Religious Propaganda Threatening Kosovo
Dangerous contents promoting political islam, religious extremism, including “holy war” (jihad) for the establishment of an islamic state and disrespect for the Constitution of the country are still present on hundreds of websites on Albanian language
Dangerous contents promoting political islam, religious extremism, including “holy war” (jihad) for the establishment of an islamic state and disrespect for the Constitution of the country are still present on hundreds of websites on Albanian language
In the research performed by the Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub led by Metamorphosis Foundation, KALLXO.com discovered that in the course of 2022, hundreds of contents promoting political islam, produced or translated in Albanian language, were published on the Internet and shared on the social networks.
Although security agencies claim that they have closed down hundreds such sites, many of the published material is still publicly available.
While security institutions proceed dealing with such contents, the Government needs to adopt a Strategic Plan to address this kind of narrative with counter-narrative and with a delegitimizing approach.
The statement given by a politician not recognizing the Constitution of Kosovo and calling for the inclusion of religion and legalizing head-coverings in schools was shared on 174 sites on the social networks.
The 2022 research of posts indicates that posts promoting narratives related to Muslim victimization in Kosovo and in the world are predominant.
Data shows that head-covering in school initiative was shared – no more and no less -37 thousand times on the Facebook network.
KALLXO.com discovered that 2500 posts were published on Facebook network on the basis of statements given by a representative who promotes family relations according to the “Shia” branch of the Islam. This representative was Ikballe Huditi, who was quoted in 2500 posts and she also posted photographs of Iran, next to the former leader Ahmadi Nejad.
The term “political Islam” in Oxford’s dictionary refers to any interpretation of Islam that serves as a basis for political identity and action. More specifically, it refers to movements representing modern political mobilization in the name of Islam, a trend that emerged in the late 20th century. Every movement striving to takeover power and to build state laws based on the foundations of religion are called political Islam.
At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, dozens of Kosovars were educated in religious schools in the Middle East. Some of these schools promoted political Islam as the sole solution for global problems.
KALLXO.com discovered that some of the persons educated in the Middle East were convicted by the courts in Kosovo for financing and inciting terrorism.
The analysis performed by the Antiterrorist Unit of Kosovo Police indicates that promoting extremism and terrorism started towards the end of 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, initially by translating literature and lectures promoting other branches of the Islam, followed by the promotion of the branches themselves by using directly the teachings of the imams.
With the expansion of Internet use, the propaganda is directed towards a limited number of websites, especially on closed fora. The development of technology and the platforms on social media and other communication applications, however, propaganda in terms of spreading extremist ideologies focused on these applications, always selecting he latest applications, responds the Police on the basis of the research performed by the Anti-terrorism Unit.
Data shows that more than 400 Kosovars joined the terrorist organization ISIS as well as other organizations fighting in Syria. According to Public Prosecution of Kosovo, one of the recruitment strategies used was propaganda.
The essence of the narrative used was victimization of Muslims and the call to end victimization by means of violent jihad, followed by denying European values, calls against the Constitutional order, promoting violence as the sole form for problem-solving, attempt to impose social norms, slandering the image of religious leaders, disobeying the government and the judicial system, attempts to change the economic system, as well as attempts to promote new branches of Islam. All these are part of the narratives that resonated strongly with the public last year.
Regardless of the arrests of the Kosovo Police, KALLXO.com discovered that the promotion of jihad continued, usually on the websites located in the birth places of people who joined the war in Syria.
Palestinian mother holding her son who fell shahid (inshaAlah) yesterday, this was the message published on the Facebook page ”Hani i Elezit si Paris”.
The message posted on this Facebook page is part of the propaganda promoting jihad and death as political sacrifice accompanied by a photograph of a mother carrying a coffin on a funeral in Palestine, yet a happy mother.
Her face is smiling because she believes that her beloved son is not dead but alive feeding in his Lord. Her son, who was killed yesterday, in a voice message sent moments before his death, said: “Friends, soon I will become shahid (InshaAllah). I love my mom so much… says this post on the Facebook page ”Hani i Elezit si Paris”.
