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Serbia's attempt at de-radicalization

Islamic youth organisations are legal and numerous in Serbia, but according to Insajder’s investigation, some of them are just a cover for recruitment of fighters who are ready to die for the Islamic State.

The youth religious organisation Furkan, based in Novi Pazar in the south of Serbia, is still active despite the fact that some of its representatives were arrested on several occasions for recruitment of Islamic fighters.

This organisation was established in 2009 and it became publicly known in 2011, after Melvud Jasarevic shot fire at the US embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The leader of Fukan at the time, Abid Podbicanin, condemned Jasarevic’s action.

Fukan is also known as an alternative mosque working outside the two official Islamic Communities that operate in Serbia, and Jasarevic was its member. After the division in 2007, there are now two communities officially working in Serbia, the Islamic Community of Serbia and Islamic Community in Serbia.

The headquarters of the Islamic Community of Serbia is based in Belgrade since some 200,000 Muslims live in Serbia’s capital city. The Islamic Community in Serbia is based in Novi Pazar, and it gravitates towards Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The vacuum created after the division of the Islamic Community was partially “seized” by alternative mosques. In some of them, radical Islam is preached.

However, Fukan faced no consequences. It just moved its headquarters to a different part of Novi Pazar and continues to operate. So far, only one indictment was raised by the Special Prosecution for Organized Crime against recruiting fighters for ISIS.

The Prosecution raised charges in 2014 against a group of five for recruiting Muslims for the Syrian war, for planning terrorist actions, and maintaining ties with ISIS and Al Nusra Front. The members of the group are from Belgrade and Novi Pazar.

The Minister of Internal Affairs Nebojsa Stefanovic said on Monday that 28 Serbian citizens are currently fighting in Iraq and Syria, and that the goal of the police is to decrease recruitment of potential terrorists. 

“Our suggestion to the EU was to form some sort of a regional center for de-radicalization,” said Stefanovic, despite the fact that this problem has existed in Serbia for years.

At the OSCE workshop on prevention of violent extremism, Stefanovic said that investments in youth are necessary to keep them away from extremism.

“Regional cooperation is needed because there are no linguistic barriers in the Balkans, so it is easy to cross from one country to another,” said Stefanovic.

The U.S. Ambassador in Serbia Kyle Randolph Scott said on the same occasion that ISIS has a doctrine and strategy for the Balkans, and that all countries in the region are at risk of terrorism.

“ISIS has officially adopted a propaganda strategy for the Balkan region, and in this strategy, ISIS is using the language of the region and social networks platforms for recruitment,” said Scott.

Senka Vlatkovic Odavic

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