As the Islamic State loses control over territory and jihadists return home, there is panic about the role these former fighters may assume in host communities. According to analysts, Kosovo has been one of the largest per-capita contributors of European fighters to ISIS, and the government considers potential attacks to be a key national security threat.
Historically, Kosovo has a tradition as a liberal society with a 95 percent Muslim majority. The republic is officially listed as a secular country and is proud of its multi-religious character. In 1999, the United States spearheaded an 11-week NATO aerial campaign that paved the way for Kosovo’s contested independence from Serbia a decade later, cultivating a strong love for America. Yet only five years after that, a country with avenues named for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush was losing its young people to ISIS and burning flags of the very forces that helped it achieve freedom from the Milosevic regime.
Once the state realized the extent of Kosovar involvement in Islamist terrorist groups in Syria, it cracked down hard. Today, Kosovo appears to have backed away from the jihadism precipice. As of August, 2018, Kosovo was the only country in the Balkans with a drafted rehabilitation plan to treat returnees in the prison system, and is very active in punitive efforts to counter Islamic extremism.
Now, shortly after Kosovo celebrated its 10th year of independence, Islamist extremism is among the most controversial and important issues in analyzing the direction of the fragile state. Investigating Islamic extremism in Kosovo, a nexus between the Muslim world and the Christian-heritage West, is vital in examining whether Kosovo will move closer or further from the EU specifically, and the West more generally.