The instability of the Balkan countries, the growth of Salafi Islam and their proximity to Western Europe has made this region an important target in the strategy of the Islamic State, according to the Terrorism Monitor (Oct. 2), a newsletter published by the Jamestown Foundation. During the past two years, over 1,000 foreign fighters from the Balkan nations have joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. During the past year, authorities in the region have conducted a series of arrests of imams charged with facilitating recruitment for terrorism. Ebi Spahiu writes that radical imams and similar groups are filling the vacuum left by the lack of credibility of state institutions, while also replacing moderate religious leaders. There are reports of increased loyalty to Islam and Salafist imams by youth.
Hardliners sympathetic to the Islamic State have established a physical presence in the region. They have purchased vacant real estate deserted by the warring factions during the ethnic conflicts of the 1990s, and have marked their presence by displaying flags of the Islamic State and other radical groups. There is fear that radical Islamic groups may combine with criminal gang activity; hints of this could be seen in the south of Albania where cannabis production and export has attracted a group of youth also implicated in a series of explosions near the village of Lazarat. The five men charged showed support for the Islamic State while leading “glamorous lives, involving expensive cars and Mediterranean trips.”
(Terrorist Monitor, http://www.jamestown.org/programs/tm/)