THE BLOG
09/15/2014 09:39 am ET Updated Nov 04, 2014

Reporters Without Borders Demands Protection for Kosovar Investigative Journalist

The atrocious murders of American journalists James Foyle and Steven Sotloff exemplify the strategy of global terror pursued by the so-called "Islamic State" (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS or ISIL).

On Wednesday, September 3, the worldwide monitor of media freedom, Reporters Without Borders, based in France, demanded that authorities in the Kosovo Republic protect Visar Duriqi, a well-known Kosovar investigative reporter, from a similar menace.

Kosovo has a Muslim majority but is a secular state, and its Islamic tradition is moderate. Yet it has been targeted by radical preachers and their financial patrons.

Writing for the Kosovo daily news portal Express, Duriqi specializes in exposing such infiltration among local Muslims. He has uncovered penetration of the official Kosovo Islamic Community by supporters of fundamentalist Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood, along with incitement and recruitment of Kosovar Muslims to fight in Syria.

At the end of July, a Kosovar participant in the Syrian conflict, Lavdrim Muhaxheri, posted images on his Facebook page in which he beheaded a Syrian soldier. On August 11, the Kosovo government announced the arrest of 40 citizens on suspicion of involvement with terrorism in Syria and Iraq.

Duriqi has followed Muhaxheri's career in Kosovo closely. In May 2014, Duriqi revealed that Muhaxheri had worked in the official Islamic apparatus in Kacanik, a town near the southern border of Kosovo with Macedonia, and claimed influence over the choice of local clerics.

Journalistic work by Duriqi resulted in a denunciation by the Muslim Youth Forum (MYF, designated FRI by its Albanian initials.) On August 15, MYF posted a claim on Facebook that Duriqi is an apostate from Islam. The Muslim Youth Forum is a small group in Kosovo. During the recent Gaza war, MYF summoned Muslims (not Kosovars in general) to protest against Israel, with little success.

But in Islamic law, apostasy is punishable by death.

Duriqi says he has received more than 10 violent insults since the posting of the MYF's allegation of his apostasy. He told Reporters Without Borders, "I received many threats, mainly via Facebook, after the communiqué was published... The MYF statement is a death sentence. I am being threatened with beheading. I hope the police will investigate this quickly. I do not feel safe at the moment."

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said, "Duriqi's plight is extremely worrying and the threats should be taken seriously." Deloire appealed to Kosovo interior minister Bajram Rexhepi to furnish Duriqi with police protection and to investigate and identify those responsible for intimidation against him, followed by firm court action.

Minister Rexhepi had promised to issue an international arrest warrant against Lavdrim Muhaxheri after the jihadist posted his Facebook beheading pictures.

In 2012, Duriqi and Artan Haraqija, then affiliated with the Kosovo Center for Investigative Reporting, published a series of articles about ideological zealotry in the official Muslim community. They showed that highly-placed clerics had received financing from a private Islamist entity based in Saudi Arabia and dedicated to the spread of Wahhabi doctrine, Al Waqf Al Islami (AWAI or The Islamic Foundation). AWAI, which has operated in The Netherlands and Bulgaria, had provided funds for building and reconstruction of mosques in Kosovo.

The pair described how the allotment of $25,000 from AWAI for a mosque in a village near the northeast Kosovo town of Podujevo led to division within the local Islamic apparatus and the removal of a moderate imam, Idriz Bilalli. Bilalli was replaced by Fadil Sogojeva, a hard-line Wahhabi who called for segregation of unmarried men and women plus covering of women's entire body, including a prohibition on sandals and requirement for concealment of the lower legs and feet. They noted that a similar attitude was expressed by Mazllam Mazllami, a radical preacher in the southern Kosovo city of Prizren, who advocated a ban on men and women swimming together.

Duriqi and his colleagues have chronicled a continued Islamist campaign as well as resistance to fanaticism among Kosovars. A series of assaults on moderate Muslim clerics and intellectuals, in 2008-09, included a scandalous attack on Osman Musliu, a prominent cleric in the Drenas area of Kosovo, known for his patriotism.

The Duriqi-Haraqija series disclosed that Kosovo police produced a three-page memorandum warning, "Wahhabis can kill any Muslim that does not join their sect."

The reporters finally interviewed minister Rexhepi, who said that in 2003-04, when he was prime minister and "new and radical currents controlled no mosques and had no influence," he proposed a draft law for Kosovo against religious extremism. Law in Kosovo is supervised by the European Union Rule of Law Mission In Kosovo (EULEX).

Rexhepi said, "I was told by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg we could be sued for denial of religious freedom. . . . I asked [the Europeans] 'if your states were to consider their national security at risk because of this problem, would you maintain such abstract respect for human rights? Probably not. Then why experiment on us in Kosovo?' "

With Western Europeans and Americans alike concerned about "Islamic State" terrorists, who, having gone to Syria and Iraq, may return home and commit atrocities, the attitude of Western political leaders toward Muslim ultra-fundamentalism may have changed. As a front-line state confronting radical Islam in Europe, Kosovo must take strong initiatives.

Protecting courageous journalists like Visar Duriqi is a necessary measure for the moral health of Kosovo -- and of the world.