In recent months, the “Albanian world,” which consists of five contiguous states (Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro), has been increasingly interested in what is happening in Syria and the controversy over whether Albanians should go fight there.
This coincided with the growth of political Islam, which in the past few weeks expressed itself in an unprecedented way with the emergence of Kosovo’s first officially registered Islamist political party: the Islamic Movement to Unite (LISBA). It is headed by Arsim Krasniqi and supported by Sheikh Shaukat Krasniqi and a former Yugoslavian army officer, Fuad Ramiqi. The latter made no secret of his goal to change Kosovo’s secular constitution in order to “defend the Islamic identity of Kosovo’s Albanians, who make up 95% of the population.”
There has long been behind-the-scenes talk that young Albanians, influenced by political Islam’s rise in Syria, are participating in the fighting there among the ranks of Islamist groups (Jabhat al-Nusra and others). When news emerged in November 2012 that the first Albanian martyr, Naaman Damoli, had fallen in Syria, the Kosovar newspaper Koha Ditore brought that issue to light in its Nov. 12, 2012, issue.
From Kosovo to Syria via Sweden
Koha Ditore returned to that subject in its March 13, 2013, issue when 22-year-old Mohammed Koprona became the 10th Albanian martyr to die in Syria. The story’s headline was: “Syria’s land is soaking in Albanian blood.” According to unidentified “intelligence sources,” many martyrs in Syria are Albanians from Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and Serbia (Preševo valley). But Koprona’s case was unique. During the “great exit,” he migrated with his family from Kosovo to Sweden, where he grew up in a liberal European atmosphere. He suddenly fell under radical Islam’s influence and was recruited to fight with Islamist groups in Syria, where dozens of Albanians are fighting.
The intelligence sources mentioned some of the names of Albanians killed in Syria (such as Naaman Damoli from Kosovo and Moussa Ahmadi from Serbia). Others are known by their noms-de-guerre such as Abu Omar al-Albani, who was one of four Albanian martyrs. The intelligence sources also mentioned Mounir and Bahloul al-Arnaout, who were killed by the Syrian army in Qadam. The intelligence sources also revealed that the number of Albanians in Syria stands at about 140. They are fighting among the Islamist groups in northern Syria.
By publishing this information for the first time, Koha Ditore was sharply criticizing the Kosovar government led by Hashim Thaci for remaining silent as young Kosovars fight alongside Islamist groups in Syria and the effect that phenomenon has on Kosovo: These young people will return home with military experience inspired by the spirit of jihad.
On April 13, 2013, the newspaper Shekulli reported on the issue by relying on “Kosovar security sources.” The newspaper quoted its sources as saying that “many Kosovo citizens are traveling to Syria to join the Syrian rebels in fighting Assad’s regime.” The paper said that Kosovo security sources have put their finger on two Kosovo mosques (Makovitz mosque in the outskirts of Pristina and Mitrovica mosque) that are gathering Albanians to go fight with the Islamists in Syria.
Because many local observers are accusing the new Islamist party LISBA of being involved in Syria, the paper spoke with LISBA’s leader Arsim Krasniqi, who had donated a plot of land to build the Makovitz mosque. Krasniqi denied that his party was recruiting fighters but admitted that “[fighters] are going [to Syria] on an individual basis, not as part of a group. … I support those who are participating in fighting Assad’s regime.”
There is no doubt that opening this file by Kosovar and Albanian newspapers has revealed that the secular world is worried about this phenomenon. In other words, political Islam worries “official” Islam. The latter is represented by al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya, which represents the Muslims vis-a-vis the state and cares for their religious and cultural affairs. In this context, the position of al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya, which is headed by Sheikh Naim Tarnafa, calls during its Friday sermons to donate money for the Syrian refugees in Turkey and elsewhere.