An unprecedented operation in Europe by its magnitude. Kosovo announced Saturday the repatriation of 110 of its nationals from Syria, almost all of them spouses or children of
jihadists of the Islamic State (IS),
Four men, suspected of having fought with Daesh, were also on the plane that landed at Pristina airport in the night. They were placed in custody for 48 hours. Among the other passengers were 32 women and 74 children, the government said.
"An important example to follow" for Washington
In a statement, the US embassy in Pristina "saluted Kosovo" after the repatriations, which set "an important example to follow" for coalition members and the international community.
"We applaud the compassion" shown by the Kosovar authorities "by accepting the return of this large number of civilians," the US embassy said.
Kosovo, 90% Muslim, is in proportion to its population (1.8 million), the European country having provided the largest contingent of jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria.
The repatriation of relatives of jihadists has caused controversy in several countries concerned. Also very affected by the phenomenon, France had repatriated mid-March five children after weeks of procrastination in a context of public hostility to such return.
"Very sensitive operation"
According to official estimates, some 300 Kosovars have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq. About 70 would have lost their lives, while about 120 have returned to be imprisoned most of the time. About 35 fighters are still believed to be in Syria, Kosovar police chief Reshat Qalaj said on Saturday.
As a close ally of the United States, Kosovo toughened its legislation in 2015 by providing for penalties of up to 15 years in prison for its nationals who go to fight abroad.
Described as a "very sensitive operation", the repatriation was conducted "with the help of the United States," Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri told Kosovar media. Returnee civilians "deserve rehabilitation and hope for a peaceful life away from conflict," he added.
The National Director of Public Health of Kosovo, Naser Ramadani announced that these people would receive medical examinations. "Women and children have suffered serious trauma," he said.
No one knows for sure the number of children of foreign jihadists stranded in Syria. The NGO Save The Children mentioned more than 3,500 people from some 30 countries in IDP camps.
Return of a Bosnian jihadist
For its part, Bosnia and Herzegovina announced this Saturday the repatriation of a jihadist. A prosecutor's source in Sarajevo who requested anonymity told AFP that it was Ibro Cufurovic, 24, who left for Syria in 2013.
It is a well-known figure among Balkan nationals who have gone to fight in the ranks of the Islamic State. He is among some 25 Bosnian nationals wanted by Interpol for their participation in the conflicts in Syria or Iraq in the ranks of jihadist groups.
Ibro Cufurovic's father accused a radical imam, former leader of the Islamist movement in Bosnia, Husein Bosnic, said Bilal, of recruiting his son.
Bosnic was sentenced in 2015 to seven years in prison for "terrorism", convicted of encouraging his followers to go to fight in Syria and Iraq.
According to various estimates, a thousand Islamists from the Balkans left from 2012 to fight in the ranks of the al-Nusra Front or the Islamic State group. Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia are also concerned.
Some 200 men were killed on the front, while 300 returned to the Balkans, often to be imprisoned.