Balkan Insight: ISIS Struggling to Recruit from Bosnia, Experts Say

After Bosnia’s security minister cited data that no Bosnian citizen had left the country for Syria or Iraq in the past six months, experts said it confirmed that ISIS was now ineffectual at recruiting from the country.

Eleanor Rose BIRN Sarajevo

Unidentified militia in a Syrian town. Photo: ISIS propaganda material

ISIS is struggling to recruit new fighters from Bosnia and Herzegovina as the supply of susceptible recruits dries up and the terrorist organisation struggles to hold territory in Syria and Iraq, experts and data suggest.

“It is interesting that in the last six months we do not have a single person who went [to Syria and Iraq],” said Bosnian security minister Dragan Mektic on Tuesday, according to news agency SRNA.

Speaking to a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Central European Initiative, Mektic said 120 Bosnian citizens are currently thought to be in Syria and Iraq.

More than 50 Bosnian citizens have been killed there, he said, while 60 have returned – 40 of whom have been subjected to prosecutions, some of which are ongoing.

Vlado Azinovic, a terrorism expert and assistant professor in the Department of Peace and Security Studies at the University of Sarajevo, said returns from Syria and Iraq had stopped back in 2015 and that there had been no successful departures to the Middle East in the whole of this year.

“This is also the case in all other Western Balkans countries, and the rest of the world,” he said. 

Azinovic, who monitors the issue, said possible reasons for the reduction were strict control of aspiring foreign fighters, and the criminaliwation and prosecution of those who have already travelled.

“But also, when it comes to the region, the pool of individuals susceptible to recruitment has gradually [been] drying up,” he said.

“And, when it comes to other countries, including the EU and US, they are being instructed by the ISIL not to travel, but to rather plot and execute attacks in their respective countries,” he added.

Denis Hadzovic, the general secretary of the Centre for Security Studies, suggested that another reason for the change was that ISIS’s recruitment process has broken down as the extremist group has come under sustained pressure on the battlefield.

A number of countries ,including Russia, Turkey, France and a US-led international coalition of more than 60 countries, have also launched air strikes and other interventions against ISIS forces over the past two years.

The chain of logistics has been disrupted, said Hadzovic, and travel to the region – usually through Turkey – is now more difficult.

“[ISIS] are fighting and struggling to keep their territory, and it’s not easy for them. Probably they are not in a position to pay so much attention to organising the arrival of new fighters,” he said. 

Security minister Mektic also refuted a press report in Croatia’s Vecernji List that Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, had produced a report describing Bosnia as a centre of Wahhabism.

SIPA had produced no such report, he told local media.

The article published by the Zagreb-based newspaper came after Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic described “instability” in Bosnia as the main regional threat.

Grabar Kitarovic said in an interview with Defense News that it was “not just the political set-up there but the kind of Islam that we’ve known in Bosnia Herzegovina is changing, it’s becoming more radicalised, especially in rural areas, changing the way of life, even the appearance of people, in terms of clothing and behaviour”. 

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