current Investigations

Chris Deliso: Thanks for speaking with us today, Philip. First of all, before we get into the details, I would be keen to learn more about your company and what you are working on now.

Philip Ingram: Thank you. Actually, we operate two companies. I am the managing director of Security Media Publishing, which among other things produces, which has a newsfeed for the global security industry- covering ISIS activity to the latest in new CCTV camera technology, and everything in between.

Philip Ingram Interview with Balkanalysis

According to Mr Ingram, “the pattern of traffic we’re seeing in the Dark Web and some social media and other communications channels” indicates advanced planning for a major terrorist attack is now underway.

I’m also the chairman of Global Risk Awareness, a company providing cyber intelligence. This is different from most cyber security companies, as we monitor Darkweb activity through use of sophisticated tools, to see who’s doing what, for example, ISIS members interacting with each other on different forums clandestinely. We have the capabilities to sit there unknown, and monitor their movements.

CD: That is very interesting. This software, I assume, is proprietary and your own.

PI: Yes, our own bespoke software. No more than six or seven organizations in the world have software similar to ours- they are mostly the ones with three- or four-letter abbreviations, you know.

CD: Aha, so does the software have some government origin?

PI: No, it is not created from a governmental basis. It is original corporate software for monitoring the dark web, and we have developed additional tools and scripts in order to not just gather intel, but also to analyse it through a process called social network analysis.

CD: This is a fascinating topic, but I am no expert in technology. I had thought the problem governments find with monitoring users of the onion router is that there is specifically no way of tracking them, the only visible points there are the entry and exit relays. But again I’m certainly no expert.

PI: Well, the web in general is quite interesting, as it has three layers. The surface layer includes anything findable by search engines. Then the Deep Web operates within it, like your banking online details, the local library index or an association with a members-only area to their website. Then there’s the Dark Web. This is the layer of the internet requiring special software to enter, where websites are hidden and often where in order to find certain websites people have to be invited. It is where a lot of illicit activity takes place like the former Silk Road. And of course, extremists and terrorists also use the Dark Web. That is our focus.

CD: Can you give some examples of the kind of terrorist activity you monitor there? And their capabilities and interests?

PI: There are many ways that groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda are using the Dark Web in very sophisticated ways. We see them creating and interacting, for example, on forums where they will tell people how to build bombs, or give tactical instructions or otherwise what to do. They might post training videos for terrorists on how to set up covert communications channels. These include accounts through new internet communications media, like whatsapp- a lot of it is very secure and scaring intelligence agencies.

CD: So, in your assessment, what is the current activity level of Islamist supporters from the Southeast Europe area?

PI: Regarding the Balkans, a quick recent search of forums showed something interesting. When we searched for users from individual places, like Kosovo, I expected to see a lot of traffic, but there were surprisingly few hits from there and other Balkan areas.

CD: But that doesn’t necessarily mean there are not local supporters, no?

PI: Indeed, what that says to me is that the security being taken to access the Dark Net in the Balkans is really sophisticated. We can track people who are using proxy servers, but probably what they’re doing is going through initial web hosting not based in the Balkans. We can pick up proxy servers and TOR relays, but if someone using a foreign-based server as primary link, it is impossible to tell their true location.

Background Experience

CD: So, if you could share a bit about your background, and what drew you to this line of work- I mean before you retired, when you were working in the military intelligence.

PI: I was an engineering officer for 12 years, then I went into the planning side. I was asked to join the NATO planning team at the time when there was the UN takeover in Bosnia. And then having done the planning side of things, I had no desire to go back to the engineering side.

The one thing that tickled me most was every planning activity started with an intelligence briefing. I thought it would be good to be part of an organization that studied, analyzed and predicted what would happen. So I got transferred over, to the British Army Intelligence Corps.

CD: Where did you serve during your career, and when did you retire?

PI: Oh, all over the place. My first posting from training was to Northern Ireland. I also served in Germany, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Iraq, Cyprus and of course, the UK. I retired in 2010.

CD: What was your most dangerous mission?

PI: Depends how you define danger! In 1985, the IRA tried to get me, in Northern Ireland. People forget the intensity of different operations, but the fact is that the British lost more soldiers in Northern Ireland than in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. We lost over 200 soldiers in one year alone in Northern Ireland. Operations there were in a much smaller area- people forget the intensity that comes with having to work in such conditions.

But Iraq, where I was in 2005 and 2006, that was the scariest because you just didn’t know what the insurgents would do- they were always one step ahead of us, very sophisticated fighters. It was scary because there was no value in human life- at least within Europe, whether in the Balkans or Northern Ireland, there was a code. There were certain limits. But once you get into places like Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no code. In such a place it complicates the situation for operations, and especially how to work within an agreed legal framework, to be effective against those kinds of terrorists.

Kosovo Operations and Transitional Justice

CD: Very interesting perspective. Now, if we can return to the Balkans, and some recent events. You are probably aware that war crimes trials are coming up for Kosovo, and conceivably involve some of the people you had to work with during that time. What do you expect from this process?

PI: I find it fascinating, as the ICTY had tried to carry out war crime trials without success in the past. For example, Ramush Haradinaj was indicted twice and the charges were dropped twice.

The interesting thing from the war in Kosovo was that, looking at in a balanced way, from a human perspective, it was very simple- atrocities were carried out by all sides, and most of the people affected were civilians in that tiny area. This happened in a dramatic way, initially, with huge amounts of refugees into Macedonia and then when the Serb paramilitaries and regular forces and the KLA were fighting each other.

So intense was this fighting that huge numbers of innocent people were being killed. As NATO was negotiating with Serbia primarily to stop the fighting so that humanitarian relief could get in, the negotiations were stalling-

CD: Were you in Kosovo at this time?

PI: No- we were sitting in Macedonia with sophisticated intelligence equipment, listening and watching for the time being. I was later within Kosovo, after the fighting had stopped.

CD: What was the value for military intelligence of being placed in Macedonia, when the war was happening in Kosovo, and then in Kosovo, after the war had finished?

PI: There was activity we had to continue, to make sure that our lines of communication were constantly open to all sides, all the different groups, especially important before the fighting stops. We needed to make sure the backdoors are open, and get a feeling for what was going to happen.

For negotiations to happen successfully, you need good intelligence. The initial negotiations were between NATO and Milosevic, but when they were signed – the formal negotiations – only then could we get a leadership together, and continue further negotiations between the parties on the ground, a long process.

CD: Very interesting. Again, related to the court- have you or any of your former colleagues been called as potential character witnesses in these trials? Do you expect this could happen, or is there some kind of legal immunity?

PI: No, there’s certainly no legal immunity that applicable for us. But I’m sure that if the war crimes trials wanted to look at war records they could request them, and any other information that could give further details about events. Everything was carefully recorded.

CD: Interesting. But anyway, we understand that present senior Kosovo officials are not worried about the result of any future trials. Even if they are from rival political parties or groups, the Kosovo government will hire top lawyers and they expect the trials will finish without a single conviction. What is your view on whether the lawyers will get them off? Is it going to be just a short of show trial?

PI: I don’t know the details, as I haven’t seen specific indictments. But in general, there is a real difficulty with any war after it’s conclusion, because you are left with winning and losing sides. Then, when they prosecute the latter for war crimes, it is hard enough- it becomes much harder when they go after the winning side. There is naturally a lot of resistance to that.

Regarding Kosovo, I can’t see how they will easily build cases. I don’t see what good it will do, either. If you look at history, and compared how Israel grew, or South Africa or Northern Ireland and the Balkans after conflicts, the one place that got it right was South Africa, with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That made some positive achievements for the whole country to forward.

However in Northern Ireland, after the conflict finished, the ex-members of the two fighting sides are all in the Northern Ireland government now- but the British taxpayer is still being paralyzed with paying for inquiries that all seem to focus on British and not IRA activity. Millions of pounds are being wasted trying to get to the bottom of various incidents that happened long ago, and where there is little or no evidence.

So unless you’re on the ground at the time, you are not in a position to comment and look back… remember, a lot comes down to judgment calls that are made in quickly changing circumstances, on any given day. Also, laws change over the years- can a certain law still be applicable retroactively, if it differs from the one in place at the time of an event?

So in my opinion, all this kind of court does is undermine good efforts to build communities for the future. I expect it will appease some people, but I also suspect it will just undermine what they need to do to move forward after the conflict.

CD: That is a compelling argument. It leads to something else I wanted to mention, which is related. The Kosovo officials who are confident [about acquittals] specifically compare their cases as similar to that of Ante Gotovina, the Croatian wartime general who was acquitted by the Hague. When he was finally tracked down, wherever it was – I think the Canary Islands – it was due to the help of British intelligence, which had been persistently tracking him and other alleged war criminals for years. Were you still involved in the Balkans in that period, and did they request support?

