Suspected jihadist recruiters on trial in Serbia, Albania

Fifteen men went on trial in Serbia and Albania on Tuesday accused of recruiting and financing volunteers to go to Syria to fight with jihadist groups.

AFP| Updated: Mar 18, 2015, 03:10 AM IST

Belgrade: Fifteen men went on trial in Serbia and Albania on Tuesday accused of recruiting and financing volunteers to go to Syria to fight with jihadist groups.

The trials underline how countries in the Balkans have increased their efforts to prevent the recruitment of jihadists following reports that hundreds of people from the region have been fighting with the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

In Serbia`s first such trial, two of the five defendants pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to terrorism charges for recruiting and providing financial support to volunteers to go to Syria.

Nine people went on trial in Albania for charges of "inciting and recruiting" more than 70 jihadists and helping them travel to Syria.

One of the defendants in Serbia, Izudi Crnovrsanin, refuted the charges.

"I did not recruit anybody to go to Syria, I know nothing about any money," he told the court, according to Beta news agency.

But he admitted: "I have always wanted to live in an Islamic state where sharia is respected."

Crnovrsanin and four other men were charged a year ago with "joining forces to finance terrorism, train and recruit people for terrorist acts."

Two of the defendants are still at large and are being tried in absentia alongside the three others.

Another defendant also pleaded not guilty to the charges, while the third is expected to enter his plea on Wednesday. 

According to the prosecutor, the five are suspected of having "organised and financed the departure of Serbian citizens as well as people from other countries to camps for terrorist training in Syria and later to conflict zones."

One of the accused allegedly helped jihadists to travel from Istanbul to training camps in Syria, while another is suspected of helping them obtain training in the Syrian town of Azaz.

They face up to 10 years imprisonment if found guilty of the terrorism charges.

The Serbian government supports the US-led fight against Islamic State.

Members of Serbia`s Muslim community, mostly living in the southeastern region of Sandzak, are generally moderate, but some have adopted doctrines inspired by the strict Saudi brand of Islam called Wahhabism.

In a bid to fight the growing threat of radical Islam, Serbia amended its criminal law, making it punishable under law to join jihadist combat abroad.

A court in the Albanian capital Tirana heard that volunteers were recruited during prayers at mosques.

Two of the nine defendants are self-proclaimed imams.

Eight of the men on trial have refused to be defended by a lawyer, saying that "only Allah is our lawyer".