Elez Han (General Jankovic) is a municipality in the Reopublic of Kosovo with approximately 10 thousand inhabitants. More than 20 citizens from this municipality went to fight in the wars in Syria and Iraq. The neighbouring municipality of Elez Han is Kacanik where part of the propaganda was born that had an impact on the recruitment of people for ISIS.
The biggest terrorist group of the 21st century – ISIS, managed to equip a newsroom and have editors in Albanian language, thereby sending much more serious threats to the citizens and Balkan states apart from propaganda.
No doubt, one of the persons accused for making the biggest problems and contributing to the hybrid war is Ardit Ferizi from Gjakova. He was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in the United States of America for acts of terrorism. Ferizi (25) is a subject of Kosovo who was deported from Malaysia to USA in 2016 to face terrorism charges. He was found guilty for unauthorized computer access to information which he sent to a terrorist group. The data mainly referred to American troops and government officials which he then gave to representatives of the so-called Islamic State (IS).
Ferizi was released in December 2020 and his deportation to Kosovo was ordered once he managed to obtain early release due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Shortly after this case, IS published the data on twitter network warning that “your brother will be attacked, your country”.
In June 2015, ISIS threatened the Albanians living on the Balkans for the first time. In the recently posted online propaganda video with the logo of “Alhayat Media Center”, known as the medium of ISIS, the threats are directed towards Balkan countries.
The video is approximately 20 minutes and two people are talking in Albanian language describing the Albanians as threatening atheists.
The two Albanian-speaking persons in the video are presented as Al-Abani and Al-Kosova, i.e., one from Albania and the other from Kosovo. Addressing the citizens of Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia, but also other Balkan countries, they say:
Black days are coming for you. We are not forgetting what you did to Muslims; you will be afraid to walk the streets; you will be afraid to work in your offices; you will be terrified even in your homes. We will do with you the same that we did in Iraq with its army. We will come with people who prefer death to life. We will fight until we spread the word of Allah in that country and that will happen soon.
In addition, in October 2015, a message arrived to Balkan media warning the prime-ministers of the Balkans, including the Prime-minister of Albania. They threatened to attack Balkan countries, and the first to be warned were the prime-ministers of the countries with the following message:
Islamic State is coming to the Balkans. We are warning you that we have not forgotten what their leaders and assistants did to our brothers and sisters on the Balkans. No doubt that all over Skopje, Tirana, we have supporters and brothers and sisters who are thirsty for blood. It would be good to protect these prime-ministers. The Calif is coming to the Balkans where we have many blood-thirsty brothers. We are telling Putin to bring in soldiers so that we can return to him their heads, says the message sent by a person named Abu Turab.
ISIS had its newsroom in Albanian language, and published the material and announcements through the website “hilafeti.wordpress“, welcoming terrorist attacks and glorifying terrorist attacks in Western countries.
Apart from the newsroom that produced such contents, IS also had physical recruits.
One of the cases of the Special Prosecution of the Republic of Kosovo calls for responsibility for recruiting terrorists of the former imam of the mosque El-Kudus in Gjilan, Zekerja Qazimi, who was educated in Cairo, Egypt.
It is enough just to see the names of those who went to Syria to conclude that Zekerja Qazimi was successful, said the Special Prosecutor Elez Bljakaj in his closing statement on Qazimi’s trial.
According to the Special Prosecution of Kosovo, since the beginning of the war in Syria in 2011, Qazimi started with religious teachings within the organization “Islamic Youth” in Kacanik. The importance of jihad was the main topic of these lectures i.e., one hour of fighting was equal to 30 hours of praying.
Most of the members of this organization in Kacanik, including Lavdrim Muhaxheri, ended up in the war zone, joining Al Nusra and ISIS.
According to the Prosecution, Qazimi was also teaching in Gjilan and Elez Han, talking about “Bilad al-Sham” as well as the significance of joining ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra.
In June 2014, according to the Prosecution, Qazimi made a decision to appoint Ridvan Akifi leader of the Albanians in Syria instead of Lavdrim Muhaxheri.
Apart from recruiting for terrorism, Qazimi was accused for comitting the criminal act inciting hatred. The Prosecution accused him for publicly inciting and spreading religious hatred while he was imam in the mosque El-Kudus in Gjilan by means of publishing on YouTube a video saying “the blood of the unbelievers is the best drink for us” back in 2013.
