By Mark Baber
Albania’s Football Federation (FAA) has issued a statement of support for Ismail Morinaj, the man who famously flew a drone with a nationalist banner into a Belgrade stadium during a Euro 2016 qualifier, sparking riots around the Balkans, igniting nationalist fervour and, thanks to the reaction of some Serbian fans, greatly assisting in Albania’s qualification for their first major international tournament.
Morinaj, who has been generally hailed as a hero in Albania for his stunt, has had the misfortune to have been arrested in Croatia in June based on a warrant issued by Serbia who wish to put him on trial for incitement to violence.
The family of the Albanian nationalist are understandably concerned for his future welfare, as a court in Dubrovnik agreed this week to extradite Morinaj to Serbia, and Morinaj’s brother has threatened the family will take unspecified “extreme” measures if the extradition goes ahead.
On 14 October 2014 Morinaj, hiding in a church tower, operated a drone which hovered over the pitch during the Serbia-Albania match until, unaware Serbia were playing in red, he flew it too close to Stefan Mitrovic who managed to pull it down.
An already explosive atmosphere in the stadium was brought to a head as Albanian players grabbed the banner off Mitrovic in an apparent attempt to defend it, leading to a pitch invasion and violence involving players, a steward and fans.
After referee Martin Atkinson suspended the game, Albanian players refused to re-enter the pitch but a series of UEFA and Court of Arbitration for Sport rulings eventually left the match being awarded 3-0 to Albania and Serbia also having 3 points deducted.
Director of the International Department for the FAA, Denis Bastari, told reporters earlier this week that all necessary steps were being made for a positive and quick solution to the problem, with FAA President Armand Duka in constant contact with Croatian authorities regarding the case.
It remains to be seen if the high-level pressure by the Albanian national and footballing authorities will be sufficient to persuade Croatian authorities not to extradite Morinaj, whose lawyers are apparently pursuing a political asylum claim in Croatia as well as challenging the extradition order through the Croatian legal system.
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