ATbar ISIS plot to poison the water supply of the city of Pristina in Kosovo
Loading Search Engine

ISIS plot to poison the water supply of the city of Pristina in Kosovo

30/07/2015 | by Shay, Shaul (Dr.)  

On July 12, 2015, authorities in Kosovo cut off water supplies to the country’s capital, Pristina, due to fears that a terrorist cell with links to the Islamic State (ISIS) may have contaminated the city’s main source of water at Badovac Lake.  The artificial lake sits just ten kilometers southeast of Pristina and is an essential source of water for both the capital and its surrounding towns. [1]

 "The regional water company of Pristina works in close cooperation with the Kosovan police, and immediately after receiving information about the arrest of terror suspects close to Lake Badovac, a decision was taken in collaboration with the National Institute of Public Health to turn off the water supply for an indefinite time," said a spokesperson for Pristina's Regional Water Company. [2]

In response to the threat, the Kosovo Institute for National Health carried out a series of tests on the water yet detected no sign of toxic content. The head of Kosovo's National Institute of Public Health, Naser Ramadani, announced on Saturday evening that an analysis of water samples taken from Lake Badovac had found the water to be safe, and advised the water company to turn the supply back on. The National Institute of Public Health also recommended that Kosovo's Regional Water Company "increase its vigilance and protection of water resources" and put in place a strict protective area around the lake.[3]

Kosovo has been on a heightened state of alert in recent weeks after Kosovan members of ISIS appeared in videos alongside other members from the Balkans warning of attacks on local targets, specifically water supplies. "If you can, take poison and put it in their meal or in their drink. Make them die, make them die of poisoning, kill them wherever you are...you can do it," one man is heard imploring ISIS supporters.[4]

A document leaked to the press asserts that local police had received information about possible attempts by groups tied to ISIS to poison water supplies across Kosovo in Skopje, Macedonia, and Pristina.  According to the document “a person known by the name Abu Osama, who is currently in the conflict zone in Syria in Iraq… contacted reliable individuals about a possible attack during June in Kosovo and Macedonia.” The goal of this attack was “to cause as many casualties and material damage as possible and Skopje and Pristina are mentioned as targets, the water supplies and artificial lakes respectively, but not limited to that”.[5]

The decision to cut off the water supply to Pristina followed the arrest of five people linked to ISIS.  All five were accused of planning to attack reservoirs:

  • Three people had been arrested on the main road linking Pristina with the town of Gjilan, close to Lake Badovac. The suspects were each driving Volkswagen cars containing ammunition and materials suggesting their affiliation with the Islamic State.[6]
  • Later, in connection with the three earlier arrests, Kosovan prosecutors announced the arrest of two more suspects with possible ties to the Islamic State.
  • The five men arrested in the operation were: Enis Latifi, Besnik Latifi, Gazmend Haliti, Milazim Haxhijaj and Fehmi Musa; two of whom are thought to have previously fought with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.[7]
  • Media reports suggest that poison was found in the bag of Enis Latifi.[8]
  • The Basic Court in Pristina ordered a month's detention for all five.[9]

In Macedonia, authorities are also on high alert over the possibility of an attack. “The Interior Ministry is closely watching the situation and monitoring all information linked to the activities of radical Islamists structures within the country. If need be, [we] will react appropriately and in a timely manner,” asserts the Macedonian Interior Ministry. The Ministry did not reveal whether they were in contact with authorities from Kosovo on the issue.[10]

ISIS and the Balkans

There are several hundred fighters from the Balkans fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. These foreign fighters have even formed a so-called “Balkans Battalion” within the group. Kosovo provides the bulk of these fighters, with others hailing from Albania, Bosnia, and the Republic of Macedonia.

According to a report published by the Kosovar Center for Security Studies, a confirmed 232 Kosovans have joined militant organizations in Syria and Iraq.[11] Of the 21 Western States from which the Islamic State draws many of of its foreign fighters, Kosovo has the highest rate, per capita, of foreign fighters within its population.[12]

A decade of high unemployment, stagnate economic growth, and corruption coupled with rising levels of Islamic radicalization have added to already high social pressures in the Balkans. Many young Muslim men feel marginalized by mainstream society and see little hope for their future. ISIS recruiters have taken full advantage of this situation.

