TIRANA - An Albanian court sentenced nine defendants, including three Muslim clerics, to jail sentences of up to 18 years on Tuesday for recruiting people to fight in Syria's civil war.
The sentencing marked the end of a two-year trial that has underlined concerns about radicalization among Muslims in Albania and other Balkan countries and has been closely followed by Tirana's NATO ally the United States.
A small number of Albanians in the majority-Muslim ex-communist state have in recent years come under the influence of radical preachers, usually foreigners or Albanians who received their training abroad.
The nine defendants refused to stand when Judge Liljana Baku read out their sentence, just as they have done throughout their trial, saying they recognized only the will of Allah.
The three clerics, Bujar Hysa, Genci Balla and Gert Pashja, were found guilty of recruiting people for terrorist purposes, inciting hatred and making public calls for terrorist acts, and were sentenced respectively to 18, 17 and 17 years in a high-security jail.
They had preached in mosques not controlled by the official Muslim Committee and are believed to have recruited most of the 100 or so Albanians estimated to have traveled to Syria, some with their families, to fight alongside militant groups.