PI: I remember this, and I know the ICTY if they needed could request information from the British government and this could include military intelligence information, I am sure they got full cooperation. In fact, the head of security for the ICTY at one point was an ex-British military intelligence officer-

CD: Really!

PI: Yes. And for the Kosovo conflict, all the pre-war and post-war intelligence and other information was handed over to NATO forces. It stayed within Kosovo. Later, decisions were made about what to do with it- it was then handed to the EU, some things were passed on, some not.

CD: What is the typical cooperation practice for the British, between the military and civilian intelligence services?

PI: In any operations, they work together closely. The value of cooperation in intelligence is in trying to build up a total picture from lots of jigsaw pieces. To do this, there is formal, and informal cooperation with various intelligence agencies, both military and civilian, both your own and those of different countries as well.

And this can be mutually beneficial, not only within your own services, but for your partners. Because in many cases you help them to add other jigsaw puzzles, to clarify their own picture as well.

Behind the Migration Crisis: Crime, Political Error and European Security

CD: So now we move on to migration, the current big topic in the Balkans and in European politics. We have been covering the migration crisis for years and now, in the last year, particularly the so-called Balkan route.

Our initial assessment, before the summer 2015 crisis even started, was that the migrant numbers would intensify, leading to a greater EU participation. But even into the summer, no one from out of the region seemed very bothered to do something about it. To what do you attribute this attitude? Who benefits from it?

PI: These are indeed both good questions, with a lot of history. If we go back to the traditional Balkan route for smuggling, this has long been used by people smuggling contraband drugs, weapons, other items and of course human trafficking. That route has always been used.

One vignette I remember well occurred inside Kosovo, after the war. I was talking to one of the senior leaders on one of the opposing sides, who just had gotten a nice new car. I asked his driver if it came from Tirana, where a lot of stolen luxury cars are sold for only a few thousand euros. The driver said ‘no, we paid cash- it wasn’t him [the senior leader] who bought it, it was his wives.’ And by ‘wives’ the driver was referring to prostitution rings in Holland and Germany controlled by that person. So Kosovar criminal organisations are moving people and goods for years. It doesn’t surprise me that refugees are-

CD: Yes, I agree about the organized crime, but in the current period migrants are not going through Kosovo, so I don’t know if their criminals are involved.

PI: Yes, true- the main reason the refugees are not going through Kosovo is the geography. The fastest route is through Serbia and Macedonia. Still I suspect the same people who have been making money over the years through smuggling in the region have at least some role in the current trade.

Now, regarding the lethargy in Europe about the crisis, I believe this was because many of the more northern countries had not yet felt the presence of the refugees, and underestimated their numbers, at that time. And the countries affected, like Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, obviously wanted the refugees to go through as quickly as possible. And also, Angela Merkel was badly advised, when she decided to welcome so many people. She now regrets it.

CD: Well, this is the biggest mystery to me and many other people. I can’t believe that she didn’t know what would happen. Our research indicates that the BND knew everything the whole time, about the situation on the ground, and what could happen later. So how do we explain that Merkel chose to invite so many refugees?

PI: There’s no reason why the Germans would want all these people- I have been racking my brain trying to find some logic behind it.

About genuine refugees, there is of course a legal right they have to protection, and requirements of states to fulfill that, and they are using it. But at the time when Merkel was first commenting on the situation, there was debate about what countries should take leading roles and nobody stepped forward. So she nominated Germany as leader of Europe in this situation, thinking others would follow their lead.

There has since then been a lot of debate about all this in Europe- and especially in the last week, as things have come to a head here in the UK, with Cameron’s negotiations in Brussels and announcement of the June 23 referendum date.

Merkel was probably trying to make a statement to other European leaders: if Germany could accept a certain amount of refugees, she was hoping others would follow suit. She just got that one wrong.

The Upcoming Migrant Surge: Security Assessments for the Balkans and Europe

CD: I still can’t believe she was that naïve or uninformed. This whole thing has to be in someone’s interest.

PI: Well, I don’t think the whole situation was well communicated at a political level, regarding who these refugees were. An awful lot of economic migrants have been among them, and are continuing to be. By effectively opening the European borders to these people, Angela Merkel opened the floodgates.

If it is in someone’s interest to have this crisis, there might be many parties, but most concerning for me is that mixed in with the refugees are a lot of ISIS members and supporters.

CD: Do you have any estimate regarding how many have already entered Europe?

PI: Well, mixed in with ISIS, probably this includes Al Qaeda members too, the numbers vary. But recent international press reports say about 5,000 so far. What’s clear is that they can get people in and out at will- look at the Paris attacks in November. Some attackers came up through Greece, and followed the route to Brussels. They bypassed everything, even though they were known to authorities.

CD: What is your assessment for a spring surge in migrants, as we have recently reported on, and how it will affect the EU? What are your thoughts on the situation and how it will be by May or June, say, by UK referendum time?

PI: I think we will see, as the weather gets better and the seas are calmer, just such a surge, as then it will be easier for migrants to try and make the journey. The other thing we see that can aggravate the migrant flow is the increased military activity now going on in Aleppo, which is forcing people out of their homes. ISIS is also pushing from other sides. There is a bursting point. And the people have to get somewhere.

CD: Looking at this issue in regard to your companies’ focus, do you see any evidence of migrant traffickers using the Dark Web for logistical or tactical purposes in this trade?

PI: We haven’t watched for migrant organizers there. It is unlikely they would need to use the Dark Web, though- they would be operating easily through closed social channels.

What is more worrying, in fact, is that right now we are seeing on Dark Web surveillance clear activity from everywhere in world among ISIS and Al Qaeda channels. These levels and patterns of activity match those that are noted right before big terrorist attacks happen. What these terrorists do is extremely well planned.

CD: Malaysia, is that one of the countries where an attack is expected? We noted the British government very recently issued a travel alert for that country, citing terrorism threats against foreign tourist destinations there.

PI: We haven’t looked at things in detail there recently, though we have historically looked at it quite a bit. And it seems that, yes, ISIS is increasingly recruiting from countries in Southeast Asia, as they find they are stronger fighters, willing to be more extreme and more brutal than European counterparts, and that is particularly worrying.

CD: We have recently reported on Macedonia’s plan to close the border with Greece to migrants. If the border with Greece is closed, what risk scenarios do you see for migrants trapped in northern Greece, and their smugglers, given the differentiated geography of the northern Greek border with four states, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey?

PI: The biggest thing is there could become larger and larger camps of increasingly desperate groups of people situated alongside relatively small rural communities in Northern Greece. These could easily turn into flashpoints and then the security risk will grow.

You will see, like elsewhere in Europe in that situation, an increase of locals protesting against the presence of refugees and migrants, and the latter who can’t stand being stuck there. There is thus a potential for rioting and violent altercations with locals, police and military.

At the same time, criminal gangs will be involved- and when they aren’t moving people they aren’t making money, so they will try to find ways to move the people. Even terrorist gangs can emerge in such a climate and will exploit the unrest. But we have already seen from Hungary, where they are having trouble with refugees- they can’t keep them from cutting the fences to get through. So smugglers will keep trying to find ways to get people out of Greece.

CD: We have most recently reported that, in this case, a new Albanian-Adriatic route could develop, as Bulgaria has moved army units to its border with Greece, making it harder there, and anyway Albania is closer to Western Europe and has a history of people-smuggling by boat to Italy. Do you see this as a possible scenario, if Macedonia manages to keep its border sealed?

PI: All traditional routes will come into increased use in the Balkans. It is like when you squeeze a balloon between your fingers; you don’t know where it will pop out. But if you squeeze a bit too hard in one place, the air will move off to somewhere else. The balloon can’t stay still. The refugees and migrants don’t want to sit still, and the people who are profiting from moving them certainly don’t want them to sit still either.

Provided smugglers can make money – and they do it in very ingenuous ways – people will find a way. Yes, one likely way is to get into boats again, the Adriatic coast from Albania to Italy, and the long coast in Croatia, are all possible points of activity.

What we’re starting to see now with the EU, that the Schengen Zone is almost suspended, and without a central EU decision possible, countries can’t afford to have open borders-

CD: It will make it more expensive for migrants all down the line, and thus more profitable for smugglers-

PI: Yes, and we’re now seeing Austria only accepting 80 a day, and similar reductions will happen and worsen the situation.

CD: Indeed. Also, regarding the Eastern Mediterranean, we are aware that several ‘suspicious’ NGOs run by Islamic groups, including British ones, have been operating from the Greek islands near Turkey for the past year, for migrant facilitation and surveillance purposes. Do you have any further info? Given that there are British citizens involved, is this something British intelligence is concerned about?