Qazimi was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, together with 6 other persons accused for actions related to terrorism.
The intention of ISIS newsroom was to show in continuity presence of the organization in Kosovo. A group of this organization was arrested during the attempt to develop material showing armed men reading the ISIS oath.
The case known as “Badovac” shows how five persons with the intention to create a propaganda video as to prove the spreading of ISIS in Kosovo in the vicinity of Badovac Lake from water is supplied to half of Pristina.
According to the indictment, in 2015, the five persons accused went to Badovac Lake near Pristina for the purpose of creating a propaganda video, planning to read the oath of the leader of the terrorist organization “Islamic State”, known by the abbreviation ISIS.
In July 2017, the Basic Court in Pristina found guilty and imposed imprisonment sentence of the accused in this case on the retrial. Besnik Latifi was sentenced 4 years and 6 months imprisonment, while Gazmend Haliti, Milazim Haxhiaj, and Enis Latifi were sentenced to 3 years and 6 months each. Fehmi Musa was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment, but afterwards was released by the Supreme Court of Kosovo.
Another similar case resulted from the investigation of the Special Prosecution of Kosovo that culminated in July 2016 with the arrest of two persons suspected for spreading terrorist propaganda in Kosovo.
The arrested person N.K from Peja was suspected as the founder of “Radio Ansar” that broadcasted the teachings of imams convicted for inciting terrorism. The voice of imam Zekerja Qazimi and imam Rexhep Memishi from Macedonia were part of the daily programmes of Radio Ansar.
For similar actions – but in another case – Rakip Avdili was arrested and sentenced to 17 months imprisonment for sharing jihad-called contents on YouTube. In the course of reading the indictment act, Prosecutor Merita Bina-Rugova presented the words of Avdili in a video titled “The Caliphate will come to the land of the eagles”. Avdili on the video, according to the Prosecutor, called for personal and group attacks, asking people to take arms and attack the government and embassies.
Another group of imams in Kosovo was arrested in 2014-2018. They were released because the Prosecution did not find incriminating evidence that their messages were calling for war.
One of the most followed imams on social networks is Shefqet Krasniqi with almost 400.000 followers on Facebook. Krasniqi was arrested in 2014, but set free once the Court determined that his teachings did not constitute a criminal act. In its response to the Court, the Islamic community said that Krasniqi’s speech was not in the spirit of the ICK.
Not accepting the Constitution of Kosovo
The Prosecution claimed that Shefqet Krasniqi’s teachings contained hate-speech. He allegedly said that the sect “Rafedi”, orinigating from Iran caused a great deal of evil and that its spirit reached Kosovo, first in Prizren, and then in Pristina.
In the meantime, according to the Prosecution’s dossier, the second video titled “Law on Syria and the call not to go”, one can hear Krasniqi criticizing Kosovo’s Members of Parliament for adopting the Law on Banning Citizens to Participate in Foreign Wars.
In the proceedings, Krasniqi said that it was his right to oppose the law banning participation in foreign wars because, according to him, the same thing was done by approximately 30 Members of the Parliament in Kosovo.
On the question of the Prosecution whether Krasniqi’s teachings were in compliance with the spirit of the Islamic Community of Kosovo, they answered both teachings concerned were not in the spirit of Islamic interpretation, nor the teachings, guidelines and principles of the religion.
Both teachings specified are not in the spirit of Islam and we believe that they are not in the traditional language. The crude language is not in compliance with the Constitution and the other rules of the Islamic Community, elaborates one of the answers of ICK.
23rd March 2018, Krasniqi was declared innocent, a decision that was confirmed by the Court of Appeals. He continues to be one of the most followed imams online and on social networks.
Another religious group was also accused for terrorist acts. They were released by means of a court decision. Imams Bedri Robaj, Idriz Bilibani, Enes Goga and Mazlam Mazlami (with more than 42 thousand followers on Facebook), as well as Fuad Ramiqi were accused for acts related to terrorism and calling for resistance.
According to the indictment, Bedri Robaj in the period from 2012 until August 2014 in Pristina, in an improvized mosque near “Termokos” where he served as an imam, during sermons and private teachings he supported jihad-martyrdom in Syria. The mosque near “Termokos” operated outside the jurisdiction of the Islam Community of Kosovo.
