PRISTINA: Eight Muslim extremists who plotted terror attacks against Israeli footballers and fans during a 2016 World Cup qualifier in Albania were jailed for up to 10 years on Friday.
The eight ethnic Albanians were found guilty in a Kosovo court of “planning to carry out an attack against Israeli footballers and fans” in the northwest Albanian town of Shkoder in November 2016, judge Hamdi Ibrahimi said.
The group “decided to place explosives under a bridge at the entrance of Shkoder from the direction of the Rinas Airport,” Ibrahimi said.
“So at the time when the buses with the Israelis reached the bridge, the group equipped with the explosives planned to activate it from distance or blow themselves up along with the Israelis and police.”
Kosovo police, in coordination with the Albanian authorities, wiretapped the group to prevent the attack, later arresting all its members.
For security reasons, the fixture was eventually moved to Elbasan, about 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the Albanian capital of Tirana, and took place under a heavy police presence.
The extremists — one Macedonian and the rest Kosovan — also planned attacks on Kosovan soil against political leaders and diplomats.
Group leader Visar Ibishi, 38, was sentenced to 10 years in prison while five other members were handed three to six-year jail terms each.
Ibishi and three close associates refused to appear in the courtroom, saying the court was “not interesting” for them.
Two members of the group who pleaded guilty at the beginning of the trial in the mid-2017 were sentenced to 18-month prison term each.
The ninth member, who also pleaded guilty, was fined 2,500 euros ($2950).
Around 90 percent of Kosovo’s 1.8 million people are Muslims who practise a moderate Islam.
However Kosovo has lately faced a rise in Muslim extremism. Hundreds, in particularly youngsters, took the front line in Syria fighting for the Islamic State Group and Al-Nusra forces.