TIRANA (Reuters) - Albanian police have arrested two brothers suspected of leading the group of youths that shot dead an elite police officer in a raid on a village known until last year for producing cannabis worth hundred of millions of dollars.
A search party of about 500 policemen, backed by helicopters, found the two men from the southern village of Lazarat hiding in a communist-era army shelter in woodland 18 kms (11 miles) north of their home.
Prosecutors say Arbion Aliko, 20, and Alban Aliko, 18, were in charge of training a dozen young men over a period of six months to attack the police to restore cannabis production in Lazarat after a massive crackdown on the village a year ago.
Cannabis from Lazarat was exported across Europe for two decades until last June when the Socialist-led government of Prime Minister Edi Rama launched a crackdown. Albania is a NATO member state and is trying to join the European Union.
“Finally, justice for you Ibrahim. Your colleagues did the job. Those who dared attack you were arrested to face justice,” Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri said after the arrest.
Ibrahim Basha, 31, a former soldier who had fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, was shot with a Russian sniper rifle when his team was helping colleagues under fire. The shooters had torn down a wall of breeze blocks to get a clear view.
The brothers had hiked along a cannabis smugglers’ route over a mountain ridge to escape. They came out of the shelter with their hands in the air after negotiating with their father and a police mediator.
“I talked to my sons, and they surrendered. They had no weapons, they are fasting (for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan) and did not shoot the police,” their father, Adil Aliko, said.
Police destroyed 71 tonnes of cannabis and 133,567 plants, five kg of heroin, four tonnes of cannabis seed and 17 liters of cannabis oil after the raid last June. About 500 weapons, some heavy, and a quarter of a million bullets were also seized.
Italian police estimate that Lazarat produced 4.5 billion euros ($5 billion) worth of cannabis in 2013.
Editing by Louise Ireland