EU, Balkan states move to stem flow of fighters joining jihad

IS video purports to show peshmerga beheadings, threats to kill ‘dozens’ more

The European Union and Balkan countries launched a campaign on Friday aimed at stemming the flow of fighters from southeastern Europe going to join jihadists in the Middle East.

Interior and foreign ministers from across the Balkans pledged at a conference hosted by Austria to work with western European officials to crack down on what they called a growing threat.

“The numbers are increasing every day,” said European Commissioner for home affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos.

He declined to specify particular “hotspots” for jihadists in the Balkans. He said they were “almost everywhere and nowhere, because if we were in a position to answer your question we would have already cracked down”.



There is growing concern over the influence that turmoil in the Middle East may have in places like Bosnia and Kosovo, largely Muslim states blighted by unemployment, poverty and corruption since wars in the 1990s.

Steps promoted at the Vienna meeting included communicating basic rights more effectively, working with companies like Facebook and Google to remove extremist material from the internet and involving Balkan states more closely with an EU-wide reporting point for such material.

Other proposals included joint training for border guards and more effective sharing of resources from Europol and a new counter-terrorism network set up last year.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the problem went beyond the Balkans, adding that during his six years as interior minister it was well known that Vienna and Salzburg in Austria were centres for radical Islamists.

This week a 16-year-old Austrian turned himself in to authorities after arriving home wounded from a stint with Islamic State fighters in Syria.


Meanwhile, Islamic State has published a video purporting to show the beheading of three Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq by militants who threatened to kill "dozens" more of those being held captive.

The six-minute clip showed the peshmerga wearing orange jumpsuits being decapitated by three black-clad militants, all of whom spoke Kurdish.

The footage could not be independently verified.

The peshmerga have emerged as a key partner for the US-led coalition in its campaign to “degrade and destroy” the extremist group, which they have driven back in northern Iraq with the help of airstrikes.

"To the Muslim Kurdish people: know that our war is not with you, rather it is with those who ventured into an alliance with the Safavids and crusaders to wage war on the Muslims," said one of the militants, using derogatory terms to refer to Iran and the coalition respectively.

Another of the militants then directly addressed Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani: "We warned you before that for every rocket you fire on those under the care of the Islamic State, you will kill one of your prisoners with your own hands."

Kurdish forces shelled the interior of Mosul several days ago in what the peshmerga ministry said was retaliation for an Islamic State missile that landed in a vegetable market outside the regional capital of Erbil on Monday.

More than 1,000 peshmerga have been killed in combat with Islamic State militants since they overran a third of Iraq last summer, but several hundred Kurds have joined the other side and are fighting against their ethnic kin.

Kurdish authorities last week said they had evidence the militants had used chlorine as a chemical weapon against the peshmerga on at least one occasion.