PI: The presence of such groups is not surprising. It’s a standard method historically used, to employ front NGOs- if you go back to Al Qaeda’s earliest money movements, money changed hands through NGOs and charities.

I don’t know without seeing the specific details if the British government is doing anything or aware of any particular groups. But I can say that some are known about, but some might not be, so it is something to be concerned about.

Libya Assessments: EU Operations, Criminal Activities and Terrorism Risks

CD: It is also worth noting that, at the same time that exactly nothing was being done about the Balkan route last summer, the EEAS already had a very advanced surveillance and interdiction mission called Operation SOPHIA going in Italy. This was recently revealed by Wikileaks and has caused a lot of media coverage. Why the discrepancy? Why was there something big being done in a maritime area with relatively fewer migrants, considering that Greece, like Italy is a EU state, and had many more migrants?

PI:I think to analyze that, one has to look at how these international organizations work. Whenever a military force is put together, they will do it where it is politically acceptable, to maximize the political benefit from it. Thus, it might not necessarily be where the real threat is, but where it is seen to be doing something.

If you look at European public opinion in general, whenever the governments say ‘we are doing something,’ people aren’t going to sit and look at the details and analyze what that means. I have seen that with NATO and the EU as well- even if a mission involves a military component, it’s politics that decides it, ultimately.

Coming back to the Libyan bit… the sea crossing are much more dangerous from there to Europe. The Eastern Aegean routes are much shorter, between Turkey and Greece, and there the seas can be calm. From a humanitarian perspective, the latter is the least worst route.

And from Libya, we could see plenty of cases of migrants traveling with overcrowded boats of 500-700 people, with many deaths at sea. So from a humanitarian point of view, the politics would prioritize a mission there. And the criminal networks are more globalized in Libya, because they’re taking economic migrants primarily- the ones out of Libya in particular have been doing this for years.

CD: But from Turkey there are many economic migrants coming, just from other parts of the world- and Libya had fewer when Gaddafi was alive to honor his deal with Berlusconi and restrict migration…

PI: Yes indeed, ever since Gaddafi was kicked out, Libya has been a free-for-all for organized crime. Presently we have very good intelligence to suggest ISIS was sending a lot of people on boats from there, even though it was more dangerous than the Turkey-Greece route.

CD: Really.

PI: Yes, and they have pretty well-equipped boats, separate from the large and overcrowded ones that might not make it, so that they can get smaller numbers of their trusted people into Europe. That is ongoing for over a year now.

CD: Part of what was shown in the EU document put out by Wikileaks is that regular smugglers would give the boats just enough fuel to get, say, 30 miles out to sea and give them a satellite phone and a number to call when they got there- ‘here, call the police and they will save you.’ The smugglers didn’t care if the people or the boat made it to the destination.

PI: Yes, some people smugglers would do exactly what you’re saying, but particularly the unscrupulous ones. The scrupulous ones – if you can have scrupulous people smugglers – on the other hand would make sure that passengers arrived, because word trickles back, and it is not good for business to have people know that you might not survive the trip if you go with a certain guy.

But the more serious aspect of the ISIS infiltration from Libya is that it’s a different model- it isn’t, say, 500 people at once, and they’re charging a lot less. This is primarily for the purpose of building up support and logistics networks all over the place in Europe, by getting these supporters into Italy and even into Greece.

The majority of such traffic has been coming out of Sirte. Possibly, that’s another reason why the EU military mission concentrated around that part of the Mediterranean. Possibly that was the biggest threat that the major intelligence determined at the time of planning.

CD: You spoke with us one year ago for an article about the ISIS expansion in Libya. Again, at that time we were practically alone in making the assessment that the ISIS presence would grow. Now, the US suddenly bombed an ISIS safehouse there last week, which was preceded by a sudden flurry of big media reports on the alleged ISIS threat in Libya. So was the media reacting to an actual buildup, or was it scheduled around and anticipated attack?

PI: ISIS is growing rapidly, so I believe they have been reporting on this because it is happening. And if you look at what the ISIS leaders have done, they sent their mufti into Libya, which is very significant. He is called Sheikh Turki al-Binali, AKA Abu Sufyan al-Sulami, and is 30 years old, a hardline extremist.

So putting in this cleric as ISIS commander in Libya has effectively shown that with their territory in Libya, Islamic State sees it as a third territory, after Syria and Iraq. Among the reasons for that is if they get squeezed out of the Middle East – which is a prospect that will still take many years to happen – then Libya will be the next place to move to. Also, from there they can work on the neighboring countries, and with oilfields in Libya and migrant and other smuggling as two profitable trades, Libya becomes a natural place to focus on and to tap into.

CD: When the US did attack last week, why did their fighter jet take off from England, given that there are much closer NATO bases to choose from? Is there something in their military procedure to explain this?

PI: There are indeed NATO bases closer to Libya, but the things to look at is do those bases have access to the right intelligence at the right time. Further, were the right weapons systems available in those places? Were they committed to the right activities? For example, commanders won’t say to the fighter pilots, ‘okay, you two are going tonight to Syria, then you’ll come back and go to Libya.’ Each base might be geared up for different purposes and missions.

The US has used UK bases in the past. The RAF Lakenheath base in Suffolk, which is where the Sabratha attack was launched, has been used for operations in many countries in the past. So, it is not particularly unusual that it was used in this case. One thing that had to happen, of course, was that the British government had to sanction use of the base for that mission. But that is a routine procedure.

CD: When we spoke with you this time last year, you were highlighting the danger of ISIS possessing radioactive material from hospitals and other facilities they controlled in the Middle East, which could be used as a weapon. I have seen again a sudden flurry of articles on this topic lately. So where do we stand on that now?

PI: The threat remains the same. Yes, some recent reporting on isotopes stolen from hospitals has appeared that suggested that they fell into ISIS’ hands, but there’s nothing specific we have seen to suggest there is some imminently planned operation to use dirty bombs.

But that’s not to say they’re not planning to use it. There is one thing that is clear from ISIS covert discussions we have picked up recently. This is that they have a number of different spectacular attacks being planned.

CD: Really? What kind of targets?

PI: The pattern of traffic we’re seeing in the Dark Web and some social media and other communications channels all suggest this. And the kind of language used suggests advanced planning is now taking place.

The target list is quite interesting- there are some statements specifying Lisbon in Portugal, which is not usually considered a big target. Paris and London, of course remain top targets. And a lot of planning for such attacks seems to be happening inside Germany- whether they want to attack Germany itself, or just use it as planning base and keep quite there, remains to be seen.

Clandestine Cooperation, Media Standards, Brexit, and ‘Going Rogue’

CD: Now finally for some loose ends. I’d love to get your views on some related matters that have a British perspective. First, regarding Syria, Seymour Hersh wrote in the London Review of Books in April 2014 that Obama had at one point averted air strikes against Assad at the last minute, thanks to military intelligence received from British military intelligence which got it from the Russians, samples that showed it was not in fact Syria’s army that launched the Ghouta chemical weapons attacks. Any insights?

PI: The only thing I can say about this case, having read a number of reports about the issue, is that it is still not 100 percent clear who launched the chemical weapons. There is good analysis that both sides [Assad or the rebels] could have done it.

CD: Fine, I just thought the interesting part was about Russian, British and American covert cooperation, since the surface-level political rhetoric is so hostile between Russia and the West.

PI: The services do indeed cooperate- there’s a fantastic phrase security agencies use in reports, when noting that certain information has come from a particular source – when one knows he is dealing with another security agency – at the bottom of the report they will write that the information might be ‘designed to influence as much as inform.’ Often, it just happens to follow what that country wants to do politically.

CD: Fantastic. Another issue we have observed in this region is again with the British, that there is some confusion or uncertainty because of the handling or approach to events, about whether this reflects British central planning and policy, or whether someone in the middle of the intelligence hierarchy is interfering for personal or other motives… in your experience, what is the likelihood of someone ‘going rogue’ within the British intelligence apparatus at present?

PI: What I can say is that there are carefully controlled mechanisms to stop people from going rogue. But in the end of the day, intelligence officers are individuals. They can have personal motivations. In fact, I know of one case during Kosovo, not involving a British operative-

CD: But Western?

PI: Yes, it was a particular Western intelligence agent who went rogue, and it had very bad consequences. It cost a number of people their lives.

CD: What happened?

PI: Well, this individual had a direct line to a senior commander in Kosovo. And he convinced the commander to believe something would happen, contrary to other information from direct channels. At the time, I was still in Macedonia, while the bombing was still going on. It was just an example of bad practice. But the agent was never punished for this. It was a regrettable example of an operator having far too much influence over what senior decision-makers were doing, and a number of people died because of that.

