Albania expels Iranian diplomats over foiled plot to attack Israelis — report
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Albania expels Iranian diplomats over foiled plot to attack Israelis — report

Tirana says expulsion was for ‘violating their diplomatic status’; unconfirmed TV report claims pair were linked to foiled plan to attack 2016 soccer match against Israel

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

TIRANA, Albania — Albania said it has expelled two Iranian diplomats for alleged illegal activities that threaten the country’s security, reportedly related to a plot to attack an Israeli soccer match.

A spokesman from the Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the two diplomats were expelled for “violating their diplomatic status.”

The spokesman said the move followed talks with other countries, including Israel.

Private Top Channel television said the Iranians are suspected of illegal activities related to a World Cup qualification soccer match between Albania and Israel two years ago.

About 20 people were arrested in Albania and Kosovo following that match, which was threatened with an alleged terrorist attack.

Albanian officials would not confirm that report.

The planned attack in November 2016 was said to have been coordinated by two Albanians in Syria fighting with the Islamic State group.

The World Cup qualifier was originally due to take place in the northern town of Shkodra. The match eventually took place in Elbasan, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the Albanian capital Tirana, under a massive security presence.

It’s unclear what connection Iran, which is traditionally seen as an enemy of the Islamic State, may have had to the attack plot.

There was no immediate comment from Israeli officials.

In May, a Kosovo court sentenced eight Albanians to jail over the foiled attack and fined another. Police found explosive devices, weapons, electronic equipment, and extremist religious literature at their homes.

In August 2017, the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria said it had killed a plotter of the thwarted soccer game attack.

Lavdrim Muhaxheri was killed in a June 7 airstrike near Mayadin, which is close to Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said at the time.

Albania is also home to more than 2,000 members of the Iranian exile opposition group Mujahedin el-Khalk, which moved from Iraq.

Kosovo, a predominantly ethnic Albanian and Muslim country, has been confronted with hundreds of its citizens waging jihad in Syria and Iraq.

It has subsequently strengthened legislation and attempted to root out radical Islamist networks.

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