Ter­ror­ist threat puts Is­raeli qual­i­fier in limbo

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

IS­RAEL said on Novem­ber 8 that the Is­lamic State group had been plan­ning at­tacks “in the Balkans” and specif­i­cally warned its ci­ti­zens not to at­tend an up­com­ing Is­rael-Al­ba­nia foot­ball match. Al­ba­nian foot­ball of­fi­cials said ear­lier that the coun­try’s 2018 World Cup qual­i­fier with Is­rael this week­end would be moved for “se­cu­rity rea­sons”, fol­low­ing re­ports of a planned at­tack.

“In re­cent days, per­sons linked to Is­lamic State have been ar­rested in the Balkans,” a He­brew-lan­guage state­ment from Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu’s office said.

“Those ar­rested, and oth­ers linked to them, planned to carry out a num­ber of at­tacks against a range of tar­gets in the Balkans, in­clud­ing a game sched­uled be­tween Al­ba­nia and Is­rael for Novem­ber 12.”

The Al­ba­nian na­tional foot­ball fed­er­a­tion said in a state­ment Satur­day’s match would now be held in the cen­tral town of El­basan in­stead of the north­ern town of Shko­dra as orig­i­nally planned.

But Is­rael said its fans should nev­er­the­less stay away.

“De­spite the ar­rests, and in ac­cor­dance with a sit­u­a­tion re­port, there is still a sig­nif­i­cant risk of at­tacks in the area,” the govern­ment state­ment said.

“There­fore the coun­tert­er­ror­ism bureau is pub­lish­ing a warn­ing against travel to Al­ba­nia, in light of a high con­crete risk, and ad­vises Is­raelis not to at­tend the team’s game due to take place on Novem­ber 12.”

Po­lice in Al­ba­nia de­tained four peo­ple on Novem­ber 5 on sus­pi­cion of fi­nanc­ing ter­ror­ism, re­cruit­ing IS fight­ers for Syria and spread­ing “ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda”.

The state pros­e­cu­tor in Ti­rana re­fused to con­firm a re­port in the lo­cal

news­pa­per of plans for a ter­ror strike dur­ing the match.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, the four sus­pects, in­clud­ing a doc­tor and hair­dresser from Shko­dra, were plan­ning to ob­tain ex­plo­sives for at­tacks be­fore and dur­ing the Novem­ber 12 match.

The pros­e­cu­tor’s office said that the sus­pects had reg­u­larly vis­ited a rad­i­cal mosque in a Ti­rana sub­urb, which was closed last year, and re­cently at­tended the trial of a group of rad­i­cal imams ac­cused of ad­vo­cat­ing ter­ror­ism.

They were ar­rested in a crack­down that also led to the de­ten­tion of nine peo­ple in neigh­bour­ing Kosovo.

In Pristina, a source in the pros­e­cu­tor’s office told AFP that the group planned “at­tacks on in­sti­tu­tions and vi­tal build­ings in Kosovo”, adding that they had “no in­for­ma­tion” on a planned at­tack in Al­ba­nia.

Al­ba­nia, home to around 3 mil­lion peo­ple, is a pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­try where the vast ma­jor­ity prac­tise a mod­er­ate form of Is­lam. But rad­i­cal fringes have been on the rise in re­cent years fol­low­ing the wars in Syria and Iraq.

From 2012 to 2014, be­tween 100 and 120 Al­ba­ni­ans joined the ranks of ji­hadists abroad, ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties.

About 15 Al­ba­ni­ans have been killed in Syria or Iraq, and around 30 have re­turned home. –

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