Police in Macedonia have arrested seven people accused of joining Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the interior ministry said.
The ministry said the suspects, all Macedonian nationals, were arrested in a raid that was a continuation of a 2015-16 police crackdown on suspected Macedonian ISIS fighters who had returned from Iraq and Syria.
“The operation confirms one more time that Macedonian institutions have the capacity and credibility to deal with the current security challenges and are a serious partner in the global anti-terrorism coalition,” the interior ministry said in a press release on Tuesday, August 7.
Those arrested were aged between 23 and 41, Reuters reported police as saying. They could face up to a decade in prison if found guilty of fighting with ISIS.
Macedonia amended its criminal code in 2014 to impose a minimum five-year prison sentence on Macedonians who fight with paramilitary organizations abroad or indirectly support them.
Officials estimate that at least 100 Macedonians left to fight in Iraq and Syria, and about 20 have been killed on the battlefield.
Police arrested nine people in the first wave of Operation Cell in August 2015, and another 23 people were arrested in 2016 during a coordinated investigation with Albania and Kosovo. A Macedonian man suspected of recruiting would-be ISIS fighters was arrested in Italy the same year.
ISIS and other jihadist groups have targeted Macedonia’s large Albanian population, which is predominately Muslim.