February 5, 2015 / 3:23 PM / 3 years ago

Islamic State flags appear, then disappear, in Bosnian village

GORNJA MAOCA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Flags and emblems of Islamic State, pictured on Wednesday on houses in a Bosnian village, disappeared on Thursday under threat of action by police wary of the dangers posed by radical Islamists returning from Syria and Iraq.

The village of Gornja Maoca in northeastern Bosnia is home to followers of the strict Sunni Islam Wahhabi movement, and has been raided by police several times over the past decade due to suspected links with radical Islamist groups.

Most Muslims in Bosnia are either secular or practice a moderate form of Islam. But more hardline versions have found a growing following among younger generations, particularly in rural areas, and police say up to 180 Bosnians, including women and children, have left for Syria over the past three years to join Islamic State.

On Wednesday, a Reuters photographer took pictures of Islamic State flags flying from several homes in the village, and symbols painted on a wood shed.

On Thursday, Bosnia’s state prosecution said it had ordered security forces to search the village. They came away empty-handed.

“During the activities undertaken, ISIS flags were not found displayed,” the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) said in a statement. It gave no further details.

Bosnian state radio cited villagers saying the flags had been erected by neighbours who had since left the community.

“I don’t understand why such a fuss was made in the past 24 hours because of a simple piece of cloth,” a man, who gave his name as Edis and who wore a long beard and short trousers typical for Wahhabi followers, told Reuters.

Bosnia’s Islamic Community has condemned those who leave to fight in Iraq and Syria, and Bosnia last April introduced prison terms of up to 10 years for Bosnians who do so and for those who recruit them.

But there is growing concern over the influence that the turmoil in the Middle East may have on Muslims in Bosnia, particularly against a backdrop of widespread unemployment, poverty and corruption in the Balkan country two decades since the end of its 1992-95 war.

Last month, Friday prayers at a Sarajevo mosque were interrupted when a man in a shirt bearing Islamic State symbols threatened an imam. He was thrown out by worshippers.

Additional reporting and writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Matt Robinson and Andrew Heavens

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