Italian intelligence:”The Balkan Lions could be planning attacks across Europe”

Twenty extremist “jihad” cells are currently operating on the territory of the Balkans. Their goal is terrorist attacks across Europe and they represent an “incubator of security threats” for Europe – the Italian intelligence services have discovered.

The Italian media, citing intelligence sources, warn that these groups are most numerous on the territory of Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also exist in Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia, reports Blic daily.

According to the Italian daily “Il Tempo”, these cells have existed for about two years and have increased their activity recently, especially since the beginning of the war in Israel.

The cells consist of about 500 returnees from ISIS, from the battlefields in Syria and Iraq, with new members constantly being recruited, even among migrants passing through the Balkan route to Western Europe.

 “At the time of the discovery of these cells, there were over 1,000 fighters who left the Balkans during the war in Syria to join the ranks of the Islamic State. The problem is that slightly less than half of them returned. They are now a possible risk for European and national security, especially taking into account the acquired military experience and sometimes strong ties established with the diaspora in Europe”, the Italian media report.

Italian intelligence officers also warn about the “head” of the organization.

“Among them, the so-called “The Balkan lions” stand out, a network whose task is to strengthen the “peripheral joints” of the movement and launch new terrorist actions in Europe.

Of particular concern is the ‘Balkan Lions’ recruitment efforts, which extend beyond the Balkans. They’ve been actively recruiting new members from among migrants travelling along the Balkan route to Western Europe. This calculated move poses a significant risk as it allows the cells to potentially infiltrate European countries, setting the stage for them to execute their terror attacks.

When you look at the structure of the 20 jihadist cells active in the Balkans, they are mostly groups of Salafi and Wahhabi origin. Their headquarters are in Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia.

Aleksandar Radić, a military analyst, says that we need to distinguish between independent actions and organized terrorism:” “A motivated individual can carry out an attack even though they have no contact with a terrorist organization. Hamas made a political decision on October 7th to capture civilians in order to try to change the rules of the game that were valid until then”. He believes that it is not in Hamas’ best interest to organize terrorist attacks around the world now.

“This is indicated by the fact that Hamas released two American citizens in order to win the favour of the US, which has already shown some sympathy for the victims of Gaza. Now the question is how you can ask for sympathy for the victims in Gaza and at the same time activate a bomb at an airport in Europe,” says Radić.

In his article, Enrico Casini, of Start Insight Strategic Analysts says that “the topic of the jihadist presence in the Balkan area has been known to European intelligence agencies and experts in the field for a long time. The countries of Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia have long been affected by the phenomenon and by the presence of jihadist subjects. So much so that, due to their geographical position at the heart of Europe, it was feared that they could become a sort of potential logistical hub for jihadism towards the Old Continent. Moreover, the presence of jihad veterans in the Balkan Area goes back to the Balkan wars from the 1990s and it was confirmed both by the influx of foreign fighters who left these countries and the presence of networks linked to jihadists of Balkan origin in Europe.”

In the report titled “Western Balkans Foreign Fighters and Homegrown Jihadis: Trends and Implication”, Adrian Shtuni says:” The presence of Balkan jihadists in the ranks of the Islamic State was known, even among the units of mono-ethnic fighters. It is no coincidence that the Islamic State had in the past invested in ad hoc campaigns of recruitment of Balkan jihadists. Remember the famous video “Honor is in Jihad” trying to blow on the fire of resentment and historical fractures present in this region, repeatedly upset by religious conflicts, and where there is always a situation ready to trigger violent reactions with different forms of extremism.

Different items could increase other new tensions: the spread of jihadist ideology in the area related to other forms of violent extremism, combined with the current health crisis, remain of great concern. The threat of the presence of jihadists and the spread of forms of violent Islamist radicalism in some areas of the Balkan region is an issue to be reckoned with and which concerns not only the Balkan countries.”

(RTV, Start Insight, 24.10.2023)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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