LAZARAT, Albania (AP) — Hundreds of Albanian police arrested suspects and checked houses Thursday in a southern marijuana-growing village a day after gunmen fatally shot one policeman and wounded two others.
Officials in the predominantly Muslim nation played down local media speculation that the gunmen were linked to Islamic State extremists.
Police spokesman Ardi Bita said Thursday that 14 out of 21 main suspects had been arrested in Lazarat, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital, Tirana. He said police searched houses “without meeting resistance.”
More than a dozen others were being questioned by prosecutors looking for evidence of who fired at the police Wednesday and seeking to uncover a possible criminal network in the village.
Local media said some suspects were Islamic State supporters who had posted imagery associated with the group on their social network sites.
“The media have exaggerated. It also is not true that one of the suspects has been in Syria. He has been followed for other crimes and has always been in Albania,” Bita said. “For the moment there is no hint that what is happening is linked at all with the Islamic State.”
Lazarat came to prominence last year after a five-day police siege in which special police forces with armored personnel carriers came under intense fire from automatic weapons and rocket launchers. The police raid last year destroyed 102 tons of marijuana and 530,000 marijuana plants with an estimated value of 6.4 billion euros ($8.2 billion).
Investigators on Thursday found about 100 bullet casings beside a wall in which gunmen had created holes to fire at police 200 meters (yards) away. A masked police officer in a camouflage told The Associated Press that a grenade launcher was also found.
Bita said the police operation would continue “until the last suspect was detained.”
In Tirana, slain police officer Ibrahim Basha was buried with full honors in the Martyrs of the Nation cemetery.
Semini reported from Tirana.
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