CD: That is a fascinating case. Now, to speak of wrong information and get back to the Syria war: to me, the British military intelligence approach there seems to have shown new strategies- like they are trying to be more ‘hip’ or modern about how to interact. I am thinking of examples like the increased use of ‘citizen journalism’ and ‘outside groups,’ as was seen with ‘regular guys’ analyzing Youtube videos of fighting for making military judgments and putting it in the media. And of course there is that guy they’re always making fun of who is running this ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ from his house in Coventry.

To me, this seems to be a new low, but the media has repeated comments and opinions by such people verbatim. Are standards slipping? Does the government and the media just assume people are stupid, or don’t have much of an interest, or what?

PI: I think the increasing use of so-called citizen journalists, and more of the mainstream press using them, shows a huge slipping of standards.

What it does do, which is very sad to see, is a lot of mainstream media are going for sensationalism rather than well-researched and accurate analysis and good sources. It is definitely taking journalism to a new low.

But it’s not essentially a military thing. If you work in military intelligence, you will take information from everywhere, and then assess it. But I think it’s just some of these individual people doing it, getting their name and information out there- I am not aware of any evidence of someone in the UK cabinet directing them. In the end of the day, it’s a free country, you can’t stop them from giving their view. And that’s why so many military have died- for keeping it a free country. Free speech is a fundamental right of a free and liberal democracy.

CD: Thanks, that is very interesting. So then, what are your thoughts on Brexit and Cameron’s deal with the EU, speaking as a British citizen? He says it is in the security interest of the country to be in the EU. Is this the case? And especially given Scottish leaders’ recent retort that if the UK leaves the EU, Scotland will declare independence and join the EU.

PI: As a British citizen, I have to say that realistically the risk is none- leaving the EU will have no effect on British security. The whole Brexit thing is political noise.

The one thing that is certain is that if it leaves, Britain will have to renegotiate all agreements currently in place and it will take a lot of effort and time and you can’t guarantee content- it could be worse. But it is not likely to affect security. It will affect economy, of course- though in a positive or negative way, is still unknown.

CD: Indeed. Philip, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today. It is much appreciated.

PI: And thank you as well.

Italy and Kosovo Intensify Actions against another ISIS-linked Group

By Matteo Albertini editor’s note: the present article follows the developments that have occurred since the 12 November arrests of ISIS-linked suspects across Europe, and led by Italy. These events have been documented already in our analyses by Elisa Sguaitamatti on 18 November and by Chris Deliso and Matteo Albertini on 23 November. The current developments indicate the continued manifestation of jihadist activity in the Balkans we have predicted over the past 13 years- while most media was ignoring or discrediting the possibility of a security problem with which Europe is unfortunately now grappling.

Four Kosovo citizens have been arrested by the Italian Police after the so-called “Van Damme” investigation that sought to end the activities of an organization allegedly involved in jihadist propaganda in Italy and abroad.

According to the inquiry, the group had “direct links with Syrian jihadist networks, and worked under the guidance of the notorious kosovar terrorist Lavdrim Muhaxheri,” according to the Brescia Procura’s statement at a 30 November press conference.

A Focus on Social Media and Extremism

The investigation began in 2014, after the discovery on Facebook of a group titled “With you or without you the Caliphate has returned.” Its members were assumed to be mostly in Syria. According to Giovanni De Stavola of DIGOS, the Italian police’s division for general investigations and special operations, “the group was directing its Daesh propaganda towards people coming from the Balkan region and residing in Italy. The four arrested were member of the group and have documented contacts with jihadist networks in the Balkans guided by Lavdrim Muhaxheri,” who has become the main point of reference for the foreign fighters coming from this geographic area. “We intervened in a phase of propaganda before problems could appear on the territory“ concluded De Stavola.

How the Jihadists Named the Police Investigation, and Who They Threatened

Amusingly enough, the name of the police operation derives from a conversational anecdote recorded by a phone tap of the suspects: “we are not Rambo neither Van Damme, we do the real thing,” one of the suspects reportedly boasted.

Most of the investigation was focused on Samet Imishti, allegedly the head of the group, and arrested in the eastern Kosovo village of Hani I Helezit. He took part in “armed conflict outside of Kosovo’s borders,” and reportedly specifically threatened on Facebook the former US ambassador to Kosovo, Tracy Ann Jacobson, whose term expired in August 2015. She had been in Kosovo during the time when it (and other Balkan countries) were drafting laws against foreign fighters, and starting to make large-scale roundups of radicalized locals.

According to the investigation, the aspiring jihadist referred to the US diplomat as “the American Jew” who “says that the new government will fight corruption (…) I say to this lady that as long as they stay in Kosovo there will be no justice (…) this unfaithful [woman] deserves the punishment of the sharia.”

The Rural Italian Bases of the Kosovar Cell

According to Italian police, Imishti used for his Italian headquarter the little town of Chiari, in the province of Brescia. In this house police also captured the second of the arrested men, his brother Ismail, who was later expelled under the charge of international terrorism. Along with him was arrested a third Kosovar, in the Italian province of Savona. This man was expelled following a decision from the Brescia public prosecutor.

The last Albanian Islamist arrested is a native of Macedonian Albanian residing in Vicenza province.

The Significance of the Special Surveillance Order

Very interestingly, this last individual had been subject of a special surveillance order: in fact, the decision to use this specific measure tells us that Italian investigators are now considering the members of international jihadist networks as similar to members of organized crime groups. Indeed, it was not by chance that this order was directly promulgated by Franco Roberti, Italy’s national anti-mafia prosecutor.

The special surveillance order is a debated and very specific kind of detention order envisaged in the Italian Penal Code, in Law 1423/56 and following modifications. It lays out the rules for pre-trial arrests, and it has frequently been called before the European Commission; lawyers have argued that it violates the European Convention on Human Rights, since it can be applied on the basis of sole suspects and without concrete proof of actual crime.

It is worth noting that this is hardly the first time a DIGOS investigation of suspected Balkan Islamic radicals has employed wiretapping techniques. For example, as reported back in February 2007, a long-term DIGOS surveillance operation resulted in 29 arrests of Balkan Muslims in the Trento-Treviso area (the episode is discussed in detail in Chris Deliso’s The Coming Balkan Caliphate, also from 2007).

Other Aspects of the Investigation

The police commissioner in Brescia, Carmine Esposito, also ordered searches of the homes and workplaces of other people connected with the network in Brescia, Vicenza and Perugia, as well as in Kosovo with the cooperation of the police there. The commissioner also gave an order to check the web material confiscated during the investigation.

As he recalled during the political talk show Agorà on RaiTre last Monday, “in the houses searched in Kosovo we also found arms during a police operation, jointly organized by Italian and Kosovar police, which began contemporaneously in some Italian and Kosovar towns. [The arrested] represent profiles of high risk according to the characterization of Islamic terrorism, and specifically for their action of propaganda, recruitment, and financing of the so-called Islamic State. The crimes these people are charged with… are thus support for terrorism and incitement to racial hatred.”

Most of the investigation was conducted on the web, after the arrested men published on their social profiles photos of themselves holding guns. They also made comments supporting the propaganda of the Islamic State. In their chat groups were also found written threats to the Pope who, in their words, would soon “be visited by terrorists coming from the Middle East.” They warned that Francis would be “the last Pope.”

Balkan Jihadists Provide a New Media Fascination in Italy

As seems evident after last week’s arrests, Italy’s north-eastern regions show the recurring presence of foreign jihadists, as has been documented in coverage of the investigations in recent years. Among them we recall the case of the Bosnian Imam Bosnić, who reportedly enrolled fighters for the jihad in Pordenone and Belluno, and more recently that of the Rawti Shax members in Merano and Trento in November of this year.

The last month of Balkan-related arrests has been covered extensively by Italian media, which seems to be getting more and more interested in international terrorist networks existing in Kosovo, and their possible relations with the Balkan migration route.

The Italian media attention has also been fuelled by reports in the Kosovo press. For example, the Pristina daily Koha Ditore – quoting anonymous sources – recently reported that seven Kosovar Muslims, allegedly supporters of the Islamic State and currently in villages near the Macedonian capital of Skopje, may be planning terrorist attacks against Kosovo. Similarly, a different Kosovar daily, Zeri, also wrote that in the northern section of Kosovska Mitrovica – inhabited by Orthodox Serb minority – threatening graffiti praising the Islamic State has been noticed.

Incidents like this and increasing media attention indicate that ISIS-related activities involving the Balkans in some way are unfortunately going to become more regularly noted in European media in the new year.

