By Alexander Clapp
Aug 16th 2019
THE JOURNEY THAT led Fitim Lladrovci to become one of the
most notorious men in the Balkans began in October 2013, when he was 23 years
old. He pocketed his life savings of $350, said goodbye to his wife and left
Obilic, a grimy town in central Kosovo. In Pristina, the capital, he boarded a
plane to Istanbul and then took a second flight to Hatay, a province in
south-east Turkey. He was met at the airport by a large Arab man in a black
tracksuit and sunglasses who drove him to a single-storey house stacked with
bunk-beds, where Lladrovci was surprised to find six other ethnic Albanians.
Two were men; two were women whose husbands had crossed into Syria months
earlier; two were children, a boy of two and a girl of six months who cried
The next day the Albanians were driven to the border and
told to proceed on foot for several miles until they reached a line of buses.
They boarded a white minibus, and were joined by a band of men from the
Caucasus whose wild red beards made them appear, said Lladrovci, “like lions”.
They bounced across a sandy, lunar landscape, driving deep into Syria. “The
countryside seemed beautiful to me,” said Lladrovci. “But I was shaking the
entire time. What stressed me most was the idea of falling into the hands of
Lladrovci travelled hundreds of miles to fight Bashar
al-Assad, the Syrian president who, in the early days of the Arab spring in
2011, had suppressed street protests. Later Assad began to kill his opponents.
Lladrovci had never completed school or managed to hold down a job. His sense
of justice had been forged at a young age when, in the 1990s, ethnic Albanians
had risen up against the Serbs and, with help from America, fought for an
independent state. Kosovo, the country they built, was overwhelmingly Muslim.
Lladrovci believed that his role in Syria was akin to that of the Americans in
Kosovo: saving an oppressed people. He spits out Assad’s name, dismissing him
as “a man who doesn’t know a thing about Islam”.
The new recruit spent his first three nights in Syria in a
factory on the outskirts of Aleppo, a city that was then divided between
government and rebel forces. After days of travelling Lladrovci was relieved to
find the floors carpeted with sponge mattresses. He lay down in a corner near
the only people whose language he could understand. In Europe, Albanians are
scattered across Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Greece and Albania
itself. In a war-ravaged city in Syria, they found themselves wedged head to
toe. “The Arabs arranged us like sardines,” he said.
Lladrovci planned to join the al-Nusra Front, an affiliate
of al-Qaeda established in 2012, which operated in a loose alliance with a
number of other militias, both Islamist and non-Islamist. Like all recruits, he
handed over his life savings. In return, he was promised a salary of $115 a
month, a respectable wage in Kosovo.
A convoy of trucks brought the enlisted men to a training
camp in Aleppo. From the bed of a white pick-up, Lladrovci saw a large expanse
of dirt encircled by a chain-link fence. Inside was an obstacle course of tyres
and monkey bars, and a shooting range. The men slept in a large brick house and
ate chicken and rice three times a day. Two Turks took on the task of knocking
them into shape. Some Chechens had military experience but most volunteers were
simply green young men.
The men were given a choice of spending three months
training to become a sniper or member of the tank division, or doing a
three-week course then joining a strike team of foot-soldiers who would cross
Syria to occupy territory. Lladrovci chose the latter option. He wanted to see
action as quickly as possible. He spent his mornings at the shooting range,
rattling off live bullets from his Kalashnikov, sprinting and shooting again.
The rest of the day was taken up with prayers and lectures on religion.
Lladrovci says he went to Syria to save innocent civilians
from slaughter. But he soon found himself caught up in a larger struggle about
the future of Islam. Theological questions were contested on the battlefield.
Was it acceptable to kill fellow believers in the name of Allah? Can one build
a state from the blueprint of the Koran? Lladrovci grew convinced that only one
organisation had the right answers: along with most of the Albanian recruits,
he denounced al-Nusra and swore allegiance to Islamic State (IS) instead.
Lladrovci couldn’t understand Arabic and had only a frail
grasp of the theological niceties that divided Sunni from Shia. But he found
the ambition and fervour of IS simple and attractive: if you were not with IS,
there was a target on your back. The group had perfected a made-for-screen
ruthlessness – prisoners in cages, captives set on fire, death to anyone who
stood in its way. Initially Lladrovci blenched at it. But, in the turmoil of
uncertain alliances and in-fighting, he found IS’s clarity appealing. Civilians
who were slaughtered by IS “got what was coming to them”.
