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Italian Prosecutor Raises Concern About Marijuana Traffic From Albania

FILE- Masked police officers burn cannabis plants in Kurvelesh commune, 200 kilometers south of the Albanian capital, Tirana, Aug. 25, 2015.

Italy's top organized crime prosecutor expressed concern about increased cannabis traffic from Albania while meeting with justice officials in the Balkan nation Thursday.

Saying marijuana shipments from Albania had increased threefold since this time last year, Franco Roberti called the influx a result of expanding cannabis growth on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea and said that sales of the illicit drug were linked to financing Islamist extremism.

Addressing journalists after a news conference that unveiled Albania's nationwide operation to prevent the planting of cannabis, Roberti called his findings "more than a mere investigative hypothesis."

"We are convinced, based on our verification, that at least part of the revenue from drug trafficking is possibly financing radical Islamic activities, so potentially it finances terrorist activities," he said.

Earlier in the day, Albanian police said more than 3,000 officers had spread out across the country to check greenhouses, "old army depots and tunnels or abandoned houses where cannabis seeds and small plants may have been hidden," according to The Associated Press.

Planning strategy

Roberti was in Albania for meetings with justice officials, aimed at "understanding with the Albanian counterparts, the factors leading to this increase in drug trafficking from Albania to Italy, and to discuss ways on improving bilateral strategies and cooperation."

He speculated that one factor might be increased demand for cannabis in Italy, where strict anti-cultivation laws discourage consumers from growing the plant themselves.

Roberti also said corruption was a byproduct of organized crime in both countries, and that "Italy and Albania share a common interest in fighting organized crime and corruption, which appear to be increasingly connected."

Last year, Albanian authorities destroyed about 2.5 million marijuana plants, four times more than the year before. Many metric tons of cannabis were seized at border crossing points or from boats bound for neighboring Italy or Greece.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Albanian service. Some information came from AP.