Idriz Bilibani (6.000 followers on Facebook) was accused for acting as an imam on religious events in mosques, for the non-governmental organization “El Bejan” and for other public events recorded on video in the period from 2012 until detained, in Prizen and in other places in Kosovo thereby transmitting encouraging messages for persons to join the terrorist organization “Al Nusra” in Syria.
On the other hand, Enes Goga (27 thousand followers on Facebook) was accused for acting as an imam in Peja during a religious lecture in front of the belivers of Peja. 10th March 2014, through “Audionur” he publicly incited hatred towards Christian religious groups which was broadcasted on YouTube, accessible to a large number of people.
Fuad Ramiqi was accused for calling for resistance towards judicial institutions since the beginning of September 2014 through his public acts in the media, television, newspapers and social networks.
According to the Prosecution, the accused Bedri Robaj and Idriz Bilibani committed the criminal act of inciting terrorist actions, while the other suspects Enes Goga and Mazlam Mazlami were accused for committing the crime of inciting hatred, division or national, racial, religious or ethnic intolerance.
The released parties are still quite present on the social networks.
Years after that, in 2022, the former President of LISBA, Fuad Ramiqi, in a television debate said that he did not recognize the Constitiution of Kosovo because it was not in compliance with his principles.
I do not recognize this Constitution because it does not suit me, he said.
His message was taken over and shared on dozens of pages of the social media.
Ramiqi started to show up in the media again after the incident when an imam was attacked in the municipality Besiane. In the debate he mentioned the accusation that the security institutions were against the Islam and a very serious accustaion was directed towards the Islamic Community of Kosovo.
His interview was shared on 174 pages on social networks. The interview, inter alia, creates a narrative against the imams in the country.
In Kosovo, Islam is least present with the imams. They are all servile – 99 percent are servile towards the Government and abuse the Islamic community like oligarchs to hold onto their positions, stated Ramiqi.
Declaring imams as “heathen” or corrupt is one of the most severe forms of radicalization. Data of the penetentiary-correction services of Kosovo indicate that most of the prisoners convicted for terrorism refused to meet imams which was in line with the position of the Islamic Communist of Kosovo.
Widespread narratives in 2022
In the course of 2022, a number of extremist ideology related problems were registered.
In the region Besiane, an imam was beaten up, and several messages were recorded indicating propaganda against European values, constitutional order and other social values.
In mid 2022, a campaign was implemented against the singer Dua Lipa, who stands for European values. Dua Lipa is one of the most popular Albanian singers in the world.
She became an idol to millions of people in the world and a representative of successful Albanian girls reflecting the European spirit of the country.
When her support was culminating, she had a concert in Pristina. More than 100 posts on Facebook pages aimed at smearing her image by using a photograph of the mother of the heroe Adem Jashari, dressed with a traditional headscarf.
Imagine this women as the daughter of Dukagjin Lipa. Imagine her being born abroad, having all kinds of boyfriends, painter, making us “proud” with her music… would she be raising men like uncle Hamza and Adem, said the post.
This message was shared in over 100 posts aiming to demonize Lipa by calling her immoral.
The sources of the posts are unidentified, but on the basis of the contents shared one can see that they are Facebook pages promoting Islam branches that do not permit music and advocate wearing head-coverings.
Anti human rights narrative was produced on the occasion of the consultations of the Civc Code that provides for the recognition of same-sex civic community.
Reactions were observed when the Government of Kosovo decided to paint the building of the Government of Kosovo in the colours of the flag of the LGBTI community. One of the Vushtrri imams called it the flag of shame, while the country was responding against the parade.
Kosovo’s government tried to adopt a new Civic Code in the Parliament in 2022 that provided for the possiblity for same-sex persons to register their relationship.
The leaders of the four religious communities in Kosovo announced that they signed a joint statement demanding that the draft Civic Code does not include amendments related to marriage and family.
We see the aim at redefining marriage and its participants i.e., husband born as a male and a wife born as a female as direct intrusion of God’s will and the sacred blanket covering the whole human family that started as a man and a woman with the blessing and commandment of eternal reproduction, specified the announcement.