Lladrovci spent a year on the battlefield in Syria before
returning to Kosovo. He was imprisoned for three years – technically for hate
speech, not for his activities with IS – then went back to Obilic. His only
regret, he says, is having left Syria in the first place. “I would return
tomorrow if I could,” he says. A higher share of Kosovo’s population has
travelled to Syria to join IS than that of any other country. Between 2014 and
2016, more than 300 made the journey to Syria from one of Europe’s poorest
states, according to the New York Times.
Today, IS does not exist as a geographical entity. But in
Kosovo, the country that Lladrovci openly derides, he still proclaims his
fidelity to the caliphate. He is just one among tens of thousands of people who
left their homes to join Islamic State. These individuals represent a
particularly intractable and rapidly growing problem for governments across the
world. What should be done with the fighters who return?
In October 2018, a few months after Lladrovci was released
from prison, I went to Obilic, a smoggy town of 6,000 people downwind of a
hulking coal plant. When I asked my taxi driver about locals who left to wage
jihad, he cursed Lladrovci as a “diseased dog”. “I lost half my family in the
war against the Serbs,” he said. “You can’t find anyone in this country who
didn’t lose someone. But you didn’t see us going to Syria to cut off heads.”
Lladrovci lives at the end of a muddy lane a few hundred
yards from the power plant, in a cobbled-together structure of bricks and
tarpaulin. A brood of chickens stalks the weed-strewn plot outside. I found
Lladrovci bent over a wheelbarrow. When he learned why I was there, he told me
never to visit him there again. He didn’t want to attract the attention of his
Lladrovci is tall and sinewy. His skin has a grey tint. His
long nose droops towards a thin goatee on his chin. He was unremittingly
monosyllabic. Only his eyes showed any emotion, two dark orbs that flitted
testily about their sockets and rarely met my own.
He was neither intimidating nor imposing. Rather, he seemed
haunted by his experiences. Over the course of half a year, I met Lladrovci
four times and talked to him for nearly ten hours. Sometimes his anger came on
in sudden fits: “I feel a need to knife you,” he once said. At other times, his
rage dispersed. He showed interest in my fixer’s sick mother, asking each time
we met how she was feeling. But he remained mistrustful and evasive. When I
asked to meet his wife, he curtly refused. Whenever our conversation strayed
onto potentially shocking topics, he would pause and let off a sickly chuckle.
“How many people did you kill?” Chuckle. “Do you currently possess a weapon?”
He spends most of the day at home and works at night as a
security guard in the emergency ward of a hospital in Pristina, 10km to the
south. The government has banned Lladrovci from attending the local mosque. On
my first visit, other residents of Obilic, caught between contempt and fear,
did their best to uphold the fiction that Lladrovci never came back (the taxi
driver was an exception).
Lladrovci saw himself as an outcast long before he left for
Syria. In 1998, at the beginning of the Kosovo war, his hometown of Drenica, in
the centre of the country, was a hotbed of Albanian separatism. One of his
earliest memories is of the bark of Serb paramilitaries who invaded the town,
rounded up the adult men and shot dozens of them outside his elementary school.
His elder brother Mentor tried to hide. But when the Serbs searched their home,
they seized Mentor and bayoneted him in the head. They hung his unconscious
body from the front door and pummelled it with rifle butts as Lladrovci
watched. Mentor has never walked since. In an exodus of hundreds of people, the
family fled south. They travelled by night through forests and crossed a river
so cold, says Lladrovci, that “I have never stopped feeling it in my bones.” In
Obilic, the family stopped running and started a new life.
Growing up, Lladrovci’s sense of himself as an internal
refugee hardened into a permanent feeling of estrangement. To the diplomats and
NGO workers who flooded into Pristina after the war, Europe’s youngest country
appeared to be a land of opportunity. The capital was decked out in new
ministries, shopping malls and an 11ft bronze statue of Bill Clinton, saviour
of the Kosovars. But in Obilic, nothing changed. People eked out a living. The
houses stayed shabby. The town and its environs have the worst rates of cancer
in Kosovo, possibly because of factory fumes. Lladrovci says his mother was
often sick; his brother couldn’t work. At the age of 12, Lladrovci became the
family’s main provider. He did odd construction jobs and his friends say he
sometimes shoplifted food. “Obilic was supposed to save us,” he says. “But it
was instead hell.”
