Bosnia arrests 16 would-be fighters, Balkans move against jihadists

Sarajevo (AFP) - Bosnian police arrested 16 people Wednesday on charges of joining European-based Islamists and helping them travel to fight in Syria and Iraq.

"Sixteen people were arrested" in an operation across the capital Sarajevo and several other Bosnian towns, said Kristina Jozic, a spokeswoman for the state police agency SIPA.

"They are suspected of having recruited, organised and financed the departure of Bosnian nationals to Syria or Iraq, or of taking part in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq alongside foreign radical terrorist organisations and groups," Jozic said.

Bosnia passed a law in April allowing for prison terms of up to 10 years for convicted Islamist radicals and their recruiters.

Officials estimate that around 150 Bosnian citizens have joined Islamist groups fighting in Iraq and Syria and that 20 have been killed there.

Bosnian Muslims make up 40 percent of the country's 3.8 million inhabitants, most of whom practise a moderate form of Islam.

However, during the 1992-1995 war between Croats, Muslims and Serbs, a large number of jihadist volunteers came to Bosnia, often staying on in the country.

- Death threats to Kosovo journalist -

In neighbouring Kosovo, authorities have also been fighting the rising extremism among its 1.78 million ethnic Albanians, the majority of them Muslim.

The majority practice moderate Islam and keep strong political links with the Western world.

Forty-five ethnic Albanians suspected of links to the Islamic State jihadists in Iraq and Syria have been arrested, while 16 have been killed on the frontlines in Syria and Iraq.

Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders called on Kosovo authorities Wednesday to protect a journalist who has received death threats for repeatedly drawing attention to the rise of Muslim extremism.

"Reporters Without Borders is extremely concerned about Visar Duriqi, a Kosovar journalist specialising in political Islam, and calls on the Kosovo interior ministry to provide him with protection," the group said in a statement.

It said "Duriqi's coverage of Islamic issues and religious extremism has been a source of annoyance in radical circles".

"The threats should be taken seriously," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

Duriqi has written a series of articles investigating how young Kosovo Muslims were persuaded by extreme imams to go to Syria to join jihadist groups.

He told AFP he had "received numerous threats, notably via Facebook."

"In some of these threats I was threatened with beheading. I hope that police will react swiftly since I don't feel safe," he said.

Duriqi spoke a day after the Islamic State militants released a video showing beheading of a second US journalist.

According to local intelligence reports, some 150 volunteer jihadists from Kosovo are also believed to be fighting in Syria on the side of rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.

In neighbouring Macedonia on Wednesday, the parliament amended the country's penal code introducing prison terms of at least five years for nationals who fight in foreign armies, police or paramilitary groups.

Albania, which has a Muslim majority, has also adopted a law introducing jail terms of up to 15 years for its nationals who fight abroad for foreign groups.

Serbia was also to amend its penal code and introduce jail terms for similar acts.