Kosova vs. Iranians and ISIS by Stephen Schwartz

The Weekly Standard Blog June 30, 2015

The flag of the Albanian nation.

The flag of the Albanian nation.

On Wednesday, June 24, as reported by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), a foreign-funded news agency, the government of Kosova sent police to raid the offices of five Iranian-controlled non-governmental organizations in the Balkan country.

Kosova authorities said the five entities are suspected of money laundering and financing terrorism, and that action against them conforms to a state anti-extremist strategy. “The raids are tied to a case that is being investigated . . . , with the goal of preventing and fighting terrorism in the Republic of Kosova,” an official representative said.

Two targets of the police sweep were previously identified in the Kosova online portal Express, by investigative reporter Visar Duriqi. They are “Bregu i Diellit” (Sunny Hill) in Prishtina, the Kosova capital, and the Koran Foundation in Prizren, the country’s main southern city and a center of Muslim and Christian religious life.

Express, which takes a strong line against all forms of radical Islam, was the main media source in the latest incidents. Duriqi, following threats to him and allegations that he is an apostate from Islam, now lives in Germany.

The other NGOs targeted by police are in Prishtina and Prizren. They include, in Prishtina, “Nisa” (Beginning) and “Ibni Sina,” named for the 10th-century Persian philosopher and physician known in the West as Avicenna. Ehli-Bejt in Prizren is additionally under scrutiny.

According to BIRN, all of the groups are financed by Iran to disseminate Shia beliefs. The Albanian lands are the only part of Europe aside from the scrap of Turkey on the western side of the Bosphorus and some parts of Bulgaria where indigenous Shia Muslims are found, mainly as members of the Bektashi Sufi order. But like other Albanians, the Bektashi Sufis are enthusiastically pro-American and pro-Israel, and have snubbed approaches to them by Iranian diplomats from Albania. Iran has diplomatic relations with Albania but not with Kosova, and the NGOs may be seen as cover for activities that would otherwise be financed by recognized Iranian emissaries.

The main participants in Iranian efforts in Kosova are a mother, Ikballe Huduti-Berisha, who became a Shia, and her daughter, Zehra Huduti. A native of Prizren, Zehra Huduti made herself notorious by visiting Iran three years ago and telling that country’s Nasr TV she had come to fight against Israel and America. Her mother Ikballe gained attention by posting a photograph of herself from Iranian media, with former hard-line Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on her Facebook page.

Express and BIRN stated that Ikballe Huduti-Berisha and her husband Asllan Berisha run a real-estate business while recruiting Kosovars to fight for Iran-backed causes.

BIRN declared that “Bregu i Diellit,” which is the name of a neighborhood in Prishtina, operates a dormitory for Iran supporters, with the rest of the NGOs involved in publishing and other outreach favoring Shiism.

Kosova is notable in monitoring the activities of the Iranians as well as those of Islamic State (ISIS) agents. The Kosova government has launched a social media campaign to counter all forms of religious fanaticism. Albanian media in south Serbia estimate that 250 of their coethnics, from Albania, Kosova, Macedonia, and other territories with Albanian communities, have departed for Syria to fight in ISIS.

Kosova and Albania, as well as nearby Bosnia-Hercegovina, have criminalized involvement in fundraising, recruitment, or battlefield activities by ISIS. Kosova and Albania are secular states. Last year more than 50 prominent Sunni Muslim radicals in Kosova were detained.

The Kosova news portal Lajm [News] reported on June 15 that Kosova security agencies learned Albanians fighting for ISIS have ordered their adherents in Kosova and Macedonia to carry out violent assaults in Prishtina, in Skopje/Shkupi, the Macedonian capital, and in other cities in both countries.

ISIS jihadists, according to the Albanian sources, were instructed to cause as much material damage and as many human casualties as possible, regardless of the victims’ religious affiliations.

At the beginning of June, the Al-Hayat Media Center, the ISIS propaganda arm, released a video in Albanian by two men calling themselves Abu Bilqis Al-Albani and Abu Muqatil Al-Kosova. They threatened “unbelievers” and “idol-worshipers,” in “Kosova, Macedonia, Albania, and the entire Balkans,” with Abu Muqatil ranting, “do not think we have forgotten the wrongs you commit against Muslims. Do not think we have forgotten the alienation from Allah you have imposed . . . the humiliation you have brought to the religion of Allah. Allah will bring a black day to you. Allah will make you afraid to walk down the street or to work in your offices. Fear and sorrow will afflict your homes, and even your dreams as you sleep. We will treat you as we do in Iraq with the [Shia] army. We will defeat you by Allah. I will kill you with Allah’s permission.”