In the early 2000s, Wahhabism, a puritanical strain of Islam
promoted by Saudi Arabia, seized hold of Kosovo. Money from the Gulf flooded
in, funding gleaming new mosques with copper roofs and chrome fittings that
bristled incongruously against squalid mountain villages. Imams were sent from
the Middle East to supervise the new places of worship.
In the town of Skenderaj, near Obilic, a charity that
provided aid for war orphans installed a conservative preacher. The
municipality soon became a breeding ground for radical ideas. Skenderaj was one
of the first Kosovar towns where girls en masse started wearing the headscarf.
Among these was a 17-year-old called Mihane Baleci. In 2010 her cousin met
Lladrovci and introduced the pair. Within three months, Baleci and Lladrovci
At the time Lladrovci knew almost nothing about Islam. His
new wife introduced him to radical clerics on YouTube. In the messy aftermath
of the war in Iraq, many such preachers constructed a revisionist
interpretation of America’s role in Kosovo’s wars, arguing that the Americans
had turned the country into its vassal, rather than saved it. They claimed that
sharia law would resolve Kosovo’s lawlessness and bureaucratic dysfunction. Far
from being independent, they said, Kosovar Muslims had been sapped of their
By 2012, Lladrovci had begun to discuss these ideas in
online chat-rooms with names such as al-Sharia and al-Jihad. The forums seemed
to offer an escape from everyday life and a sense of direction. The brothers,
as Lladrovci called the people who lurked on these message boards, had little
in common beyond their age (most were in their early 20s). Many were poor; a
few were comfortably off. Some had already been to Syria; others couldn’t find
the country on a map. They seemed to comprehend Lladrovci’s anguish and
purposelessness. And they offered a solution to his plight: the Koran.
The brothers also met in person – outdoors in a leafy corner
of a park in Pristina. It was at one of these meetings that Lladrovci’s new
life began. He had taken the bus from Obilic, having told only his wife where
he was going. The brothers arranged themselves unobtrusively in a circle. In
the course of at least a dozen sessions, the group debated topics of religious
significance drawing on half-remembered teachings snatched from online sermons.
But it was Syria that consumed most of their discussion. The conflict sparked
profound questions. What would a state in the image of Allah look like? Why had
the West come to Kosovo and Iraq but not to Syria?
For months, Lladrovci lived a second life. By the summer of
2013, five of the group had left in search of answers. The videos they sent
from Syria showed them grabbing the world by the throat. They carried machine-
guns and ordered around compliant people in a distant land. In October 2013,
Lladrovci told his wife that he was heading to Syria to build a better life for
Lladrovci is cryptic about who organised his journey to the
Middle East: he talks about an Albanian man with a son called Mohammed who
lives in Switzerland. The head of Kosovo’s counter-terrorist services, Fatos
Makolli, has spent six years reconstructing the networks that funnelled
Kosovars to Syria and Iraq. According to him, firebrand imams stoked fervour
for jihad. A series of cells with links to al-Qaeda operated in parallel to
them. These often received funding from Saudi Arabia. Recruiters within these
cells picked off the angriest men, whom they thought would obey orders. “It was
clear they were interested not in devout Muslims, but impressionable ones,” Makolli
told me. Many of these men said to their parents that they were going to
Germany to look for work. Instead, they bought plane tickets for Turkey.
At the Syrian end, the Kosovars found themselves under the
command of Lavdrim Muhaxheri, known as the Emir of the Albanians. A former
contractor with the American forces in Afghanistan, Muhaxheri was a bulky man
who exuded authority. Lladrovci described him as a “man who knew how to command
other men”. He organised his troops like a mafia but did little fighting
himself, spending much of his time running a protection racket near Aleppo and
locking up anyone who questioned him.
Muhaxheri’s own contradictory biography – an instrument of
American power turned jihadist – embodied the twisted identity politics of the
nascent Islamic State. Muhaxheri unified Albanian speakers from across the
Balkans under his command. Week after week, they ate, slept, fought and prayed
together. But Lladrovci despised their shared ethnicity. “For our entire lives
we were made to take pride in this thing,” he said of his Albanian identity. He
talked scornfully of Kosovo as a “land of misbelievers”.
There is a propaganda video called “The Clanging of Swords”
that shows a group of Balkan fighters outside Aleppo. They brandish swords and
black flags. The camera cuts to a pile of passports, which are set alight.
“These passports are your tyrants,” intones Muhaxheri into the microphone, as
their national identities – Albanian, Macedonian, Kosovar, Montenegran, Bosnian
– go up in flames. “We are Muslims! The caliphate is your state now!”
