Kosovo FM death threat revealed as election nears

Kosovo FM death threat revealed as election nears
2 min read
04 February, 2016
Hashim Thaci, Kosovo's former leader, said he received a letter from the Islamic State group threatening his life, due to his close relationship with the West.
Thaci played a crucial role in winning Kosovo its independence [AFP]

Kosovo's foreign minister, Hashim Thaci, received a death threat purportedly from Islamic State group chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, due to his opposition to the extremist organisation, he has revealed.

"It was a death threat against me and my family," Thaci told AFP in an interview on Wednesday.

A Pristina news website this week reported details of a letter addressed to then-prime minister Thaci in late 2014, allegedly signed by Baghdadi, calling on him to abandon Kosovo's alignment with the West or face "great revenge".

The timing of the revelation is being questioned, as Thaci is now front-runner to become president of Muslim-majority Kosovo this year.

Thaci has used the alleged threat in his campaign, insisting he would "not step back or retreat from any threats" in tackling Islamic fundamentalism.

About 300 of Kosovo's 1.8 million people have joined jihadi groups in Iraq and Syria in recent years - one of the highest proportions from any European state.

After heavy coalition air raids and military defeats against Kurdish and Syrian forces, there are fewer than 70 still fighting, Pristina said. 

Kosovo authorities have made high-profile arrests of recruiters and returning fighters and strengthened legislation against them.

On a recent visit to Pristina, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Kosovo had "set a powerful example" for the region. "It's obvious that more needs to be done," he added.

My life was threatened by Milosevic and now by IS

Thaci rose to prominence as political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a pro-independence ethnic Albanian guerilla group.

It fought a brutal war in 1998 and 1999 against Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian forces.

Milosevic's army withdrew from the southern province after an 11-week bombing campaign by NATO. In 2008 it was Thaci who declared Kosovo's independence from Belgrade.

More than 100 countries have recognised Kosovo's sovereignty, but not Serbia or its principal ally, Russia.

Thaci's image was tarnished by a 2011 Council of Europe report that alleged he led an organised crime network during and after the war, involved in assassinations and the trafficking of drugs and human organs - charges he strongly denies.

A new EU-backed court to try alleged war crimes committed by members of the KLA is due to open in The Hague this year.

"My life was threatened by Milosevic and now by IS... With the same allies that I won the battle against Milosevic, I will win the battle with IS," Thaci said.

The 47-year-old said Kosovo "identifies with Euro-Atlantic values".

Kosovo hopes to join the European Union, and Thaci warned that delays to Balkan countries' integration with the bloc were "opening more room" for Russia, Islamic fundamentalism and nationalism to operate in the region.