PRISTINA (Reuters) - Police in Kosovo said on Wednesday they had arrested 19 people in the past 10 days on suspicion of having links with Islamic State and planning to carry out attacks in Kosovo and in neighboring Albania.
The police said the suspects were in contact with an Islamic State member, the self-declared “commander of Albanians in Syria and Iraq”, Lavdrim Muhaxheri, from whom they received orders to attack.
“They were planning to commit terrorist attacks in Kosovo and also (an attack) against Israeli football team and their fans during the Albania-Israel match,” Kosovo police said in a statement in the evening.
Albania moved a World Cup European qualifying match with Israel on Nov. 12 from the northern city of Shkoder to a venue near the capital Tirana because of fears of a possible attack by militants. Four people were arrested on terrorism charges.
The police said the suspects had planned to carry out “synchronized terrorist attacks”, but it did not give any details. It said explosives, weapons, ammunition and a drone had been seized.
At least 200 people have been detained or investigated in Kosovo over their alleged links with Islamic state in recent years. A total of 300 Kosovars went to Syria to fight alongside Islamic state troops and more than 50 have been killed there.
International and local security agencies in Kosovo, including NATO mission and the EU police mission, are worried that many of those returning home from combat zones could pose a security threat.
Most of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority are nominally Muslim but overwhelmingly secular.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with the backing of the West. In 2015 it adopted a law introducing jail sentences of up to 15 years for anyone found guilty of fighting in wars abroad.
Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Richard Balmforth