ISIS has formally declared the establishment of a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the vast stretches of the Middle East that have fallen under its control.  The group has also outlined a vision to expand into Europe – including the Balkans. The announcement was described as the “most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11.”

In a map widely shared by ISIS supporters on social media, the group outlined a five-year plan for how they would like to expand their boundaries beyond Muslim-majority countries. The plan includes efforts to expand the caliphate throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

ISIS plans to take control of the Balkan states, extending its territories far into Eastern Europe, appear to be based on the pre-World War One borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Elsewhere, Spain, ruled by Muslims for 700 years until 1492, is marked as a territory the caliphate plans to have under its control by 2020.

On June 5, 2015, the Islamic State has released a propaganda video issuing threats to the Balkan countries and urging Muslims in the region to join the extremist group and launch attacks at home.  The video, titled “Honor is in jihad, a message to the Balkans”, has been published by the Alhayat Media Center – ISIS’s western-focussed propaganda wing.[13]

The video, lasting a little over 22 minutes, is narrated in English and covers the history of the Balkans while showing historical footage pertaining to the Muslim communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania “and other countries in the region.”

In the video, ISIS foreign fighters hailing from the Balkans call on other Muslims to go to Iraq and Syria, “where they can safely and with dignity live with their families.”

Among the identified Islamists in the video are Abu Bilkis (also known as Al Albani or Abu Mukatil Al Kosovo) and Abu Muhammad al Bosni.

“Many of you complain that they cannot grow a beard or wear a niqab. Now is your chance, make Hijra,” asserts featured jihadist Salahudding Al Bosni.

He also told the audience that “to think back to the last war in Bosnia-Herzegovina”.

As in other propaganda videos, militants tell those who are “unable to emigrate to the land of Islam” to attack “dictators in Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania”, as well as their armies.

“Fight them over there. If you can, put explosives under their cars, in their houses, all of them. If you can, take some poison, put in it their drink, in their food, let them die. Kill them in every place and wherever you can. In Bosnia, in Serbia, in Sandzak. You can do it, Allah will help you,” asserts Salahudding Al Bosni.

Summary

The Balkans has served as a fertile recruiting ground for foreign fighters looking to join the Islamic State.  Now, countries like Kosovo and Bosnia are fearful of these fighters returning home from Iraq and Syria.  Amidst increased threats to personnel and infrastructure across the region, the Balkan states are increasing efforts to track threats from ISIS affiliated groups.

Linking Western Europe with the Middle East, the Balkans is quickly becoming an important transit route for the Islamic State. Although the region has yet to suffer from a major attack by ISIS, it would not come as a surprise if the group successfully executes a Balkan attack in the near future.  It is only a matter of time before ISIS starts using the Balkans to attack regional targets.  Experts similarly fear that the group will also use countries like Kosovo, Bosnia, and Macedonia as staging areas for attacks in Western Europe.

The plot to poison Pristina’s water supply marks ISIS’s first attempt to carry out a non-conventional attack on the European soil. All of Europe must take into consideration ISIS’s worldwide terror network and the group’s high motivation to attack the "enemies of Islam" through both conventional and non-conventional means.

Notes


[1] Kosovo Cuts Capital's Water Supply over ISIL Poison Plot Fears, FARS News Agency, July 12, 2015.

[2] Kosovo Cuts Capital's Water Supply Over ISIL Poison Plot Fears, Sputnik, July 12, 2015.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Kosovo cuts water supplies after ISIL 'poison' plot, Al Jazeera, July 12, 2015.

[5] Una Hajdari, Sinisa Jakov-Marusic, Kosovo Foils Terror 'Plot to Poison Water Supply'

BalkanInsight,  July 13, 2015.

[6] Kosovo Cuts Capital's Water Supply Over ISIL Poison Plot Fears, Sputnik, July 12, 2015.

[7]  Una Hajdari, Sinisa Jakov-Marusic, Kosovo Foils Terror 'Plot to Poison Water Supply'

BalkanInsight, July 13, 2015.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Figures up to mid-January 2015.

[12] Per capita, Kosovo has 125 fighters for every million Kosovans. 

[13]  ISIS  video ’ calls for jihad in Balkans ahead of  Pope’s visit ,RT, June 5, 2015.