Hundreds of family members of Albanian so-called jihadists from Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia live under the shadow of what their relatives have done, stigmatized and hated by others, and given no official support.
More than 315 people from Kosovo, 120 from Albania and over 100 from Macedonia have joined the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq over the past few years. At least 65 of them were killed in the fighting, leaving their families in an even worse plight, sources reported.
The sons of these families went to fight for ISIS in Syria or Iraq, and some even had children in the conflict zone - then they were killed, leaving their impoverished relatives in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia to suffer.
According to the source, Demolli, a 67-year-old from Pristina, said that he tried to stop his son from leaving.
“I informed the police, asking them to arrest him so that he could not go there. However, he managed to escape the police search while I was not at home, and he left with his wife and with three children,” he explained.
Burim Demolli was killed two months later, and now his father is searching for the ones who were left alive, his grandson and two granddaughters, who have remained in Syria.
His daughter-in-law, Edona Demolli, 28, was forced to marry another ISIS member, whose nationality Selim does not know. A month ago, she gave birth to a baby boy. Selim can no longer speak to her or his grandchildren.
Edona Demolli’s families, who live in the remote village of Majac, in Kosovo’s Podujeva municipality, feel uneasy about her story, particularly about her forced marriage and her child.
Shpend Kursani, the author of research on the reasons for Kosovo citizens becoming foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, cites the ideological and identity aspects as the main points of attraction for Kosovo Albanian youngsters to join ISIS. Kursani noted that in Kosovo there is also an identity gap which can be exploited.
“There is a whole generation to whom their own identity is not clear anymore - are they Albanians or Kosovars, what is their flag, their symbol?” he says.
Sources added that a young generation of Albanians from Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania challenged traditional Islamic teaching by embracing the radical religious and political views that were taught at lectures at private mosques.
Moreover, Kosovo Special Prosecutor Drita Hajdari, who is leading several cases against former ISIS fighters, also blamed radical imams for grooming recruits.
According to Kosovo Police data, more than 30 children of Kosovo parents have been born in recent years at ISIS camps in Syria. Kosovo remains a vital recruitment ground for fighters for defending the self-proclaimed ‘Caliphate’.
Kosovo’s prosecution records have launched160 cases in relation to the wars in Syria and Iraq. Courts have often imposed harsh sentences against returnees from Syria, some of whom had come back voluntarily. The sentences have reduced the numbers leaving, but have not totally stopped the transfer of money from Kosovo to ISIS.
Authorities in Kosovo and Albania have developed counter-terrorism strategies, but reintegration of those who went to fight then returned remains a difficult task. Their families meanwhile have not been given any assistance.