14 arrested, more at large in Albanian marijuana village

AP News
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Posted: Jun 25, 2015 6:16 AM
14 arrested, more at large in Albanian marijuana village

LAZARAT, Albania (AP) — Hundreds of Albanian police officers were checking houses Thursday in a marijuana-growing village in southern Albania a day after gunmen fatally shot a policeman and wounded two others during a shootout.

Police spokesman Ardi Bita said Thursday 14 out of 21 main suspects have been detained. Police resumed searching houses in the morning "without meeting resistance" in Lazarat, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital, Tirana.

More than a dozen other people have been questioned by prosecutors looking for evidence of who fired at the police and for a possible criminal network operating in the village.

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 fired from local homes.

The raid last year destroyed 102 tons of marijuana and 530,000 marijuana plants with an estimated market value of 6.4 billion euros ($8.2 billion) — more than 60 percent of the country's annual gross domestic product.

Wednesday's shootout came after police stopped a car transporting weapons and arrested the driver in an operation to find suspects who had shot at policemen in the village overnight.

A masked police officer in a camouflage told The Associated Press a grenade launcher was found at the place believed to have been used by the gunmen who shot toward police.

"It seemed a setup, handing over the car with weapons to attract police to an open place and then shoot," said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the operation was ongoing.

Spokesman Bita said the operation would continue "until the last suspect was detained."

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Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana.