The historical, cultural, geopolitical, and socio-economic factors behind violent extremism in Kosovo, and why a disproportionately high number of radicalized fighters from the country are operating in Syria and Iraq are addressed in a new USIP report from Adrian Shtuni. In the latter case, Shtuni believes the flow is a symptom of a larger religious militancy problem within Kosovo itself:
- Kosovo, a country with no prior history of religious militancy, has become a prime source of foreign fighters in the Iraqi and Syrian conflict theater relative to population size.
- About three in four Kosovan adults known to have traveled to Syria and Iraq since 2012 were between seventeen and thirty years old at the time of their departure. By mid-2016, about 37 percent had returned.
- The vast majority of these known foreign fighters have moderate formal education. In comparative terms, this rate appears to be superior to the reported national rate. Two-thirds live in average or above-average economic circumstances.
- Five municipalities—four of which are near Kosovo’s Macedonian border—judging from their disproportionately high recruitment and mobilization rate, appear particularly vulnerable to violent extremism. More than one-third of the Kosovan male combatants originate from these municipalities, which account for only 14 percent of the country’s population.
- Long-term and targeted radicalization, recruitment, and mobilization efforts by foreign-funded extremist networks have been primarily active in southern Kosovo and northwestern Macedonia for more than fifteen years. These networks have often been headed by local alumnae of Middle Eastern religious institutions involved in spreading an ultra-conservative form of Islam infused with a political agenda.
- Despite substantial improvements in the country’s sociopolitical reality and living conditions since the 1998–1999 Kosovo War, chronic vulnerabilities have contributed to an environment conducive to radicalization.
- Frustrated expectations, the growing role of political Islam as a core part of identity in some social circles, and group dynamics appear to be the telling drivers of radicalization, recruitment, and mobilization in Kosovo.