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Kosovo returns families of jihadists from Syria

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By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) – Dozens of women and children, relatives of Kosovo jihadists fighting in Syria, were flown back home by plane on Saturday under heavy security.

“The planned operation for the return of some of our citizens from Syria has ended successfully,” Justice Minister Abelrad Tahiri said at the airport early on Saturday.

Details would be released later in the day, he said.

After hours at the airport, two buses with women and children were transported under police escort to army barracks just outside Pristina.

More than 300 Kosovo citizens, men, women and children, have travelled to Syria since 2012. Some 70 men who fought alongside extremist militant groups were killed.

Police said some 150 women and children, including around 60 children that were born in war zones, were captured as Islamic State lost ground.

It remained unclear if all of them were returned on Friday.

Neither the minister nor police gave any details if any fighters were also returned.

International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Kosovo’s population is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but largely secular in outlook.

There have been no Islamist attacks on its soil, although more than 100 men have been jailed or indicted on charges of fighting in Syria and Iraq. Some of them were found guilty of planning attacks in Kosovo.

The government said a form of radical Islam had been imported to Kosovo by non-governmental organizations from the Middle East after the end of its 1998-99 war of secession from Serbia.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Nick Macfie)

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