Italy Targets Kosovo-linked ISIS Network- But Laws Lag behind the Online Jihad Era

By Chris Deliso and Matteo Albertini

The sustained and ongoing anti-terrorist operations by police across Europe before and after the ISIS Paris attacks are indicative of just how well established and dangerous Islamist radical networks on the continent have become.

The new state of the war on terror must be appreciated- as must the fact that the Balkans (and the ‘Balkan Route’ of migration) are already becoming of much greater interest to the European authorities, as a recent Italian operation dramatically showed. However, the relative novelty of the internet jihad also means that even countries well versed in countering terrorism and organized crime, like Italy, are lagging behind, as we shall see below.

The Paris Attacks and the New State of War

As many analysts have pointed out, the Paris attacks of 13 November can be seen as a turning point in the strategy of the Islamic State, which is now evolving from traditional terrorist attacks by small cells, conducted chiefly in its own geographical area, to more organized and complex paramilitary actions conducted on the territory of a Western state. A new phase in what the Bush administration called the ‘long war’ thus appears to be upon us.

These paramilitary attacks in France represent a serious step up from the January attacks in the same country, against the editorial office of Charlie Hebdo, when the Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen killed 17 persons (12 in Charlie Hebdo’s office, and five in Paris and Montrouge). The recent attacks caused vastly more casualties, and were marked by even more precise actions, with three different teams and three different targets involved, and a considerable logistics network believed to be behind it.

Paris was the third attack Islamic State claimed this month, after an explosive device brought down Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 on November 3 in Sinai and the Beirut attacks on November 11, framing a scenario of extremely high concern about the future operations of the self-proclaimed Caliphate in Middle East and abroad.

Given the Islamic State’s media reach and international support network, threats to other Western cities like Rome, London and Washington must be taken seriously. This has been seen vividly in the Belgian authorities’ recent lockdown of Brussels and continued arrests related to the Paris attacks and possible planned attacks in Belgium. At the same time, pro-migration protesters defied a ban on public gatherings in Paris, an ominous sign of how the terrorism and migration issues are going to converge in future challenges to the authorities’ role.

We consider it highly likely that more attacks will occur, especially considering the growing potential for a possible Western military intervention on the ground in Syria. This is precisely what ISIS wants, not because it expects to win back territory (it will eventually be defeated) but because it can help fire up supporters elsewhere in the world to act in their own countries.

Needless to say, the work of international security agencies and national intelligences is becoming more and more crucial, and especially in Europe, which risks becoming one large (and generally defenseless) theater in an unpredictable war with an evasive enemy.

The Italian-led Operation as Indicator of European Cooperation- and Balkan Focus recently covered a story which passed almost without notice when it was soon eclipsed by the massive media coverage of the Paris attacks: the Italian-led operation against an ISIS group seeking to overthrow the Iraqi Kurdistan government. While the Paris attacks have been depicted as an example of intelligence failure and poor cooperation, the Italian operation can help us to understand how security agencies are actually cooperating to oppose terrorist networks active on the continent.

To recap, on 12 November some 15 people were arrested in four European countries following a five-year Italian investigation, conducted in coordination with Eurojust: they were members of a terrorist network that not only wanted to attack the Kurdish government in northern Iraq, but also to recruit militants for ISIS in Europe.

The network was called Rawti Shax (“New Course”), and is the European offshoot of Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda. It was founded in 2001 by Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad, known as Mullah Krekar. He had already been detained in Norway and jailed as a consequence of this new investigation.

Notwithstanding his confined situation, Mullah Krekar was still able to manage from jail a well-functioning international web of terrorist recruitment, which was invigorated after the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

In the strategy of Ansar Al-Islam, the role of Rawti Shax was to recruit and train possible foreign fighters to be sent to Syria to fight under the banner of the Caliphate against the Iraqi Kurdish Republic. The Kurds are not just the main enemy of Islamic State in the contest for new national state creation, their fighters are also well known as being the most effective military force against ISIS on the battlefield. Therefore, any terrorist attack against the Kurdish authorities would be motivated by both revenge and a desire to destabilize Kurdistan for the terrorists’ benefit.

This organization was until now based in Merano, a little town in Northern Italy where the investigation (conducted by the Italian Carabinieri), tracked the movements of the two main suspects: Abdul Rahman Nauroz, a Kurdish Iraqi citizen, and Eldin Hodza, an Albanian from Kosovo.

The former, allegedly the successor of Mullah Krekar at the head of the organization, was particularly active in online recruitment: as Giuseppe Pignatone, public prosecutor in Rome, stated, “the investigation developed out of computer evidence, as their operating base was mostly the web, the world of the Internet.” In fact, internet cummunication allowed this group to connect small cells spanning Europe, from Greece to Norway. This assisted in, and later promoted, the “jihad lessons” Nauroz gave from his home in Merano.

The latter cell member, Hodza, was a typical ‘foreign fighter,’ who had already been sent to Syria by Nauroz in January 2014. According to the investigation, there he visited an IS training camp, but came back to Italy a month later through Switzerland.

This development is not surprising. As has covered in depth, Albania and Kosovo (and their diasporas) have made sizable contributions to the European jihadist brigades fighting for ISIS. The caliphate even made Albanian one of the chosen languages for translations when it developed its propaganda arm, a truly notable decision considering the relatively small usage of the language globally. And there have been allegations of recruitment centers on their territory, with more than 600 Albanian fighters having visited Syria in the last two years. The Al Nusra Front has also imported Albanian fighters since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, owing to specific local historical and personal connections with Syria.

The Italy-Kosovo Connection

One of these “starting points” on the route to Syria is the small southwestern Kosovo town of Restelica, south of Dragas. Although had isolated this region as a potential center of future radicalization over 10 years ago, it has never been mentioned by the media in general. In the Italian media, Restelica came up in Panorama’s interview on March 15, 2015 with the Italian ambassador to Pristina, Andreas Ferrarese.

Interestingly, in this little town almost everybody speaks Italian and a third of all citizens have worked in Italy; this connection has much to do with how Italian security officials became aware that parts of the Dragas area now represent a major center of ISIS recruitment for Albanians in Kosovo.

The reported jihadist leader for Restelica, the imam Sead Bajraktar, lives near Siena in Italy, where he founded an Islamic center in the town of Monteroni d’Arbia. He frequently travels back to Kosovo, intelligence sources say, to visit his collaborators and to participate in military training. He was once arrested near Dragas (and soon set free) along with a member of the same Monteroni center.

Bajraktar is an important figure in this story as he is considered the man responsible for Eldin Hodza’s radicalization. Already in March, Panorama underlined how Hodza went to Syria and later came back upon payment by a relative who allegedly “ransomed” him from his participation in the jihad. Apparently, the intervention of this relative did not diminish his will to join the ranks of Islamic State, since when he was arrested on 12 November he was still planning to return through Rawti Shax.

Ambassador Ferrarese had already stated in March that “there’s great attention [being paid to] the uninterrupted channel of human trafficking through the Balkans, with a primary role held by Kosovo organized crime. We immediately considered the hypothesis that this route could be used by volunteers going to fight in Syria and Iraq- a route which could furthermore be used by those who are coming back to Europe.”

International security agents working in Kosovo also confirm that some foreign fighters have made it back to Europe along the routes of clandestine immigration through Southeastern Europe, mostly entering Italy at Trieste, from Slovenia. Their transit along the ‘Balkan Route’ from Greece has been expedited by the sheer volumes of persons following this route, which has made it impossible for authorities in the countries along the way to properly identify them.

All too often, advocates of “migrant rights” have succeeded in making their arguments in the media that all migrants are being racially or religiously profiled, when in fact the main problem is simply a logistical one: there have simply been too many people coming in too short of a time. This problem has been exacerbated by poor communication (or no communication) between Greek authorities and those of their ‘northern neighbor,’ Macedonia regarding timing and numbers of arrivals. ISIS would be foolish not to exploit this vulnerability.

Aspects of the Evolving Security Threat Revealed by the Italian Investigation

The story behind these arrests helps us to underline some features of undercover terrorist action in the time of the Islamic State. The first thing that emerges is that many terrorist cells once affiliated with specific jihadist groups (Al Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front, etc.) are now working as recruitment and financing agents under the Islamic State umbrella.

This is not surprising, considering that Islamic State derives great wealth from the territory it controls, and can thus heavily finance outside operations, whereas Al Qaeda is nowhere near as well off, and seeks to survive by participating in operations of lower profile such us recruitment and logistical support. This is however a very important function for the Caliphate, which looks for fighters living in Europe, who can operate with less travel restrictions, and thus have the capacity to act in different regions.

