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DASH criticizes Kosovo for low sentences for terrorism-related charges: There is a risk of recruitment by violent extremist organizations

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The US State Department said that in Kosovo during 2022, justice institutions continued to impose low sentences for terrorism-related charges, and said that there are also early releases for these charges. In the Terrorism for States report, as for Kosovo, it was said that in 2022, Pristina continued to repatriate its citizens from detention camps and centers in Syria. It was said there that the third repatriation operation in May was carried out in cooperation with Albania and was supported by the United States.

"So far, Kosovo has repatriated over 120 citizens. It is estimated that another 80 citizens continue to be in displaced persons camps or detention centers, or on battlefields in Syria. Low sentences for terrorism-related charges have continued," the DASH report said. According to the USA, citizens of Kosovo inside and outside the country, "are potential targets for recruitment by violent extremist organizations, with ethno-nationalist or religious orientation". "During 2022, Kosovo prosecuted a woman repatriated with the help of the USA. "Although this woman was sentenced to two years in prison for joining the Islamic State group, the courts of Kosovo have sentenced the repatriates to three to four and a half years in prison for organizing and participating in the terrorist activities of IS," it was said. in the report.

Likewise, the report on Kosovo mentions the indictment against Ylber Bela for organizing and participating in a terrorist group. Bela was repatriated to Kosovo in May, in a joint effort with the US. The DASH report also mentioned the case of the indictment against four people suspected of preparing terrorist acts against the constitutional order. They are suspected of having attempted to create organizational structures to carry out terrorist attacks in Kosovo by contacting a senior official of the Islamic State group.

DASH said that in June, the Basic Court in Pristina acquitted four people: two suspected of preparing attacks on nightclubs, churches and Kosovo forces, and two of other criminal offences. They were released for lack of evidence. According to the laws in Kosovo, different punishments are provided for terrorist offenses and against the constitutional order. Since 2015, participation in foreign wars is also prohibited in Kosovo, and according to the law, punishments of up to 15 years of imprisonment are provided. DASH pointed out that Kosovo has legislation to fight the financing of terrorism, but said that there is a lack of a strategy to address threats related to terrorism.

"However, short sentences, early and conditional releases, as well as the disorganization of post-release supervision pose threats to security," the report said. Regarding the terrorist incidents in 2022, DASH also mentions the arrest of the former Kosovo Serb policeman, Dejan Pantiq, in December 2022, under charges of terrorism, after the attack that included explosive devices on the local offices of the Central Election Commission and on the staff of this commission in North Mitrovica. His arrest had prompted local residents to set up barricades in northern Kosovo, blocking for several weeks the roads leading to the border crossings of Jarinja and Bërnjak, which connect Kosovo and Serbia. The barricades were removed after Pantiq's security measure was changed from detention to house arrest.

Also, the report also mentions the punishment given by the Government of Kosovo to the armed attacks against the police in the north of Kosovo, which it described as a terrorist act. "Kosovo prosecutors classified these incidents related to terrorist charges and cases against the constitutional order".

Regarding the aspect of security in the north of Kosovo, inhabited by a majority of Serbs, the DASH report said that "security issues and political instability in the north of Kosovo continue to limit the ability of the Government of Kosovo to extend its authority in that region. The NATO mission in Kosovo, KFOR and the EU Rule of Law Mission, EULEX, have cooperated with the Kosovo Police to promote a safe environment and strengthen the rule of law. DASH also mentions the assessment of the American Embassy in Pristina that since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February of last year, there has been an increase in disinformation in Kosovo and that they "are increasingly inciting violent extremist thought and inter-ethnic polarization has contributed to the increase of inter-ethnic tensions in the north of Kosovo".

In a report published at the end of November 2023, drawn up by the Balkan Investigative Journalism Network (BIRN), it was said that Kosovo is exposed to disinformation and narratives coming from Russia and China, which aim to incite a war interethnic and interreligious in Kosovo./REL