Albanian drone-flying soccer fan seeks asylum in Croatia

An Albanian soccer fan detained on a Serbian warrant for allegedly flying a drone with a nationalist banner during a high-risk match has asked for political asylum in Croatia to avoid extradition, his lawyer said Monday.

Ismail Morinaj was arrested in Croatia in June on a Serbian warrant. A court in Dubrovnik agreed last week to extradite the 35-year-old Albanian to Belgrade.

Morinaj’s lawyer Darko Butigan said his client has appealed the extradition ruling and also sought political asylum in Croatia. Butigan said Morinaj fears he would not get a fair trial in Serbia.

“He has asked for international legal protection in Croatia and with other European Union institutions,” Butigan told The Associated Press by phone.

Last week’s approval for Morinaj’s extradition by the court in Dubrovnik is yet to be confirmed by higher courts before Croatia’s justice minister makes the final decision whether to hand him over. Croatia is an EU member state.

In Tirana, the Albanian Football Federation, or FSHF, said Monday it they have sent their legal representative to help Morinaj’s case.

Spokesman Denis Bastari also said Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama promised “maximum efforts so that this issue is over soon and Mr. Ismail Morinaj is released soonest.”

Violence interrupted an October 2014 European qualifying match between the Serbia and Albania after a drone with an Albanian banner appeared over the pitch. Belgrade-Tirana tensions have been high over breakaway Kosovo, formerly a Serbian province dominated by ethnic Albanians.

The 0-0 game was suspended after Serbian fans injured some Albanian players who rushed a Serbian player who pulled down the banner.

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

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