Like many European fighters, Lladrovci was granted leave
from Syria for one reason only: to fetch his wife. Baleci had always wanted to
join Lladrovci. In January 2014 Lladrovci made his way back to Obilic, where he
remained for several weeks. Makolli, hearing of Lladrovci’s return, dispatched
agents to interrogate him. “We know you’ve been in Syria,” one said to him. A
grenade launcher was discovered in his house. “It was an old Yugoslav weapon I
got even before Syria,” Lladrovci protests. He was briefly detained and
released on bail, but he didn’t show up for his court hearing two days later.
By then he was back in Syria with his wife. “Fitim Ladrovci should never have
been released,” says Makolli, who blames Kosovo’s dysfunctional bureaucracy for
hindering his counter-terrorism efforts.
Baleci stayed in Manbij, a city in northern Syria that
served as a dormitory town for Albanian women whose husbands were fighting at
the front. In late May 2014, Lladrovci’s unit was ordered to help take Deir
ez-Zor, an oil-rich province on the border between Syria and Iraq. Its capture
would unify IS-held territory in the two countries.
On a napkin, Lladrovci sketched out for me the plan of
attack on Abu Hamam, a dusty concrete town on the east bank of the Euphrates.
The town’s inhabitants, tribesmen called the al-Shaitat, had been reinforced by
Iranian paramilitaries. Lladrovci’s company was part of a three-pronged attack.
Lladrovci headed towards the border in a fleet of jeeps and
pick-ups. Ragged groups of displaced people stood in awe as the convoy passed.
Abu Hamam was eerily quiet when the Albanians arrived, apart from a few stray
dogs, which they soon shot. The town had changed hands multiple times during
the war and burned-out cars lined the pavements. But as the Albanians advanced,
they were met with a hail of sniper bullets. They spread out in small
squadrons, moving house to house to flush out the defenders. As Lladrovci’s
team was entering one of these houses, two men on motorcycles opened fire on
them with machine-guns. The Albanians rushed inside and took refuge in a brick
oven on the second floor. Their radio had run out of battery so they couldn’t
call for help. For hours, they lay pinned to the floor, shouting for their
comrades to no avail. “It was the only time in the war when I felt that I was
finished,” Lladrovci says. Only later did he learn that the other squadrons had
been killed or routed.
Frozen in a crouch inside the house, not daring to move,
Lladrovci could see a flock of sheep shuffling through no-man’s-land. For a
moment he imagined he was back in Obilic, a town filled with pottering sheep.
The crack of a sniper’s bullet woke him from his reverie. The shot narrowly
missed him but kicked up a fragment of brick that gashed his right hand.
Lladrovci was bleeding so badly that he thought he might die. He volunteered to
run back to the commanders on the outskirts of the town and plead with them to
send a tank to draw the enemy’s fire. His friends tossed pillows onto the
ground to cushion his landing. Lladrovci leapt out of a window and sprinted
away, chased by rifle fire that whistled about him from all sides. He managed
to convince his commanders to dispatch a tank and his fellow soldiers were
Abu Hamam was taken the next day and the remaining
townspeople rounded up. Muhaxheri found a tribesman who, under coercion,
admitted to killing two Albanians with a grenade launcher. He roped the captive
to a telegraph pole and addressed a cameraman in pidgin Arabic: “This man
killed two soldiers of the Islamic State with a rocket. Glory to Allah!” Then
he retreated 50 yards, lowered a mortar and obliterated the captive. About a
month later, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of IS, declared the creation of a
When I asked Lladrovci what it felt like to banish people he
could not understand from lands he knew little about, he corrected me. He was
not banishing these people, he said. He was “liberating” them.
In August 2014 Kosoov TV aired an interview with a woman
named Pranvera Zena, who said that her husband and eight-year-old son Erion had
gone on a weekend trip and never returned. Subsequently, Zena received a text
from her husband saying that he had joined IS and Erion was in Syria. Sobbing,
Zena showed photos of Erion kneeling before IS’s black banner. Kosovo’s
government, she said, had failed to help her. She pleaded for other Kosovars in
IS to bring Erion home.
Around the same time Lladrovci had noticed a young Albanian
boy living in a military camp near Raqqa, the capital of the caliphate. He’d
learned that his father was fighting on the front-line in Iraq near Mosul.
Lladrovci was concerned about him – he too had lost his home as a young child.
