Kosovo Albanians, overwhelmingly Muslim, love America—which rescued them from Serbian aggression in 1999—and desire diplomatic relations with Israel. Kosovo does not recognize the Palestinian Authority and does not belong to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The Islamic Republic of Iran, meanwhile, does not acknowledge Kosovo’s formal independence. How has it happened, then, that harsh voices are now detected against America and Israel, and for Iran, in the Balkan state?
On February 27, the independent Kosovo news portal Express, under the byline of a courageous opponent of radical Islam, Visar Duriqi, reported that Iranian ideological agents are active in the territory. Their path has been opened by a non-governmental organization (NGO) representing Shia Islam and called the “Koran Foundation of Kosovo.” The foundation is affiliated with an identically-named enterprise in Albania.
The pro-Iranian NGO was launched in Kosovo, according to Duriqi, in 2002. Its patron was an Iranian, Hasan Azari Bejandi, assisted by Ikballe Huduti-Berisha, a Kosovar woman and devotee of Shiism. Documents in the possession of Express reveal a turnover of more than 100,000 euros per year by the Koran Foundation, Duriqi wrote.
The most notorious representative of the Iranian NGO in Kosovo is Zehra Huduti, daughter of Ikballe Huduti-Berisha. A resident of Prizren, Kosovo’s second city, Zehra Huduti announced on Iran’s Internet-based Nasr TV, in a visit to the Islamic Republic three years ago, that she was “[there] to fight Israel and America.”
Express pressed Zehra Huduti to explain how she proposed to combat these two countries, but without success. Her mother, known as “the preaching woman Ikballe,” obtained the property in Prizren on which the Koran Foundation was built, with the help of her husband Asllan Huduti, a real-estate owner and likewise a Shia adherent, Express disclosed.
The Koran Foundation claims it seeks to establish a museum of Iranian culture in Kosovo and to endow a chair of Iranian studies at the University of Pristina, the national institution of higher education. It offers religious scholarships to study in the Iranian theological center of Qom. In 2009, the Koran Foundation of Kosovo joined with the Ahlul Bayt World Assembly, a Shia religious network directed from Qom, to hold a conference in Prizren on Imam Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad and progenitor of the Shia sect.
That event was endorsed by a Qom-based cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Ansarian, who advertises himself as a spiritual Sufi. But the lessons the Kosovar Shia Ikballe Huduti-Berisha took away from her encounters with the Iranians had little, apparently, to do with the contemplative traditions of the Sufis and much to do with Islamist militancy.
Duriqi found that postings on social media by “the preaching woman Ikballe” included images shooting firearms. She was shown additionally in an Iranian news picture with former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Duriqi identified several other Shia NGOs operating in Kosovo. He and Express alleged that the Koran Foundation and an NGO named “Sunny Hills” (after a neighborhood in Pristina), are under investigation by Kosovo authorities for terror financing, money laundering, and corrupt property deals.
Further, while Kosovo Islam is overwhelmingly Sunni, and includes few conventional Shia Muslims, the Iranian-backed Koran Foundation published a volume, The Koran in Islam, edited by Fahrush Rexhepi, a leading official of the Kosovo Sunni hierarchy. Duriqi argues that after a long period in which the few Kosovo Shias kept a low profile and joined in the activities of the Sunni organization, they are now asserting themselves. It is hard to imagine that Iranian influence is absent in this gambit. An Iranian internet radio service, the Voice of Teheran, broadasts in Albanian.