Kosovo rescues eight-year-old boy from Syria militants

A picture of Erion Abazi (right) in Syria on social media with an unidentified man. The eight-year-old Kosovo boy, taken to Syria five months ago by his father who joined militants there, has been brought home after an intelligence operation, officia
A picture of Erion Abazi (right) in Syria on social media with an unidentified man. The eight-year-old Kosovo boy, taken to Syria five months ago by his father who joined militants there, has been brought home after an intelligence operation, officials said on Thursday. -- PHOTO: BBC NEWS

PRISTINA (AFP) - An eight-year-old Kosovo boy, taken to Syria five months ago by his father who joined militants there, has been brought home after an intelligence operation, officials said Thursday.

"The Kosovo Intelligence Agency (AKI) has successfully completed an operation of locating, detecting and safely returning Erion Zena to his mother," a statement from Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's office said.

Arben Zena, a Kosovo national, took his eight-year-old son to Syria in June against the wishes of the boy's mother.

President Atifete Jahjaga, who welcomed the boy at Pristina airport late Wednesday with his mother Pranvera, said she had approved the "justified" rescue operation.

"The boy was taken without his mother's permission by his father to Syria to join terrorist groups that are fighting on the territory of Syria and Iraq," she said in a statement.

No details of the operation were revealed.

"This is the greatest day for me. I hope that no mother will live my destiny," Pranvera Zena told reporters.

Erion's fate had provoked a huge reaction in Kosovo, with many sympathising with his mother's pleas for his return.

Pranvera Zena claimed that the boy's father told her he was taking him on an excursion. But he actually took the boy to neighbouring Albania, before flying on to Turkey and making his way to the Syrian front line.

While Erion was in Syria, pictures showing him holding up one finger in the Islamic State (IS) group sign, appeared on social networks.

Some 150 Kosovars are currently in Syria, and 16 have died in the conflict, including suicide bombers, according to police.

In the former Serbian province that unilaterally proclaimed independence in 2008, some 55 Islamists were arrested in recent months on suspicion of recruiting people to join the violence. They included a dozen imams led by a top religious leader, Shefqet Krasniqi of the Grand Mosque in Pristina.

More than 90 per cent of Kosovo's 1.74 million predominantly ethnic Albanian population are Muslims. They mostly practice a form of moderate Islam and have strong political and cultural ties with the West.

According to local media quoting a recent report of the US Central Intelligence Agency, hundreds of men from the Balkans have joined the IS group - adding to the waves coming from the rest of Europe, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.