A relationship formed between the hardened fighter and Erion, a “quiet and
frightened” boy. In the early autumn, Lladrovci started taking Erion to
internet cafés on his motorbike once a week so that the boy could talk to his
mother over Skype. Soon, Lladrovci approached Erion’s uncle with a demand: in
exchange for $11,000 and immunity from prosecution, he would repatriate Erion.
It’s possible that Lladrovci had simply grown weary of war.
But there may have been a more acute reason for wanting to leave. Muhaxheri had
grown increasingly maniacal, videoing himself executing soldiers accused of
spying. Lladrovci may have even begun to compete with him for the loyalty of
the Albanian recruits and been tortured for challenging his authority. When I
ask Lladrovci about his relationship with Muhaxheri, he just cackles.
Erion offered Lladrovci a way out. The boy’s fate had become
a cause célèbre in Kosovo and the government was under pressure to rescue him.
The prime minister authorised a plan that would give Lladrovci immunity in
exchange for the “humanitarian act” of bringing Erion back. The operation was
dangerous: the authorities needed to co-ordinate with the Turkish government to
extract Lladrovci, his wife and the boy from hostile territory. Lladrovci
smuggled the three of them out of Syria, along roads choked with refugees, the
“most miserable-looking people” that Lladrovci had ever seen. The trio headed
to Gaziantep, a city in Turkey, where they waited “paranoid of everyone”. After
five days, Kosovo’s security services lifted them from their hotel and put them
on a commercial flight home. Two undercover air marshals sat beside them during
The terminal in Pristina was a scrum of police and
reporters. As Erion emerged from the plane, his mother rushed towards him to
hug him. While the flashing cameras concentrated on the happy reunion, the
security services quietly spirited Lladrovci and his wife away.
Erion’s family say they don’t resent Lladrovci for
blackmailing them. “We begged as many Albanians in Syria as we could to bring
Erion back,” Suad Sadullahi, Erion’s cousin, told me. “We even asked Lavdrim
Muhaxheri. Fitim [Lladrovci] was the only one who agreed.” Two weeks after
Erion had been returned, Sadullahi travelled to Obilic to give Lladrovci the
promised money. When they met, Sadullahi began to appreciate why Lladrovci had
turned to jihad. “I walked into that house, took one look at that family – the
unbelievable poverty of that family – and I remember thinking to myself:
Fitim’s reasons for joining the Islamic State had nothing to do with Islam.”
Within days of Lladrovci’s defection, IS issued a call for
his head. A group of IS sympathisers cornered him in the street and he had to
brandish a pistol to disperse them. Six weeks after his return, he was woken up
by his mother from an afternoon doze. Forty police officers had surrounded the
house. They had come to take him to prison.
Lladrovci believes that Kosovo’s authorities reneged on the
deal not to prosecute him. The security services tell a different story. No
sooner had Lladrovci returned, says Makolli, than he began to flood Facebook
with reminiscences of his time in IS, including videos of decapitations and
panegyrics to the caliph. Lladrovci doesn’t deny this, but says that life back
in Obilic was miserable. He missed the excitement and solidarity of Islamic
State. Most of his friends had secured EU visas and left town in search of a
better life. Those who remained feared him. IS wanted him dead. Lladrovci would
never admit this, but it is possible that he deliberately engineered his own
arrest. Prison was the safest place for him.
During his three years in jail, Lladrovci was approached by
radicalised inmates who wished to serve the caliphate in Europe. He met
conspirators involved in ultimately fruitless plots to poison Pristina’s water
supply and ambush a visiting Israeli football team. He kept up with news from
Syria and mourned as, one by one, every Albanian he knew was killed in air
strikes. He also found out that his wife had given birth to their son.
He had a different sort of visitor, too. Individuals from
foreign embassies questioned him about terrorist networks across Europe. Why
were rifles from the Balkans used in the Bataclan massacre in Paris in November
2015? Why were Albanian jihadists crossing the Adriatic to meet with Italian mobsters?
Manacled to a table and dressed in orange prison scrubs, Lladrovci responded
outrageously. “My son will become an excellent suicide-bomber,” he told one
diplomat. Yet, though he disputes it, Lladrovci is widely believed to be an
informant for Kosovo’s security services. “How else was he let out after only
three years?” one Kosovar official said.