Secondly, Italy is becoming a crossroad of international terrorist networks linked to Syria and the Balkans, as the outcomes of recent investigations show. Some persons of interest have already appeared in previous coverage of Italy-Balkan jihadist networks: these include the Bosniak imam Bosnić, arrested with 15 others in September 2014; the imam Idriz Idrizovic, active in Salafi centers in Lombardy; the Prizren imam Mazzlam Mazzlami; Shefqet Krasniqi, imam of the Great Mosque in Pristina: and Idriz Billibani, first arrested in 2010 and allegedly linked to a Kosovar-Italian web of radicalization and recruiting. Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia have all since 2014 made many arrests under new foreign fighters laws.

Italian Concerns over the Stepped-up War and the Vatican’s Imminent Jubilee Year

After the attacks in Paris, the attention of Italian secret services towards the role of the Balkans in linking the country and the Caliphate has become even more acute than usual. This is particularly noteworthy considering that December 8 marks the opening of the “Jubilee Year” that Pope Francis announced on March 13, 2015.

This symbolic event, which occurs every 20-30 years on Papal decree, will start on the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated December 8, 2015. It will close on November 20, 2016.

At the time of the pope’s announcement in March, the National Catholic Reporter noted that the celebration of the jubilee year will formally begin “with the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. The other holy doors of basilicas around the world will then be opened as a sign of God’s opening a new pathway to salvation.”

Considering that Islamic State has pledged to eventually overthrow the Church of Rome and to raise its own banner over St Peter’s, an attack timed to coincide with this symbolic event – and, perhaps, timed to coincide with others at churches in different locations – would be highly tempting for the terrorists.

Of course, as we have noted in The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans, the Church does have its own sophisticated defenses and global intelligence networks. However, the recent Paris attacks reveal that ISIS’ affiliates can also be highly dangerous and agile and this, in addition to the migrant crisis, has forced the Vatican to tap into its international intelligence networks as it hastily tries to identify potential arrivals of terrorists among migrant groups, and in general get any useful information at all about looming threats. The Vatican also has well developed intelligence-gathering networks in Montenegro. Croatia, Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo, as does the Italian state, though it is impossible to show how these overlap in specific cases.

New Developments: Shortcomings in the Penal Code Reduce Investigation’s Success

On 23 November, new developments in the Italian courts affected the outcome of the case. It was announced that five of the 17 arrested in the Jweb investigation in Merano are going to be set free, following a decision of the Procura della Repubblica- in effect, the public prosecutor’s office in Trento. Further, while 14 persons were arrested, two of them were already in jail on charges, and three other claimed accomplices were nowhere to be found.

As already reported, the prosecutor, Giancarlo Capaldo (an expert in terrorism working at the Procura in Rome) conducted the investigation with public prosecutor Pignatone; they identified 17 alleged suspects. But since the jihadist organization was in Merano, officials in Rome had assigned the investigations to Trento, where the Provincial Procura (led by prosecutor Giuseppe Amato) was tasked with conducting the trial.

Amato, therefore, had to ask the Judge for Preliminary Inquiry (GIP) in Trento, Francesco Florenza, to co-validate the arrests. But in their following request they reported just 10 names (among them, Nauroz and Hodza). As they wrote in their comments, they considered as insufficient the charges against Hama Mahmoud Kaml and Mohamad Fatah Goran, both living in Trentino Alto-Adige. At the same, the Trento prosecutors also refused to persecute the three untraceable investigated people.

Therefore, the GIP had no choice but to release both Fatah and Goran, and to order any tracking of the other three vanished cell members stopped. This decision fwas based on the argument that “contact [through communication, ie., internet] does not imply participation in a terroristic association.”

Moreover, a recent change in the Italian Code of Criminal Procedure states that a person can be jailed only on solid proof, and not just according to circumstantial evidence. In this case, some of the people investigated had, in Mr. Florenza’s words, “vanished a long time ago from the horizon of the investigation.”

This development, as related to Il Fatto Quotidiano by Prosecutor Amato himself, seems to be due to the shortcomings in the Italian Penal Code regarding international terrorism. It was also due to the most recent laws about the rules of arrests (art. 274 of the code of criminal procedure, changed by Law 47 of 16 April 2015).

Thus, the largely online nature of the international jihadist network seems to be causing a lot of problems for Italy’s outdated penal codes. This is interesting, since because of all of its long experience fighting the mafia, Italy is usually among the most advanced countries in terms of drafting laws about fighting criminal organizations and terrorism.

Conclusion: Vulnerabilities in Fighting Online Jihad in Europe Will Continue, Enhancing Presence of Non-State Actors

The legislative shortcomings in Italy and other European countries regarding jihad in the internet era are likely to remain a significant vulnerability, especially where they intersect with the ‘civil liberties’ lobbies, thus hampering future investigations from achieving maximal results.

In this state of affairs, it is ironic that pro-civil liberties activist groups unchecked by legal restrictions, such as Anonymous, may have greater capacity to fight against the online jihad than do regular states. The “hacktivist” group, which declared “war” on ISIS following the Paris attacks, now seems to be acting as an intel source with predictions of its own. While some major governments have stated that the group – usually acting against Western governmental and corporate interests – should stay out of the fight, no doubt they are grateful for any disruption it can cause to the terrorist group’s online infrastructure.

There is not even a hypothetical scenario, of course, of how any European court would handle an anti-terrorism case in which official police resources and activities ended up mixed up with the activities of unknown hackers. It is becoming a strange new world indeed.

Italy Takes the Lead in a European Anti-terrorism Operation

By Elisa Sguaitamatti

At least 15 suspected members of an Islamist militant group called Rawti Shax were arrested by Italian police on Thursday 12 November. Italian authorities declared that Rawti Shax, which means “the New Course,” is a Kurdish-Sunni Muslim group that seeks to topple the government in the Kurdistan province of Iraq.

Further, the group had Europe-based “sleeper” and active terrorist cells with radicalized militants based in Britain, Norway, Finland, Germany, Italy, Greece and Switzerland as well as in Iran, Iraq and Syria. All of its members were either willing to become suicide bombers, or to volunteers to be trained for the anticipated future conflict in Kurdistan.

Background: A Five-Year Investigation of Web-based Jihadism

The multiple police raids were based on 17 European warrants (16 Kurds and one Kosovar). The police raids and subsequent investigations confirmed that the radical movement was allegedly planning to target and to take European diplomats hostage, whether in Europe or the Middle East. The group was also said to be responsible for logistical and financial support to fighters in Syria.

In a statement, Italian police said the arrests were the “result of complex and protracted investigations” that began in 2010 following the discovery of a “jihadi” website ideologically affiliated with al-Qaeda in the middle of Europe.

This Italian intelligence-led investigation called “JWeb” had been monitoring the group’s communications via the Internet for five years. The use of the internet allowed the suspects to erase the distance between members, who were residents of several European countries. This enabled them to maintain strong cohesion, reinforced by periodic online chats.

Italy’s national ROS Carabinieri took the lead in collaboration with security forces in Britain, Norway, Finland, Germany and Switzerland, finding out both the structure and the operations of the terrorist organization. Moreover, Italian investigators have claimed to possess documented evidence of the radical and violent ideology of Rawti Shax, which was purchasing weapons in the Netherlands and at the same time trying to establish other “sleeper cells” in Italy and the Netherlands. These were to recruit, proselytize and radicalize militants online.

Events in Norway and a Kosovo Connection

At the same time, in Norway a major role was played by the radical Iraqi preacher Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad, known as Mullah Krekar. Besides being the founder of another extremist group called Ansar Al-Islam, he was serving an 18-month term in prison after having praised the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in January 2015, and for encouraging Muslims to commit criminal acts during a television interview.

This would seem to prove that, in spite of the major rivalries between al Qaeda and the Islamic State on the Syrian and Libyan battlefields, the silent actions of small-scale “entrepreneurs of terror” like Mullah Krekar are what seem to be so alarming in Europe today. Krekar was recorded on a wiretap in November 2012 saying that “death for us is martyrdom…and we are ready against anyone who occupies Kurdistan…Americans, Russians or others.” Krekar also said that “for these (people) who have burned the Koran, at least 100 people are ready to do justice in Europe and Kurdistan.”

The final arrest warrant in the recent police operation was for a Kosovar citizen, Eldin Hodza, the only non-Kurdish involved in the terrorist network. The Italian police did not clarify immediately whether he had been arrested. All the militants were charged with fostering criminal association for international terrorism.

Italian Coordination of a Joint European Security Operation

Thanks to the constant cooperation between European police authorities, simultaneous raids in Italy, the UK and Norway were coordinated by the Italian public prosecutor, Franco Roberti, head of Italy’s anti-mafia and anti-terrorism unit. During a press conference following the police action, he praised “the professionalism of the lawyers and ROS investigators” who had to face this very complex issue by utilizing the best technological strategies to acquire all necessary information.

