- Title: Remorseful Kosovo militants fight youth radicalisation
- Date: 2nd October 2016
- Summary: PRISTINA, KOSOVO (SEPTEMBER 28, 2016) (REUTERS) SECURITY EXPERT, BURIM RAMADANI WALKING IN DOWNTOWN PRISTINA (SOUNDBITE) (Albanian) SECURITY EXPERT, BURIM RAMADANI, SAYING: "The legal punishment (for former Islamist fighters) should translate into isolation because it may further radicalise them." VARIOUS OF PEOPLE IN STREET
- Embargoed: 17th October 2016 13:47
- Keywords: Islamic State IS Syria Iraq war conflict
- Location: PRISTINA AND FERIZAJ, KOSOVO
- City: PRISTINA AND FERIZAJ, KOSOVO
- Country: Kosovo
- Topics: Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA00352B9RV9
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:Over the past four years, Kosovo has contributed more fighters per head of population to the conflict in Iraq and Syria than any other European country. More than 300 Kosovars have left for the Middle East and at least 50 have died there.
In response to European and United States pressure to do more to stem the flow, Kosovo last year passed a stringent law prescribing up to 15 years' jail for anyone fighting in foreign wars.
But stiff jail terms are not the answer, say a group of returnees who trained to fight alongside Islamic State.
A group of them have set up a charity dedicated to persuading potential Islamic State recruits not to leave and help those that return to re-integrate.
"To those who are there (in Syria and Iraq), you cannot offer them two solutions: to go to jail or die in the war because those who are fighting will say it's better to die than go to jail. We want to give these people... to tell them that there is a third solution - reintegration and re-socialisation,'' said Albert Berisha one of the co-founders of the Institute for Security, Integration and De-Radicalisation.
Three years ago, Liridon Kabashi was in the Middle East, training to fight alongside Islamic State. Now back home in Kosovo, he and fellow returnees are working to stop others from choosing the same path.
"Our presence there (in Syria and Iraq) makes more harm than good. They don't need foreign soldiers, we can only harm these people,'' said 29-year old highlighting the kinds of practical messages he uses to dissuade people from leaving.
At least 70 Kosovars are still believed to be in the war zone, and the prospect of a jail sentence will discourage them from coming home, says Albert Berisha, also 29, awaiting the outcome of his appeal against a three and a half year sentence.
Experts echo that message, saying that militants, once isolated in prison from mainstream Kosovar society, may simply become further radicalised.
Kosovo's Muslims are largely secular, a legacy of 50 years as part of officially atheist Yugoslavia, but an influx of Gulf money into religious charities and mosques after the war has helped propagate a more fundamentalist reading of the faith.
Berisha said he returned home as soon as he realised he was set to fight alongside Islamic State, not the rival group he had expected to join. Kabashi said he was given training but never took part in fighting.
They are seeking funding from the European Union and Western governments to take his message to other young returnees.
The government has also launched programmes to rehabilitate returnees after they serve their time.
While it is too soon to judge the impact of Kabashi's group, which has only recently started operating, it may be helping the government discourage new militants going to the Middle East -authorities say they have no record of anyone heading to fight in Syria and Iraq this year.
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