Governments across the world face the problem of how best to
deal with returning jihadists such as Lladrovci. Administrations in the Middle
East do not have the resources to tend to them. Their home countries have taken
different approaches. Albania has imprisoned only the recruiters. Sweden has
prosecuted almost no one. America appears to repatriate IS fighters when there
is sufficent evidence to indict them on arrival.
The fight against al-Qaeda is a natural point of comparison.
Al-Qaeda members were generally young, educated men of Arab origin in their
20s. France, Germany and Spain crafted legal mechanisms that allowed anyone
involved in planning an attack to be imprisoned. Legislation passed after 9/11
enabled plotters to be locked up for 15 years or more – long enough, so the
thinking went, for them to return to society mellowed by middle age.
But IS is not al-Qaeda. At its height, IS had 40,000
fighters from 80 different countries. Unlike al-Qaeda operatives, they don’t
conform to a type. Usually, there is no evidence to link them to specific plots
against their home states. The sole ground on which most can be prosecuted is
membership of a terrorist group. Yet this is hard to prove. “Unless you have
these people committing atrocities on video, it becomes their word versus
someone else’s,” says Peter Neumann, professor of security studies at King’s
College London. In most European countries, this crime does not carry a lengthy
sentence. Already more IS members have been let out of prison than al-Qaeda
members – many are still young and angrier than when they went in. More than
400 people currently classified as “radical” by the French prison system will
be released before the end of this year. “IS pulled all these people into the
jihadist orbit,” says Neumann. “It has brutalised them, interconnected them,
given them certain skills. In ten years, over the next generation even, this
huge pool of people can be re-activated, whether by IS or some new jihadist
There are broadly two theories for how to deal with
jihadists who return. The first – de-radicalisation – focuses on challenging
their worldview. Repentent radicals visit prisoners to convince them to
renounce their beliefs. Once released, ex-convicts are given jobs to
reintegrate them into society. The other strategy – disengagement – is premised
on the assumption that belief systems may never change. Instead, it focuses on
convincing men such as Lladrovci that their tactics are simply futile. Former
IS members may be allowed to espouse extreme views. But by placing them under
constant surveillance and clipping their ties to other extremists, disengagement
schemes try to deny them the capacity to realise their intentions.
When I first met Lladrovci, he was a few weeks into the
disengagement process. Undercover officers observed him round the clock and he
had been prevented from speaking to his old contacts. Yet he gloated to me
about being able to obtain weaponry and said he had ventured back into the
chat-rooms where he had first encountered the brothers. And his wife had not
been jailed, even after she confessed to writing to the leader of IS offering
to act as a suicide-bomber in Kosovo.
Six months later, when I returned to Obilic, Lladrovci was
very different. Strutting up to me he declared, “I’m not armed! Don’t worry!”
He no longer had qualms about shaking my hand and didn’t object to cigarettes
or background music. Even his eyes had lost most of their paranoia.
He still acted a little strangely. He had picked up the
habit of trying to kill stray dogs with rocks. When he played football, he
would sometimes encourage teammates to pass to him by whipping a handgun out
from his waistband (his friends insist this was only a joke).
Some of the town’s other residents seemed to have warmed to
him. Most people I spoke to wanted to leave Obilic. Lladrovci had gone to Syria
to make something of himself, said one. He was seen as forgivably aspirational,
much like those who had gone to western Europe in search of work, and admired
for bringing Erion home. The community has rallied around him, watching out for
government licence plates or unfamiliar men with beards. As we were walking
down the main street, a car honked at Lladrovci. He pointed his index finger to
the sky in a salute to IS. The driver reciprocated. Disengagement has turned
him into a kind of celebrity and Lladrovci has warmed to the role. When I asked
him again whether he had any regrets, he snarled, “The caliphate is not
The security services have struggled to understand the
paradoxes of a man who finally seems at home even as he hankers to return to
Syria. “Do I think his nostalgia for the Islamic State is genuine? No,” says
Makolli. “But do I think Fitim [Lladrovci] is dangerous? Yes.” (Since our final
meeting, Lladrovci has been placed under house arrest.)
On my last visit to Obilic, I call Lladrovci. Instead, it is
his wife who picks up the phone. “I know who you are,” she says to me. “I know
about your meetings with Fitim. And I swear that if you contact him one more
time, by Allah you will never walk again.”
This piece is from 1843, Economist’s sister magazine of
ideas, lifestyle and culture. It was published in the August/September 2019
Alexander Clapp, is a journalist based in Athens
Original Headline: Confessions of an Islamic State