Additionally, Roberti underlined that “international cooperation worked really well this time,” with a series of meetings organized by the Italian investigators with their European colleagues held at Eurojust, the EU’s Judicial Cooperation Unit located in The Hague.

The success of the joint counter-terrorism operation was also confirmed by Giancarlo Pignatone, Rome’s Public Prosecutor, who explained later that the Kosovar suspect was planning to move from Switzerland (where he was stopped) to Turkey and then to Syria.

Further, Giancarlo Capaldo, Rome’s Special Public Prosecutor, clarified that the international team had been following recent geopolitical events and the movements of the suspects, who had chosen to affiliate themselves with the Islamic State: “We saw some fighters leave for Syria and die in the conflict,” he said.

For his part, the General Commander in Chief of ROS Carabinieri, Giuseppe Governale, remarked that this “JWeb” operation came to an end on 12 November- the same date that in 2003 some Italian journalists, members of the police and soldiers died in a terrorist attack in Nassiriya. He also maintained that “it is the most important police operation that has ever been achieved in Europe over the last twenty years.”

Finally, the Minister of Interior, Angelino Alfano, commented on the event. “It is a wonderful day for the Italian state and the Italian team,” he said. “In one day, ROS Carabinieri carried out one of the most important counter-terrorism operations, which shows how strong the state is and how essential the international cooperation is. We are a country exposed to the international risk of terrorism because we are part of that great international coalition that is opposed to the caliphate. Italy’s preventive measures worked, but no country is immune.”

These comments were tragically illustrated just a day after the Italian-led operations, with the massive terrorist attacks in Paris claimed by Islamic State. All of these turbulent events indicate that enhanced police cooperation across Europe is going to be more prominent – and necessary – as the struggle against terrorism continues.

Despite Trouble in Northern Municipalities, Kosovo Elections Mark Historic Step Forward

By Anita McKinna

Western media coverage of the recent municipal elections in Kosovo largely preferred to focus on disturbances at polling stations in the north, with the majority of media using the word ‘violence’ in headlines. Such headlines include ‘Kosovo violence leaves elections in tatters’ (BBC), ‘Violence on Election Day’ (Economist), ‘Violence mars Kosovo Elections’ (Guardian), ‘Masked gang’s attack on polling station in Kosovo threatens elections’ (Independent).

These headlines refer to the events of Sunday afternoon, in which masked intruders entered a polling station in north Mitrovicë/Mitrovica, with the aim of damaging election material and removing election officials, monitors and voters, thus disrupting the electoral process. As a precaution, all polling stations in northern Kosovo were closed early.

Such disruption is unsurprising for observers of Kosovo’s transition from a war-torn society towards democracy and independence. Indeed this election campaign period saw intimidation of candidates, and widespread anti-election protests in the north. Krstimir Pantić and the wife of Oliver Ivanović were attacked in the run-up to the elections in apparent attempts to dissuade them from participating in the elections. It would be naïve to believe, whatever the support for the elections from political entities in Kosovo or Serbia, that those who would benefit, either financially or politically from failed elections would simply allow events to unfold peacefully and successfully.

But even despite such disruptions, looking back only a relatively short time reveals just how much these elections can be considered a symbol of progress for Kosovo. Fourteen years ago Kosovo’s ethnic communities were at war. And nine years ago the country experienced extremely violent riots that saw people killed, people forced from their houses, and homes and churches destroyed.

Two years ago, following unilateral action by Kosovo Police to take control of border points in the north, road blockades and violent protests erupted. Ethnically-motivated incidents and violence are still not uncommon in Kosovo. So while Sunday’s events should be strongly condemned by proponents of democracy, these events should be put into context and whatever the media headlines imply, noone was killed or seriously injured on Sunday, and the incidents at the polling station did not incite widespread violence.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the electoral process in the south of Kosovo, including municipalities with a Serb majority, was praised by election monitors. It has been announced that a re-run will be held on 17November in north Mitrovicë/Mitrovica.

More importantly, these elections represent historic progress for Kosovo, even despite the disruptions, as they are the first Kosovo elections since the end of the war that have been actively promoted by Serbia’s political establishment and the Serbian Orthodox Church. Past elections saw vehement opposition from these two groups to Kosovo Serbs participation in Kosovo’s political system and elections. Their approval currently illustrates just how far things have come in a relatively short period of time.

For example, in August 2004, Bishop Artemije declared that ‘there is no single reason’ why Serbs should vote… participation in these elections would mean our ruin’. On election day that year it was also reported that a Serb priest blocked the opening of a polling station in Viti/Vitina. In October 2007 UNMIK Spokesman Alexander Ivanko acknowledged that ‘UNMIK has received concerning reports that both Belgrade and part of the Serb leadership in Kosovo have not only discouraged Kosovo Serbs from participating in the elections but have also intimidated registered voters’. Bishop Artemije again urged Kosovo’s Serbs to boycott the November 2009 municipal elections.

In contrast, last week Sava Janjic from Dečani Monastery, Serbian Patriarch Irinej and Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić were among those who called on Serbs to participate in the elections. Whatever the motives behind this support, it would have been unbelievable just two years ago.

Of course, the attempts to disrupt the election process should not be condoned or belittled, and it cannot be ignored that Kosovo still has a long way to go before Kosovo’s Serbs embrace its institutions, but to focus solely on these problems ignores the significant progress that has been made in Kosovo since 1999.

The following data on election turnout, while admittedly not comprehensive, indicates the participation of Serbs in the southern parts of Kosovo. Indeed, when comparing the situations in some municipalities, it is interesting to note that Serbian turnout was actually higher proportionally than was the case with some Albanian municipalities.

Appendix: Turnout by municipality

Municipality *Turnout %
Ferizaj/ Uroševac


Gjakova/ Djakovica


Gjilan/ Gnjilane


Graçanica/ Gračanica**


Leposaviq/ Leposavić**


Lipjan/ Lipljan


North Mitrovicë/ Mitrovica**


South Mitrovicë/ Mitrovica


Novo Brdo/Novobërdë**




Prishtina/ Priština






Shtërpcë/ Štrpce**


Zubin Potok/ Zubin Potok**


Zveçan/ Zvečan**


Central Election Commission*

Majority or significant Serb population**

Lost in Conversion?

By Chris Deliso

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When Kosovo’s Albanians celebrated the major Muslim holiday of Bajram, at the end of September, more than a few worshipers were conspicuous for their absence.

A trickle of media articles over the past few months have dealt with the issue of religion in Kosovo from a relatively unreported angle: the curious phenomenon of conversion. Apparently, Albanians in this Muslim-majority statelet have been increasingly ‘returning’ to the Catholic religion, which their ancestors had forsaken centuries ago.

This story is interesting and relevant in its own right, but has become particularly revealing in light of the way it has been developed in the media, something that raises another set of issues. Whereas early reports of a new trend towards conversion mentioned the fact that Albanians had been Christians before the Ottomans arrived in the 14th century, and converted thereafter, only recently have reports begun adding an element of victimology to the narrative.

For example, a Sept. 28 Reuters report that took the pulse of recently reborn Catholics in Kosovo claimed that ‘the majority of ethnic Albanians were forcibly converted to Islam, mostly through the imposition of high taxes on Catholics, when the Ottoman Empire ruled the Balkans.’

This almost seems to imply that other Christians were threatened with taxation by the Turks, but did not convert. It also ignores that in several places at different times, Christians seeking to convert were actually prevented from doing so because the Ottomans prudently sought they would lose a local tax base for relatively little in return.

Reuters’ description of ‘forcible conversion’ as something to be equated with desire for social advancement is a strange one. The real things that were forcible for the Ottomans were the forced kidnappings of young Christian men and women for the janissary corps and harems of Constantinople. Although there were far worse things to be suffered than paying high taxes by remaining Christian under the Turks, these were left out. In backwards hinterlands of the empire, as in Kosovo and Bosnia, the local Muslim lords were known for being especially pernicious towards those who did not desert their religion.

Although this disparity led to simmering resentments which had long-term influence, as pointed out by former NSA officer John Schindler in the Bosnian context, the article does not consider how inter-ethnic problems in Kosovo today might perhaps have roots in this phenomenon. Schindler notes that it was particularly in border hinterlands of the empire such as Bosnia and Kosovo that the rule of the Turks and converted local lords loyal to them was especially vicious. The Orthodox Christian Serbs clung to their religion- and suffered under the rule of those who found it expedient to change their own. Understanding the context of local opinions today requires an appreciation of this former relationship.

