Montenegro reveals that 26 citizens left the country and travelled to fight in Syria
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The Interior Ministry of Montenegro said that 31 Montenegrin citizens had left the country to fight in foreign wars in Syria and Ukraine since 2012.
The state coordinator for combating violent extremism, Dragan Pejanovic, said 26 of them had gone to Syria – 18 men, five women and three children.
Far fewer went to Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have been battling the Kyiv government. “Five Montenegrin citizens travelled to Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict [there], while ten returned from Syria and five from Ukraine. They returned to their communities and were put under surveillance,” Pejanovic said in a press release.
“Threats from these phenomena are at a low level in Montenegro, but we are committed to this topic,” he added.
Montenegro criminalized participation in foreign conflicts in March 2015, with sentences of up to 10 years in prison for those found guilty of the offence. Recruiting, organising, financing, encouraging, leading or training foreign fighters were also outlawed, with punishments of between two and 10 years.
In April 2017, Marko Barovic was sentenced to six months in prison for fighting alongside Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine in 2015. In January 2018, the Higher Court in Podgorica sentenced Hamid Beharovic to six months in prison for joining Islamic State, ISIS, in Syria.
Despite media requests, the special state prosecutor’s office has never revealed how many cases of foreign fighters it is working on. In May 2018, BIRN published information that Montenegro’s Special Prosecution for Organised Crime had begun probes into three citizens who reportedly fought in the Middle East or who financed the sending of fighters to the conflict zone.
The coordinator for combating extremism, Pejanovic, said there was no record of any Montenegrin citizens leaving for Syria after 2015.
In its 2020 progress report on the would-be EU member, the European Commission said Montenegro had made some progress in the fight against terrorism and countering violent extremism but still has to adopt a new strategy for the prevention and suppression of terrorism, money laundering and terrorism. The last one expired in 2018.
“The threats of terrorism and violent extremism [has] remained relatively low in the country… Further to a 2016 penal code amendment criminalizing the participation in foreign armed conflicts, two returnees who came back after 2016 were sentenced. All the returnees went back to their communities and are monitored,” the same progress report said.
Most Montenegrins are Orthodox Christians but a significant minority of about 15 per cent are Muslims, divided between ethnic Albanians – about 5 per cent of the population – and Bosniaks.