Kosovo Police Prevent Islamic State's Attack on Israeli Football Team

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2016

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.
Israel said on November 8, 2016 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 that the country's 2018 World Cup qualifier with Israel this weekend would be moved for 'security reasons', following reports of a planned attack.
 / AFP / GENT SHKULLAKU        (Photo credit should read GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP/Getty Images)
GENT SHKULLAKU/Getty Images

Kosovo police revealed on Thursday they have thwarted potential attacks from Islamic State, one of which would have seen the Israeli national football team targeted.

Per Sky News, the attacks were planned to occur in Kosovo and Albania, with the Israeli national team set to play a FIFA World Cup qualifying match in the latter on Saturday.

Explosives and weapons were located after the suspects' homes were searched, and there were "clear targets on who and when should be attacked." The police also revealed they found "religious material and literature from well-known authors recognised for their extremist ideology."

Doug Stanglin of USA Today noted that according to the police, the potential attackers received their orders from an Islamic State member called Lavdrim Muhaxheri, who has previously dubbed himself "commander of Albanians in Syria and Iraq."

Subsequently, 19 suspects were arrested in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia over the past 10 days.

The match between hosts Albania and Israel was held in Elbasan after the initial venue for the game, the city of Shkoder, was changed due to security fears. Israel won the game 3-0, and according to Lizzie Dearden of The Independent, over 2,000 police officers were in attendance to keep guard.

Further, the Associated Press reported (h/t the Guardian): "A police statement said plans were in place to attack Saturday's match in Albania, and at the same time attack another target in Kosovo."

Per Dearden, the Balkan region has yielded plenty of recruits for ISIS in the past, with the majority fighting in Iraq and Syria. However, the number of members joining from the area is said to have dropped significantly over the last year.

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