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UN urges Kosovo to stop citizens from joining terror groups

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PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The United Nations is urging authorities in Kosovo to have a clear strategy to deter potential fighters from joining Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq, and to offer more employment possibilities and education.

An independent U.N.-commissioned report, made available to The Associated Press on Tuesday, examined returned foreign fighters and the reasons that Kosovars joined extremist groups.

It also urged Kosovo and international bodies to develop better policies to prevent violent extremism.

According to Kosovo police, 335 citizens have traveled to or been caught en route to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq since 2012, making Kosovo one of Europe's largest exporters of foreign fighters on per capita basis. They included 253 were men, 55 women and 27 children.

The would-be fighters usually traveled through Turkey to Syria, where they joined ISIS, Jabhat Al Nusrah, Ahrar Al Sham or the Free Syrian Army terror groups.

"Ethnic Albanians fighting for extremist groups, including Lavdrim Muhaxheri, Ridvan Haqifi and others, presented photographic evidence that portrayed a sense of pride, freedom, empowerment and, ultimately, happiness," the report said.

The perception of anti-Islamic feelings, poor education and a lack of employment seemed to have been the main causes for recruitment. The internet and social media were identified as tools for radicalization.

Kosovo, which has a mostly Muslim ethnic Albanian population, is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with an unemployment rate above 33 percent, and 57 percent for those under 25. It also has low-quality education.

"Investing in increasing employment opportunities and improving the employability of Kosovo's workforce through better quality education that offers skills sought after in the labor market could be both a measure to prevent violent extremism and aid the disengagement and reintegration of those who have previously joined extremist groups," said the report.

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