Europe

Kosovo 'jihad' boy home from Syria after secret operation

  • 16 October 2014
  • From the section Europe
Reunion at airport in Kosovo, 15 Oct 14
Image caption Pranvera had had only sporadic contact with her son while he was in Syria

An eight-year-old boy from Kosovo has been reunited with his mother after his jihadist father kept him for five months in Syria.

Kosovo's Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, said the country's intelligence agency had found and rescued Erion Abazi with help from Turkish intelligence.

It was a "complicated and dangerous" operation, which followed careful analysis, Mr Thaci said in a statement.

About 200 Kosovans are believed to be with Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria.

The boy's mother, Pranvera Zena, had made a public appeal for the return of her son when he was taken against her will in June 2014.

She also set up a Facebook page and made appearances in Kosovo and Albania.

Mr Thaci did not give details of the rescue operation, which was authorised by him and the country's president, Atifete Jahjaga.

While Erion was in Syria, pictures appeared on social media showing him holding up one finger in the Islamic State (IS) sign, and tumbling around with other children next to the militants' black flag.

His father Arben had told Pranvera that he was taking Erion on an excursion to the mountains in Kosovo. Instead he took Erion across the border to Albania, and then flew from Tirana to Turkey, before travelling on to Syria.

Pranvera's cousin told the BBC last week that the family had had only sporadic contact with the boy since then. In one phone-call he said his father had been in a training camp far away.

After the reunion at Pristina's international airport Pranvera Zena told Associated Press "it feels like a dream" and "it feels as if I am waking up and I fear he is still not there".

She hugged him as he sat on her lap and showed her his toy soldiers and a toy tank.

Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians are mainly Muslim. Only a tiny minority are thought to have embraced jihadist ideology.

The territory, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, has a population of about 1.8 million.

The civil war in Syria has drawn in hundreds of jihadists from European countries, including the UK, France and Belgium.

'Father in Iraq'

A cousin of Erion - Suad Sadullahi - told the BBC World Service on Thursday that Erion "is still a little bit confused - he didn't say anything much".

"I think he was treated ok, like the other children."

When asked about the secret rescue operation he declined to give any details.

He said Pranvera got a text message from Arben in early July, in which Arben said he was with the boy in Syria.

"We searched everywhere, contacted every single person who could give us a hint," Suad Sadullahi said.

On 15 September they managed to see Erion in a call on Skype, he said. "It was a very big relief. He was with some of the families of militants there."

"His father is in Iraq fighting for Islamic State, he doesn't know Erion is here," he told the BBC.

When asked what he thought motivated Arben he said: "I think ideology first, he thought Erion would be better over there."

He said they now wanted Erion to spend as much time as possible with his mother.

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