Drone-flying Albanian arrested with guns ahead of Serbia match

TIRANA, Albania (AFP) - An Albanian who flew a drone carrying a nationalist flag over a football match against Serbia last year, sparking violence, has been arrested in possession of illegal arms ahead of another game between the two countries, police said on Wednesday (Oct 7).

Ismail Morina claimed responsibility for the drone stunt in October last year, in which a flag of "Greater Albania" was flown over a Belgrade stadium during a Euro 2016 qualifier between the Balkan nations.

Serbian fans subsequently hurled smoke bombs and invaded the pitch to attack Albanian players and fighting both on and off the pitch brought the match to a halt. Morina, 33, made headlines over the stunt and some claimed him a "national hero".

The news of his arrest in Tirana came a day ahead of another Euro 2016 qualifier in Elbasan, 50km south of the Albanian capital, which is to be held amid tight security to prevent a repeat of last year.

"Ismail Morina was arrested overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday in Tirana in illegal possession of a Zastava pistol and six bullets," police said in a statement.

The police also found a second gun and 30 tickets for Thursday's (Oct 8) match in his car, which are being investigated.

Three other people in the vehicle were arrested, they said.

According to local media reports, Morina said he kept his weapon for self-defence, feeling threatened after the incident in Belgrade.

Last year's incident escalated into a political crisis and highlighted the fragile relations between the two Balkan nations.

Bilateral ties have traditionally been frosty, especially since Kosovo, a former province of Serbia populated by mostly ethnic Albanians, declared independence in 2008 - a move not recognised by Belgrade.

As many as 1,500 police officers are being deployed to ensure Thursday's (Oct 8) match goes smoothly.

The slightest incident could dash Albania's dream of qualifying for the European Championships for the first time in their history, and players of the national team have appealed to the public to ensure it goes smoothly.

Serbia, who have no chance of qualifying, come to Elbasan seeking revenge after the Court of Arbitration for Sport in July awarded a 3-0 win to Albania for the aborted game.

The match, like the one in Belgrade, will be played without the presence of away supporters - except for 70 Serbian students in the stadium.

Morina was among those banned from attending, but he nevertheless posted a match ticket to his name on Facebook, which police said was probably tampered with.