Albanian fan wanted for sparking soccer match violence freed

FILE - In this file photo dated Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic grabs a banner fixed to a drone, containing the Albanian flag during the Euro 2016 Group I qualifying match between Serbia and Albania, in Belgrade, Serbia. The match was suspended. Albanian citizen, Ismail Morina, who was wanted on criminal charges in Serbia after he took credit for a drone with a nationalist banner that was flown over a soccer stadium and prompted fan violence, said Tuesday July 10, 2018, that he has been released from prison.(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, FILE)

TIRANA, Albania — An Albanian citizen who was wanted on criminal charges in Serbia after he took credit for a drone that flew a nationalist banner over a soccer stadium and prompted fan violence said Tuesday that he has been released from prison.

Ismail Morina, aka Ballisti, was arrested in Croatia last year on a warrant from Serbia. He was moved this year to a prison in Italy, where he has residency through his marriage to an Italian citizen.

Morina, 36, expressed gratitude on his Facebook page to an Albanian diplomat in Italy, Consul General Adrian Haskaj, for helping to secure his release. He also thanked "Croatia and Italy for their impartiality."

A Foreign Ministry official in Albania's capital, Tirana, said an Italian court cleared the way for Morina's release, declining to comment further. The official asked for anonymity due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue,

Morina and the Foreign Ministry did not say if there were conditions to the release or if the Serbian case remains active.

Violence interrupted at an October 2014 European qualifying match between the Serbian and Albanian teams when a drone with an Albanian banner floated over the pitch. The 0-0 game was suspended after Serbian fans injured some of the Albanian players, who had rushed a Serbian player after he pulled down the banner.

European soccer's governing body ultimately awarded Albania the match victory, helping win the tiny western Balkan country a spot in the Euro 2016 finals, its first major tournament.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, his Cabinet and the Albanian Football Federation negotiated with Croatian authorities not to approve Serbia's extradition request, arguing that "Albanian citizen Ismail Morina is endangered to suffer from politically motivated persecution or discrimination."

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