A specter is haunting Europe—fear of the impact hundreds of European volunteers to the Syrian jihad might have on their home countries once they return. Perhaps nowhere is the potential danger of this Syrian blowback greater than in the Balkans. According to one estimate, Bosnia has provided more volunteers per capita for the Syrian jihad than any other country in Europe, and various reports suggest there are probably more than five hundred jihadis from southeastern Europe now in Syria.
While the Muslims of southeastern Europe remain the world’s most moderate Islamic populations, an estimated five to ten percent has become indoctrinated in the more extreme forms of Islam typical of places such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This is not an accident—the rise and growth of militant Islamism in southeastern Europe is the result of long-term efforts by extremists to radicalize local populations. Over the past several decades, the militant Islamist movement in southeastern Europe has created a sophisticated infrastructure consisting of local safe havens in isolated villages and in mosques controlled by radical clergy, along with a wide array of electronic and print media propagating news from various jihad fronts, relaying orders from al-Qaeda leaders, and attempting to convert impressionable young people to join their cause. All of this is funded by generous Middle Eastern donors and supported by small groups of local extremists who have infiltrated influential political, religious, and social institutions.