Kosovo arrests 19 in Islamic State plot to attack Israel soccer match
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Kosovo arrests 19 in Islamic State plot to attack Israel soccer match

Suspects planned ‘synchronized’ attacks in Kosovo and Albania, police say; weapons, ammunition and a drone seized in sweep

Israel's Eran Zahavi (center) celebrates after scoring a goal during the World Cup 2018 qualifier football match Albania versus Israel at the Elbasan Arena stadium in Elbasan on November 12, 2016.  (AFP PHOTO / GENT SHKULLAKU)
Israel's Eran Zahavi (center) celebrates after scoring a goal during the World Cup 2018 qualifier football match Albania versus Israel at the Elbasan Arena stadium in Elbasan on November 12, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / GENT SHKULLAKU)

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo police on Wednesday said they had arrested 19 people they suspected of being involved in an Islamic State plot to carry out terror attacks in Kosovo and neighboring Albania, including an assault during a football match between Albania and Israel this past weekend.

Police said the arrests were made over the past 10 days and that the suspects had planned “synchronized terror attacks,” without going into further detail.

“They were planning to commit terrorist attacks in Kosovo and also [an attack] against [the] Israeli football team and their fans during the Albania-Israel match,” Kosovo police said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that weapons, explosives, ammunition and a drone were seized during the sweep.

The police said the suspects were communicating and receiving orders from an Islamic State member, Lavdrim Muhaxheri, the self-declared “commander of Albanians in Syria and Iraq.”

Last week, a Kosovo court ordered seven of the suspects detained for a month while the investigation continued. The seven belonged to one network that notably planned to attack a stadium in the northern Albanian town of Shkodra during the country’s 2018 World Cup qualifier against Israel last Saturday, according to media reports.

A view of Pristina, Kosovo (CC BY-SA Arbenllapashtica/Wikipedia)
A view of Pristina, Kosovo (CC BY-SA Arbenllapashtica/Wikipedia)

Police said at the time that they were plotting “terrorist attacks” with their counterparts from Albania and Macedonia against the same targets in the two countries.

According to local media reports, the network in Kosovo consists of around 30 members and is a branch of a wider group in Albania and Macedonia, of which some remained at large.

Albanian special policemen take part in a security briefing at the Elbasan Arena stadium before the 2018 World Cup group G qualifying football match between Albania and Israel, in Elbasan on November 12, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / GENT SHKULLAKU
Albanian special policemen take part in a security briefing at the Elbasan Arena stadium before the 2018 World Cup group G qualifying football match between Albania and Israel, in Elbasan on November 12, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / GENT SHKULLAKU

The Israel-Albania match was held in the central town of Elbasan for amid tight security on Saturday. Israel won 3-0 and moved into third place with nine points in its soccer World Cup qualifying Group G.

Earlier last week, Israel said the Islamic State group had been planning attacks in the Balkans and specifically warned its citizens not to attend the match.

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