Sport

Israeli national team take part in a training session, but citizens have been warned not to attend their World Cup match against Albania
Security checkpoints in streets; police sharpshooters take positions; helicopter will oversee operation

Israel defeated Albania 3 goals to nil in a 2018 World Cup qualifying match in Albania on Saturday, under tight security after an Islamist terrorist plot targeting the Israeli team was thwarted earlier this week.

Over 2,000 Albanian police and hundreds of special agents were deployed to protect the match in the central Albanian town of Elbasan, official said Saturday.

The match was originally supposed to be played in the northern town of Shkodra, but was moved to Elbasan, some 45 km (28 miles) from the capital Tirana, for "security reasons".

Local media reports said the match was the target of a plot by an Islamist network dismantled this week in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. About 20 people were arrested, said authorities in the three neighboring Balkan states.

Security checkpoints were set up in streets around the stadium ahead of the match with concrete blocks, while police sharpshooters took up position and a helicopter was due to help oversee the operation.

Police announced that a tunnel between Tirana and Elbasan would be closed four hours before the evening match, due to kick off at 19:45 GMT.

"Supporters have to report at the entrance at least four hours before the match and they will be subject to strict checks," said a police statement.

Amid the tension, Albanian anti-terrorist forces arrested a former fighter for the so-called Islamic State group in Guras in the east of the country, said an interior ministry spokesman.

The spokesman did not say whether the man, named as Ervin Düka, 29, who had returned from Syria after being injured, was suspected of being part of the dismantled alleged terror cell.

Police found weapons, ammunition and explosives at his home, the spokesman said.

Four members of the dismantled cell were arrested in Albania, suspected notably of plotting to attack the match. One of them Medat Hasani, is also a former IS fighter, according to sources close to the inquiry.

The three others are a self-proclaimed imam, a hairdresser and a doctor, according to Albanian media reports.

According to official figures more than 550 Muslims from Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania joined jihadist fighters in Syria and Iraq, of whom over 100 have died.

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