Terrorist threat forces Albania to move Israeli 2018 qualifier to safer venue

Albania flag

November 9 – Israel has warned fans not to attend the upcoming World Cup qualifier in Albania even though the match has been relocated to a different part of the country because of a planned Islamic State terrorist attack.

A plot to attack the Israel squad was uncovered by Albanian officials and Israel’s counter-terrorism bureau.

Albanian football officials have confirmed that this weekend’s qualifier would be moved for “security reasons” and will now be held in the central town of Elbasan closer to the capital Tirana instead of the northern town of Shkodra as originally scheduled.

“In recent days, persons linked to Islamic State have been arrested in the Balkans,” a Hebrew-language statement from Israeli 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.”

“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 counter terrorism 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.”

Police in Albania detained four people last Saturday on suspicion of financing terrorism, recruiting IS fighters for Syria and spreading “terrorist propaganda”. The state prosecutor in the capital Tirana refused to confirm a report in the local Panorama newspaper that the four suspects, including a doctor and hairdresser from Shkodra, were planning to obtain explosives for attacks before and during the match.

The prosecutor’s office did admit, however, 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.

Unconfirmed Israeli reports said the players wanted the game to be staged at a neutral venue but that FIFA has confirmed it will be still played in Albania. Israeli security officials have issued strict security guidelines to the team. Players will not have any free time while in Albania and three times as many security guards as normal will accompany the team.

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