Fictitious articles in Western media raise eyebrows in Albania

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 22, 2016 12:16

Fictitious articles in Western media raise eyebrows in Albania

Story Highlights

  • Western news outlets are falsely portraying Albania as a terrorist hotspot, thus creating a wrong perception about the country abroad

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By LEDION VESHI

TIRANA, Jan.20 – Pandering to rising public fears of Islamic extremism, recent articles in Western media are unfairly portraying Albania as a hub of Islamic State activities, at a time when the country is trying to attract much-needed foreign investments. Such a distorted depiction of reality in Albania is not only damaging from an economic perspective, but it also threatens to undermine Albania’s political efforts for becoming a full-fledged member of the European Union. Meanwhile, following the outbreak of such reports, the Albanian Interior Minister and other high state officials have dismissed allegations made as fabricated and completely unfounded.

UK’s Daily Mirror under the sensational title “ISIS seizes £4bn drug ring from the Mafia to fund its brutal terror campaign” made strong claims on Sunday that the Islamic State is running cannabis farms in Albania and then shipping the drugs to Britain with the proceeds being used to fund the network’s terror campaign. The article alleges that the Islamic State took over the lucrative narcotics trade from the Mafia after security forces intervened in the hilly southern village of Lazarat, giving it a foothold in Europe.

The article itself did not provide any hard facts; instead it simply relied on the opinion of two security experts from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Even when trying to provide some ‘facts’ the information provided was false, for example when it mentions that 50 people were killed in the village during 2014.

The report did not cite any Albanian authoritative source or any credible Western intelligence sources, which not only raises serious question marks over the article’s credibility, but also about the potential motives behind such a speculative article.

While Albania might not be without sin when it comes to cannabis cultivation and trafficking, the article shamelessly exploits it to wrongly accuse Albania for a crime it did not commit: the involvement of Islamic State terrorists in the cultivation of cannabis in its territory. It also failed to bring the other side of the story, that cannabis production in the country has decreased eight-fold ever since.

The Daily Mirror has not been the only Western news outlet to describe Albania as a terrorist hotspot; Italian media have also joined in this malicious campaign, which seriously risks tarnishing Albania’s image in the eyes of the average Western reader. The media across the Adriatic are increasingly portraying Albania as being not just a threat to their national security, but also Europe as a whole.

Italy’s Corriere TV added more fuel to the flames with a six-minute footage titled “The terror threat coming from Albania”, which describes Albania as the jihadists’ local hiring office.

The report mentions that ISIS is recruiting Albanian youngsters capable of speaking Italian by offering them a monthly pay of 2,000 Euros. The author, Antonio Ferrari claims that 1,000 people have already been recruited in Albania and are ready to join the global terror network.

According to the same material, “the clandestine market of weapons has also flourished in particular areas of the country and weapons are widely available for as little as 600 Euros. NATO, the United States and Russia are alarmed for what is happening here.”

Such ‘facts’ would have indeed alarmed all of the countries mentioned above in case they were true, but in reality they aren’t.

Besides trying to sell fiction for fact, the article again fails to portray the other side of the story- that Albania has destroyed its stockpiles of excess ammunition with help from its international partners, and that Albania has been participating for more than a decade in international coalitions against terrorism.

In addition to being a signatory of conventions, treaties, or anti-terror initiatives in the framework of international organizations, Albania has also made the necessary amendments to its legal framework to address the phenomenon of radical extremism, including making it a criminal offence for Albanian citizens fighting in foreign wars. The national security strategy approved in Parliament in 2014 contextualized terrorism as an internal threat, not just an international one.

The strategic framework is completed by an additional two documents: a National Strategy on Terrorism and its related action plan, as well as the Fight against Organized Crime, Trafficking and Terrorism Intersectoral Strategy (2013-2020) and its related action plan.

All these measures indicate that Albania has taken the terrorism threat seriously and terrorists are certainly not having free reign in the country like the recent string of articles in Western media suggest.

Albania might not be immune from the threat of Islamic radicalism, but the same could actually be said about any other country in Europe. The authors of such biased reports seem to forget the fact that the base of the perpetrators of the heinous Paris shootings last November was Molenbeek, a borough of the European capital, Brussels.

Just like almost from every other European country, a small number of radicalized elements from Albania have joined the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

The number of Albanian citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq is 114 with about a third returning to Albania. The peak of Albanian jihadists joining the conflict was registered in the second half of 2013 and the first half of 2104 with numbers dwindling ever since to reach almost zero in the first half of 2015, according to a thorough study on radicalism and religious extremism in Albania carried out last year by the Albanian Institute for International Studies.

“The involvement of a group of Albanians or ethnic Albanians in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, regardless of size, projects Albanians as extremists, undermining their position in the Balkans or in the world,” the study concludes.

The projection risks blemishing the country’s image and creating a wrong perception about Albania, which has direct negative consequences, not only for foreign investors, but also for tourism in Albania.

AIIS was pretty accurate in its conclusions saying that there exists the risk of instrumentalization and amplification of the phenomenon in the local and international media through hyperbolization and the creation of an imaginary situation, which creates fertile ground for the creation of a real problem in the future. Such a situation threatens to damage one of Albania’s strategic objectives- its European integration process.

And for the time being, it looks like that is exactly what’s happening.

Authorities’ reaction

As news of the defamatory articles broke out, several top Albanian officials have dismissed the articles as biased and completely unfounded.

The press office of the Ministry of Interior informed on Tuesday that minister Saimir Tahiri had sent a letter to the editorial offices of the Daily Mirror and Corriere TV, in which he completely rebuffed the articles as untrue and hampering joint efforts in the war on terror by creating ‘clouds of mistrust’.

“I am convinced that I am not the only Albanian to feel sad about the untruths on Albania, just like anyone else who has had the possibility to get to know Albania even for a little bit is feeling sad as a result of a completely distorted depiction of the Albanian reality in your report,” the letter of the Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri read.

In his letter, Tahiri added that while it is true that Albania is a country with a predominantly Muslim population, it is pure blindness to rely just on the fact alone to perceive a terrorist threat in Albania.

Albanian General Prosecutor Adriatik Llalla also dismissed connections of the southern village of Lazarat with the Islamic State, declaring that persons from the village have only been convicted for cannabis cultivation, and under no circumstance investigations led by prosecutors have found evidence of persons engaging in terror activities.

“News that try to establish a connection between cannabis produced in Lazarat or any other area of the country and terrorists of the so-called Islamic State, are pure fiction without any real foundation,” Llalla declared during a meeting with the local prosecutors in Gjirokastra, Southern Albania.

The State Police chief Haki Cako also dismissed another similar portrayal of Albania by Italian channel Rai Uno as “fiction which does not correspond to the Albanian reality”.

Locals also deny claims

Residents of Lazarat also vehemently rejected claims regarding the existence of cannabis plantations run by the terrorist group in the area.

The imam of the local mosque in Lazarat told reporters that the imam himself and residents alike considered the Islamic State a terrorist organization and that the articles which connect the village to the terror network were nothing but ill-willed commissioned articles.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 22, 2016 12:16