Within the Albanian community itself, how is the conversion issue playing out? The Kosovars interviewed by Reuters tended to take the ‘crypto-Christian’ route, by which they claimed that their forefathers only pretended to be Muslims: “for centuries, many remembered their Christian roots and lived as what they call ‘Catholics in hiding.’ Some, nearly a century after the Ottomans left the Balkans, now see the chance to reveal their true beliefs.”

The timing is indeed quite impeccable. Yet the experiences of this reporter indicate perhaps another motivation at work. In April, our team visited precisely the same church in Klina where the Reuters piece starts off at with the Sopi family (perhaps related to the famous, deceased Albanian bishop of that name?) However, speaking informally with young Albanians outside the church, a very different concept emerged. As one 20-year-old student put it: “we know that the West does not like Muslims and is against Islam. It is better for us to be Christians again.”

In Pristina, inside a small Catholic church, the caretaker informed us that some 21 people had come in the previous three months to re-embrace the faith; more were expected to emerge. As the Reuters article points out, a large Catholic cathedral is being built here, much to the displeasure of Muslim leaders. The article quotes the head of the Kosovo Islamic community, Mufti Naim Ternava, who is opposed to the building of the new cathedral at the heart of Pristina, as criticizing rural church-building as well: “no human brain can understand how a church should be build in the middle of 13 Muslim villages,” he said.

Supporters of Kosovar Catholicism inevitably point to Mother Teresa, born in nearby Skopje, who has became the symbol of Albanian Christianity far and wide, a cultural process that has brought criticism from Muslim groups in Albania itself. Recent examples of some of these animosities are discussed in my book The Coming Balkan Caliphate: The Threat of Radical Islam to Europe and the West (Praeger Security International, 2007), in which the present author maintains that, in Kosovo the end of the nationalist question (i.e., with the achievement of statehood) is the beginning of the religious one.

After Kosovo’s Albanian leaders declared independence on February 17, some explained the Arab world’s failure to recognize this decree as a sort of revenge. Kosovo had taken so much money and aid from them, but in the end had turned its back on Islam. And, when overt conversion to Catholicism came after simply irreligious Westernization, it was like adding insult to injury. This hypothesis has not been proven, but remains an interesting one. And months later, the Arab world has done little to champion the Kosovar cause.

In a surreal twist, Iran’s relations with Serbia have actually been bolstered more since then than they have with Kosovo. Belgrade’s recent victory at the United Nations, in getting the right to make a case over the legality of Kosovo’s secession, would have been much more difficult had the Arab countries banded together to defend it. Perhaps they are holding out for future concessions?

Nevertheless, some in the Islamist internationale see a definite opportunity in the new Kosovo. The day after Kosovo declared independence on February 17, the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, stated that “there is no doubt that the independence of Kosovo will be an asset to the Muslim world and further enhance the joint Islamic action.”

The nature of this ‘action’ was left unclear. But from what we have seen over the past decade in Kosovo, it is unlikely to be without dangers.

Although some say it has been definitely defeated, fundamentalist Islam in Kosovo has had a long history and incubation period. Certain Western intelligence agencies believe it still poses a potential long-term problem, if politicians are unable to increase the standard of living and assure real independence.

The arrival of fundamentalist Islam was the result of strong cross-border logistical networks, ‘safe houses’ and propaganda channels blossomed after August 1999, when the United Nations began administering Kosovo following NATO’s bombing campaign. At that point, Wahhabi proselytizers from the Arab world descended on Kosovo in force. They arrived chiefly through humanitarian and cultural organizations, many under the umbrella of the Saudi Joint Committee for the Relief of Kosovo and Chechnya and the Saudi Red Crescent Society. According to numerous former UN officials in Kosovo, however, these ostensibly humanitarian groups spent most of their time building mosques, proselytizing, and paying Albanians monthly stipends to dress and act according to conservative Wahhabi mores.

Although American pressure led to some charities being uprooted following 9/11, many remained durable. A prime example is the RIHS. In 2003, leaked UN police reports and photos indicated the ongoing activities in Kosovo of a Kuwaiti worldwide charity, the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), which had been blacklisted by the Bush administration in Pakistan and Afghanistan for having ties to al Qaeda early the year before, and which had, in Albania during the early 1990s, been used to shield terrorists belonging to Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

At the same time in war-torn Bosnia, the RIHS was creating radical youth groups to disseminate jihad propaganda, catering to war orphans and other impressionable young people. The fact that the RIHS had, despite also being implicated in 500 simultaneous bombings in Bangladesh in August 2005, been allowed to continue its activities in Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia came to light in June 2006, with a Bosnian prosecutor’s investigation into some 14 million euros in RIHS funds that mysteriously could not be accounted for. Yet despite reportedly changing its addresses and information frequently in Bosnia, the organization still apparently works freely in the world’s newest independent state, Kosovo.

Along with building hundreds of new mosques, disseminating Islamist propaganda and inculcating it into the young, the proponents of Wahhabism sought to spread their tentacles by establishing an Islamic banking system in rural areas historically prone to isolationism and radicalism. One such charity, Islamic Relief, had already by September 2004 provided 500 loans to impoverished Kosovar farmers and small businessmen, according to “Islamic principles.” In poor areas where the West has shown little interest in supplying aid, the foreign Islamists have been happy to do so.

A further concern here is the convergence of terrorism with organized crime in Kosovo, particularly the global trafficking in human beings, narcotics and weapons. Kosovo has served as a terrorist transfer zone, in which Wahhabi-run villages and mosques became safe harbor for foreigners wanted in Western Europe or in their own countries for terrorism links.

The direct connection between terrorism and narcotics trafficking has been revealed on numerous occasions, as with Norway’s September 2006 arrest of al Qaeda operative Arfan Qadeer Bhatti. He and his accomplices were planning attacks on the US and Israeli embassies in Oslo; according to Norwegian news reports, they even planned to behead the Israeli ambassador. This Pakistani terrorist had connections with a Kosovo Albanian drug lord and even visited Pristina and Pec, a small town in western Kosovo, where he could administer to one of Kosovo’s largest Wahhabi flocks.

Nevertheless, radical Islam has failed to catch on with the masses, and the Vatican – led by a Europe-focused German Pope – is eager to build on its success in spreading Catholicism more widely.

An Italian journalist specializing in security issues who has conducted investigations in Kosovo, Paola Casoli, stated for that the Catholic church’s “[ecumenical] concept and the huge network of relations due to the Vatican’s foreign politics [means] the presence of the Vatican through its representatives on the ground is obvious enough.”

According to Casoli, the church’s different approach to dealing with local Albanians also accounts for its success. “Add also the presence of ecclesiastic or ecclesiatic-related organizations, such as Caritas,” she says, citing a young Catholic Albanian, who maintained that the church “remained close to people’s needs, instead of [the Muslim groups that were] building mosques in every village.”

Casoli also sees the success of Catholicism in Kosovo these days as partially linguistic in nature. “Islamism imposes Arabic when addressing God and praying to Him,” she says, “whereas Albanians speak Albanian and not Arabic as their mother tongue,” and thus prefer this form of worship.

The reaction of Kosovo’s Muslim leaders has been fairly muffled, in part, Casoli maintains, because of a desire not to attract attention to their own movement.

At present, any danger of disputes or clashes between Catholic and Muslim Albanians is much more likely in Albania itself, where Islamic groups are more vocal.

The most active is the multilingual (Albanian, English and Turkish) non-governmental organization, the Muslim Forum of Albania, which has consistently spoken out against ‘Christianizing’ efforts, the veneration of Mother Teresa, and against criticism of Islam in general. The organization employs the modern guise of Islamic activism – that is, aiming its directives to the ‘international community’ and speaking the language of political correctness – in achieving its goals.

The most recent example, a press release from June directed to the OSCE, exemplifies this tactic. It is also ironic in light of the media’s recent focus on forced conversion to Islam in Ottoman days. Au contraire, opines the MFA: “what concerns our Forum the most are the many comments that have been made in Albania during these recent years where Islam has been depicted as a religion that goes contrary to Europe and the myth which claims that it was imposed upon the Albanians by Turkey. Comments that belittle the Muslims, Turkey and depict the Albanians as Christians converted by force in Islam have unfortunately found their way even [into] the Albanian school textbooks [in] recent years.”

Clearly, matters of religious belief are still being shaped by divergent historical interpretation in the Balkans today. If it were only a question of spirited debate, however, things would be relatively tame. However, a series of low-profile incidents, most unreported, continue. They include defacement of monuments in the north and churches in the Greek-minority south. One of the most interesting questions for the future is the extent to which a Catholic-Muslim divide in Kosovo will be felt in neighboring Albania, a country with strong social and historical connections.

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