The Balkansight’s Haris Fazliu wrote in a recent report that while researching Bringing Down the Digital Caliphate - Breaking the ISIS Brand (under review), for the International Center for The Study of Violent Extremism, ICSVE, he discovered that convicted terrorists in Macedonia linked to ISIS continue to share propaganda online.
Extremists currently behind the bars in Macedonian prisons freely use smartphones to watch videos, like photos and even contribute to discussions related to ISIS while some also threaten critics of ISIS and possibly spend a lot of time to communicate with fellow ISIS supporters.
Hence, according to the report, jails serve as breeding ground for extremist recruiters and Macedonia is no exception especially as social media platforms are the terrorist groups’ most powerful tool in recruiting and spreading its ideology.
The report notes that Macedonian jails have the potential to become ISIS hubs especially that the government has securitized the issue of ISIS returnees, and has no de-radicalization strategy in place.
The Balkansight’s reporter uncovered that he has identified six Facebook accounts that belong to convicted ISIS recruiters, funders and participants and that the names match with those arrested in Operation Cell which was a 2015 police crackdown on ISIS returnees.
Analyzing the profile of one of these accounts, the individual had posted “selfies” in his cell. His friends’ comments also indicated that he was incarcerated - posts wished for his early release.
In a comment, the individual stated that he had been in ISIS, presumably in Syria, and had wanted to remain in the so-called Caliphate.
The report underscored the importance of measures to combat terrorism, pointing out that there are no Macedonian correctional facilities or procedures carried out by the Ministry of Interior to combat radicalization in jails. Also, it said that the Macedonian authorities must work harder to stop radicalization from continuing in the country’s prisons.
Furthermore, the report pointed out that many experts in the field of Countering Violent Extremism, CVE, agree that not all returnees are defectors, but still believe in the ISIS ideology.
Moreover, the report stated that NGOs trying to work in communities at risk of radicalization, to counter the rise of extremism, are alone in this battle and that there are a few local researchers working on CVE but are reluctant on whether they should publish their research because of societal backlash.
Earlier in 2015, the Macedonian newspaper ‘Nova Makedonija’ reported that around 130 citizens from Macedonia and Serbia are fighting alongside ISIS in Iraq and Syria.