The narrative and the public response, as well as the opposed opinion of some Members of Parliament made the initiative for adopting a Civic Code futile, and the draft was returned for re-evaulation back to the Government.
One of the constant narratives mentioned is that the state of Kosovo is against the Muslims and prosecutes them.
In one of the debates, it was mentioned that the Kosovo Intelligence Agency and the Police are against Muslims, while court data shows that some of those convicted for terrorism did not recognize the court and accused the Police for violence against the Muslims.
Head-coverings in school initiatives
In the course of the year, several initiatives in the country proved the existence of attempts to spread Islam in educational institutions.
The attempts started with the demand to create praying rooms in schools as was the case with the school “Gjin Gazulli”. This initiative was unsuccessful.
In the course of the year, another debate took place on the topic of head-coverings in school.
The Ministry of Education adopted administrative guidelines banning the use of religious symbols, including head-coverings, in the schools country-wide in order to protect the secular feature of the pre-university educational system.
The legal expert, Durim Berisha, former advisor to Prime-minister Albin Kurti, submitted a formal request to the Ministry of Education to amend the alleged guidelines with the excuse that the document was violating human rights as well as the provisions of the European Convention.
Upon the submission of the request by a group of activists, including the activist Liridon Kurti from Mitrovica, a campaign for amending the guidelines started on the social networks. The campaign received over 20 thousand signatures and over 37 thousands shares on social networks.
Responding to KALLXO.com Kurti said that the initiative was directed towards implementing the European Convention on Human Rights.
The request and the campaign aimed at eliminating unlawful provisions (the same as what Prime-minister Kurti stressed that the aim was not to permit head-coverings in schools, but to eliminate unlawful obstacles, said Kurti in his response. The full response can be found on this link.
Another group on the social networks initiated another campaign to ban head-coverings in schools. This campaign had less supporters on the social networks.
Under public pressure, Albin Kurti came up with a new position related to head-coverings. He said that head-coverings should be permitted for those over 16 years.
After head-coverings were the main topic on social networks for several day, the Minister of Education, Arberie Nagavci, responded clearly that the guidelines will not be amended.
Imams with clearly expressed radical tendencies promote extreme domination of men over women. The language used promotes an approval that men have to provide to women for mobilty, work, visits etc. There is a narrative even in property-related issues advocating that women should not inherit property.
Narratives opposed to basic human rights and freedoms have been identified, such as the right to marriage. Sadullah Bajrami, an Albanian imam from Macedonia, teaches that girls should not be allowed to get married without the approval of their father. This message was shared on at least seven pages on the social networks with followers from Kosovo.
A similar narrative has the imam from Mitrovica, Irfan Salihu. He is quoted on social network posts as someone who said that girls should not get married without the approval of their fathers.
Apart from the family, narratives are spread against national holidays, traditional and pagan holidays.
Questions like – is it allowed to celebrate New Year, can one celebrate Halloween, is it permitted to mark holidays of national features apart from ethnic – incite fierce debates filled with hate-speech on the social networks.
The imam from Skopje, Rexhep Memishi, stated that those celebrating 7th March – Teachers’s Day – go beyond creed. He was convicted to seven years imprisonment by the Criminal Court Skopje. Apart from him, as part of the group, another six persons were convicted. They all confessed to the crime committed and in an agreement between the Prosecution and the Defence they were sentenced a lower sentence than expected. All 12 persons were arrested within the framework of the Police action “Cell”.
Narratives against other religions
Although Kosovo is known for its great tolerance for religion, there were cases of developed public discourse against historical figures of the Albanians such as Mother Teresa or Skenderbeu.
For example, in the beginning of 2022, the statement of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Albania, Paskal Milo, regarding the personality of Skenderbeu, was incorrectly quoted.
In a debate he said that Skenderbeu was born an Orthodox, while the media quoted him incorrectly in a headline saying that “Skenderbeu was a Slav”.
In addition, a video with abstracts of the statement given by Paskal Milo was also published. In his clarification, Milo said that his statement was twisted.
Do you know where the twist is? They cut separate parts from the 2-hour debate and edit them to create the impressions they wanted”, said Milo, adding that such editing was performed by Islamic radical circles present in Albania.
