An Iranian cleric based in Kosovo was charged last week with financing terrorism and money laundering through an ostensible nongovernmental organization that worked to spread Tehran’s version of Shi’ite Islam across Europe, Radio Free Europe reported Monday.
Hasan Azari Bejandi, who was charged July 26, ran five Shi’ite organizations operating in Kosovo with ties to Iran, according to Kosovar authorities.
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The accusations against Bejandi could jeopardize Iran’s influence in Europe, where Tehran-linked NGOs are active in the Balkan states of Albania, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Radio Free Europe noted how Iran has set up charities in Kosovo to build mosques and schools since 1999, allowing the Iranian regime to promote a militant form of Shi’ite Islam to spread its self-declared "Islamic Revolution." Kosovo has a predominately Muslim population.
Kosovar authorities discovered Bejandi’s alleged links to terrorism during a crackdown on foreign-funded Islamic groups. The government faults those organizations for radicalizing young Kosovars and driving a remarkably high number of people to join jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria.
More than 300 Kosovars have migrated to the Middle East to join Islamic militant groups in Iraq and Syria, according to government estimates. With a population of 2 million people, Kosovo stands as Europe’s largest contributor per capita of ground soldiers to the Islamic State terror group.
Visar Duriqi, an investigative journalist with the Kosovo-based Gazeta Express, said Iran’s operations in the country were relatively "underground" until authorities discovered that the Tehran-linked NGOs "were hiding their sources of income and the purposes of their spending."
Since 2014, Kosovar authorities have shutdown dozens of foreign-funded NGOs in an attempt to ease the country’s expanding radicalization issues.
Bejandi’s organization, the Qur’an Foundation of Kosova, operated as an umbrella group for five recently shutdown Shi’ite groups based there. Authorities charge Bejandi with laundering hundred of thousands of dollars in undeclared cash between 2005 and 2015 during his time with the group.
Kosovar authorities have accused NGO groups similar to Behandi’s of "brainwashing" and recruiting young people for jihadist operations abroad. A new law enables the country’s law enforcement to detain Kosovars for up to 15 years if charged with partaking in foreign wars.