Kosovo police arrest 40 in action against Islamic militants

40 ethnic Albanians are suspected of fighting alsongside Islamic extremists in Irag and Syria

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Kosovo police said on Monday they had arrested 40 ethnic Albanians suspected of fighting alongside Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria in the largest-ever operation against suspected radicals in the breakaway Balkan state.

The operation by special police forces was carried out early on Monday at some 60 locations throughout Kosovo, including make-shift mosques suspected of serving as recruiting sites.

Forty people “suspected of taking part in the war in Syria by supporting the terrorist organizations ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and (Al-Qaeda affiliate) Al-Nusra” were arrested, police said in a statement.

“Explosive devices, weapons and ammunition were seized,” it added.

The raid followed a months-long investigation and efforts by the authorities to root out suspected Islamist networks in Kosovo.

Kosovo is a Muslim-majority country, although religion plays only a minor part in public life and tends to take a very moderate form.

President Atifete Jahjaga welcomed the arrests, insisting that Kosovo “will not be a haven for extremism.”

In June, three ethnic Albanians -- who make up more than 90 percent of Kosovo's 1.7 million population -- were arrested on suspicion of setting up a “terrorist organization” as media alleged they were recruited by ISIS, which has since renamed itself Islamic State, while fighting in Syria.

The three were arrested upon their return to Kosovo where intelligence agents intercepted their communications and plans to carry out suicide attacks in public places.

Local media say as many as 150 Kosovans are thought to have volunteered to fight in the Syrian civil war against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

Police say at least 16 have been killed in Iraq and Syria so far.

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