Europe

Albania drone arrest before Serbia Euro 2016 qualifier

Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic grabs flag suspended from drone on 14 Oct 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Barely 40 minutes had gone last October when the drone flew over the pitch, with an Albanian nationalist flag attached

A man who flew a drone into a football stadium in Serbia during a Euro 2016 qualifier last October has been arrested ahead of the return leg in Albania.

Ismail Morinaj was detained after giving an interview in which he admitted carrying a gun for protection.

Last year's match had to be abandoned as Serbian fans invaded the pitch and attacked Albanian players.

Security for the Serbia team is high in Albania before Thursday's match.

Although the match will take place in Elbasan, an hour's drive to the south-east of Tirana, the Serbia team are staying at a hotel in the capital surrounded by police.

As the team bus arrived in Tirana, stones were thrown and a window was cracked. Serbian media reported that Albanian officials had refused to receive a note of protest from Belgrade, insisting nothing had happened.

Image copyright Hektor Pustina
Image caption The Serbian team bus was attacked with stones as it arrived in the Albanian capital
Image copyright AP
Image caption A large police presence was visible outside the Serbia team hotel on Wednesday

Reports from Tirana spoke of roads inside the city being closed amid a major police operation.

Albania are third in their Euro 2016 qualifying group, behind Portugal and Denmark, but far ahead of Serbia and still hoping to qualify for the knock-out stages of the competition.

Police arrested the 33-year-old suspect and three other men, saying they had found a Zastava pistol and several cartridges, as well as 36 tickets for Thursday's match.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ismail Morinaj had earlier revealed that he kept the gun with him at all times
Image copyright Albanian police
Image caption Police displayed a Zastava gun they found in their operation

Tensions had already been high before the Euro 2016 tie at the Partizan Stadium in Belgrade and ordinary Albanian fans were not allowed to attend the match.

The two countries have had a long and bitter history of rivalry, and ethnic-Albanian-majority Kosovo's decision to declare independence from Serbia in 2008 brought relations to a new low.

Ismail Morinaj admitted flying the drone from a church across the road from the stadium. As it hovered above the pitch, a large "greater Albania" flag could be seen, portraying nationalist claims to neighbouring states.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A masked Serbian supporter grabbed the drone as clashes broke out deep into the first half

Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic snatched at the drone and fans poured on to the pitch, attacking Albania players.

The ensuing brawl and the decision to abandon the game prompted football officials to deduct three points from Serbia, and they stand at the bottom of their group in Euro 2016.

Only a few dozen Serb supporters will be allowed into the stadium for Thursday's match, which will have a heavy police presence.

"This is an opportunity to show our values in supporting the national team and hosting the guest team," said Albanian Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri.

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