The video was published on YouTube from the website “TheOsmanlit”.
The page with the same title is operational on Facebook and posts pro-Muslim and pro-Russian posts from the war in Ukraine.
The construction of the cathedral “Mother Teresa” was proceded by the first protest for erracting a mosque in the yard of the University in Pristina opposite the cathedral “Mother Teresa”. Part of the Muslim community expressed public demand to building a large mosque within the campus of the University in Pristina, opposite the cathedral.
A participant of this protest was Lavdrim Muhaxheri, who joined the terrorist organization ISIS later on. The cause to build a mosque in the centre of Pristina was taken over by the Movement for Unification – LISBA, led by Fuad Ramiqi. Later on this initiative was headed by the Islamic Community Kosovo.
Part of the anti-public discourse in Kosovo is the issue of converting into Islam faith. Quite common was for such cases to be pompously presented and then shared by the whole network of websites thereby gaining greater resonance.
The news about the conversion of a German woman in Mitrovica, as stated in the platform Crowdtangle, was shared over 100 times on various websites.
Spirit of Iran
Ikballe Huduti, supporter of the Iranian “Shia” spirit that is not recognized by the Islamic Community Kosovo, received extreme attention due to the statement made about marriages.
In addition, Huduti, following the murder of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, in an drone-attack by the American Army, shared a post on her Facebook profile with contents that, allegedly, contained revenge calls.
Iraqi people took to the streets of Iraq immediately after the American crime to strongly condemn injustice inflicted on two eminent persons in Iraq and Iran, their two generals, General Soleimani and General Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. God give patience, because if you kill the owner of the house, it is just like killing all members of the house and then revenge becomes an obligation, and there is no limits”, is her quoted post from 4th January 2020.
Huduti was arrested in 2020, but soon released as innocent. Only in 2022, at least 2,539 posts on Facebook mentioned her name and she was invited to speak in more than 20 TV programmes. Her positions were opposed by the imams of the ICK.
Huduti’s husband is known as a person dealing with sales of property. The report of Global Initiative “Illicit Financial Flows in Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia” specifies the property sector as a place for money-laundering.
Huduti has almost 38 thousand followers on the “TikTok” network, while 87 posts with contents against her have been registered on the platform “Crowdtangle”.
Narratives related to the prohibition of taking up loans, interest rates or economic structuring of the country are also present in the public discourse. These narratives are often accompanied by examples of how other countries beyond Kosovo, with other governance models such as the Turkish model, have been successful because they oppose interest rates that, according to the religion, are forbidden.
Source of propaganda
The strategic documents up to date, including the Strategy on Prevention of Extremism and Terrorism, identify Internet as a dangerous source of violent extremism and terrorism.
Subsequently, in the period 2012 – 2022, the security institutions of Kosovo closed down hundreds of sites and platforms sharing material deemed part of the propaganda promoting political Islam and religious terrorism.
Some of the closed sites and platforms were online radio channels on YouTube and social network sites such as Facebook, where banned contents was shared.
The analyses undertaken by the Anti-terrorist Unit indicate that the initial material was in hard copy. In the years after the war, translated books and brochures with political Islam messages were disseminated in the country. They managed to be digitalized and today they are accessible online.
In some cases, Kosovo Police identified sources of funding that involved people from other countries, including developed countries, but also at least one case of propaganda from a specific country. Nevertheless, the issue of funding remains a challenge, not only for the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo, but also for the developed countries, states the response of the Police.
Data also shows that a change in the approach and in the sources of such information happened.
Initially, the contents of the so-called religious learned people from the Middle East countries were predominate. Then, in the beginning of the conflict in Syria and Iraq, the propaganda substance, mainly, contained elements and images from these conflict areas. In recent years, material in Albanian language or translated material with headlines in Albanian language have been noted, claims the response of the Police.
Next year, the Government of Kosovo, within the framework of the Anti-terrorism Strategy, provided for the devlopment of a strategy aiming at identifying and fighting against extreme narratives.
Notice: The text has been edited and supplemented in the part referring to head-covering in schools initiative. The data supplemented from this initiative stems from the statement given by Liridon Kurti, including his response to the article.