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Kosovo brings back jihadist fighters and families from Syria

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Kosovan Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri
Kosovan Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri -
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Reuters
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Kosovo brought back 110 of its citizens from Syria on Saturday including those who had fought in jihadist groups and 74 children, the government said.

More than 300 Kosovo nationals have travelled to Syria since the outbreak of civil war in 2012 and 70 men who fought alongside militant groups were killed.

The move comes as countries grapple with how to handle nationals who want to return from Syria after fighting alongside militant groups since the collapse of the Islamic-State group's self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

"Today in the early hours of the morning an important and sensitive operation was organized in which the government of Kosovo with the help of the United States of America has returned 110 of its citizens from Syria," Kosovan Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri said at a press conference.

Authorities said four fighters, 32 women and 74 children, including nine without a parent, were returned to Kosovo.

The four fighters were arrested and the state prosecutor said indictments against them will soon follow.

Two busloads of women and children were seen transported under police escort to an army barracks outside the capital.

Police said 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and 8 children remain in Syria and Iraq.

"We will not stop before bringing every citizen of the Republic of Kosovo back to their country and anyone that has committed any crime or was part of these terrorist organizations will face the justice," Tahiri said.

"As Kosovo, we cannot allow that our citizens be a threat to the West and to our allies."

Nominally 90% of Kosovo is Muslim but largely secular in outlook. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

While international and local security agents have previously warned of the risks of returning fighters, the US commended Kosovo for bringing back its citizens and advised other countries to do the same.

Also on Saturday, another Balkan state, Bosnia, brought back and detained a national suspected of fighting for the Islamic-State group, the prosecutor's office said.

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