Kosovo announced Saturday the repatriation of 110 of its nationals from Syria, almost all of the wives or children of the Islamic State (IS) group
jihadists , an unprecedented operation in Europe by its magnitude.
Four men, suspected of having fought with IS, were also on the plane that landed at Pristina airport overnight. They were indicted on Saturday for taking part in conflicts abroad, the head of the public prosecutor Aleksander Lumezi told the media. Among the other passengers were 32 women and 74 children, the government said.
In a statement, the US embassy in Pristina “saluted Kosovo” after these repatriations that set “an important example to follow” for the international community.
“We applaud the compassion shown by the Kosovar authorities in accepting the return of this large number of civilians,” the US embassy said.
Kosovo, 90% Muslim, is in proportion to its population (1.8 million), the European country having provided the largest contingent of jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria.
Repatriation of relatives of jihadists has sparked controversy in several countries. Also very affected by the phenomenon, France had repatriated mid-March five children after weeks of procrastination, in a context of public hostility to such return.
- Football game –
It is estimated that some 300 Kosovars went to fight in Syria and Iraq. About 70 would have lost their lives, while about 120 have returned to be imprisoned most of the time. Thirty fighters, 49 women and eight Kosovo children, are reportedly still in Syria, Kosovo police chief Rashit Qalaj said on Saturday.
As a close ally of the United States, Kosovo toughened its legislation in 2015 by providing for penalties of up to 15 years in prison for its nationals fighting abroad.
Returnee civilians “deserve rehabilitation and hope for a peaceful life away from conflict,” Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri told Kosovar media. President Hashim Thaçi called on their entourage on Facebook to “help them to reintegrate into our society as quickly as possible”.
At first, they were taken to the Vranidoll detention center near Pristina, usually reserved for migrants and guarded by the police. AFP journalists were able to see children playing football on Saturday mid-day.
Kosovo’s National Director of Public Health, Naser Ramadani, said the people, who were taken to a refugee camp on Saturday, were going for medical exams. “Women and children have suffered serious trauma,” he said.
No one knows for sure the number of children of foreign jihadists stranded in Syria. The NGO Save The Children mentioned more than 3,500 people from some 30 countries in IDP camps.
- Return of a Bosnian jihadist –
For its part, Bosnia and Herzegovina announced Saturday the repatriation of a jihadist. An unnamed prosecutor source in Sarajevo told AFP that it was Ibro Cufurovic, 24, who left for Syria in 2013. He is one of some 25 Bosnians wanted by Interpol.
Ibro Cufurovic’s father accused a radical imam, former leader of the Islamist movement in Bosnia, Husein Bosnic, said Bilal, of recruiting his son.
Bosnic was sentenced in 2015 to seven years in prison for encouraging his followers to go to fight in Syria and Iraq.
According to various estimates, a thousand Balkan Islamists left from 2012 to fight in the ranks of the al-Nusra Front or the Islamic State group. Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia are also involved.
Some 200 men were killed on the front, while 300 returned to the Balkans, often to be imprisoned.