Found by The Mail after the police failed: The Albanian double killer who’s lived freely in open borders UK for 18 years while on Interpol’s most wanted list after sneaking into Britain disguised a Kosovan refugee
- Avni Metra was given a UK passport after entering the country in 1998
- Dodging 25-year jail term after conviction in absence for two murders
- Has pocketed thousands in benefits while working in the black economy
- Behind bars after Mail tracked him to flat in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire
His right hand poised menacingly by two lethal knives, an Albanian double killer who has lived quietly in suburbia for the past 18 years is confronted by the Daily Mail.
Our international investigation tracked Avni Metra to his Home Counties lair.
And last night the 53-year-old gangster, who gouged out the eyes of one victim, was finally in custody after we alerted Scotland Yard to his whereabouts.
His right hand poised menacingly by two lethal knives, an Albanian double killer who has lived quietly in suburbia for the past 18 years is confronted by the Daily Mail.
Police had no idea where he was and made little attempt to find him even though he was on an Interpol ‘most wanted’ list and had been arrested in London for wife-beating.
Metra was granted a UK passport after sneaking into Britain in 1998 falsely claiming to be a Kosovan refugee.
He has pocketed thousands of pounds in benefits while working in the black economy and being linked to prostitution rackets.
The father of four will appear in court today to face extradition proceedings.
He has been dodging a 25-year jail term that followed his conviction in his absence for two murders.
Only a month ago the Mail revealed that a one-legged Albanian double killer has been granted legal aid to fight being sent home.
Saliman Barci, 41, who similarly claimed he was a Kosovan refugee, was given a four-bed house and £2,000 a month in benefits even though he is a cocaine dealer. He also had a prosthetic limb fitted by the NHS.
Metra and Barci are believed to be among scores of Albanian murderers and violent criminals hiding out in Britain.
Hideout: Metra’s home Borehamwood, Hertfordshire where the Mail tracked him to
The Metra case was revealed last month by prosecutors in Albania, a country which wants to join the European Union.
Interpol chiefs in Tirana said they had requested his arrest in 2008 after they learned he had settled in London but were told British police could not find him.
They are seeking at least six Albanian murderers living here under false identities. In April, Justice Secretary Michael Gove said about one in 20 of this country’s 10,000 foreign criminals is from Albania.
Metra fled the former communist state in 1998, a year after killing two brothers in the city of Burrel in the north of the country.
In April 1997, he ambushed a man as he crossed a bridge in the town and pummelled him to death with a machine gun.
Three months later, he and his cohorts attacked the man’s brother, gouging his eyes and slicing his ears before eventually shooting him dead.
Wanted for questioning by police, Metra paid £5,000 to a criminal gang to facilitate his trip to the UK and escape justice.
On arrival in London, he claimed asylum by falsely claiming to be from Kosovo and by using a false identity.
He has been granted income support and was allocated a housing benefit-funded home in north London in 1999, when his wife and young child joined him from Albania, also posing as Kosovan refugees.
Spotted: Metra doing his shopping and the criminal being confronted by the Mail
While on welfare he worked as a labourer and had links to an Albanian prostitution racket in London. Several years later, he was granted British citizenship and a passport.
In 2010, he was arrested and later charged with domestic violence, spent several weeks in custody and, in 2011, was given a 12-month community order and a 12-month restraining order for subjecting his wife to a terrifying ordeal.
However, detectives did not realise that Metra, using the bogus name Avdul Mekra, was in fact a notorious fugitive.
He was put behind bars last night after the Mail tracked him down to a shabby flat in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.
Despite changing his name slightly he was still using his real date of birth.
However he appeared stunned to have been traced and, after composing himself, said he ‘couldn’t remember’ the court case in Albania. He added: ‘I am Kosovar. I don’t know my friend. I am Kosovar.’
Confronted with his real identity as a killer, he insisted he had never murdered anyone and tried to claim that in Albania ‘everything is corruption’.
He said he had never been spoken to by British police about the murders in his home country.
Yesterday afternoon he was detained by officers from Scotland Yard’s extradition unit as he drove through Watford.
Detective Chief Superintendent Tom Manson, of the Metropolitan Police Service, said last night: ‘Following information passed to us by the Daily Mail the Met started a manhunt to locate Avni Metra. We are grateful to the Daily Mail for all their assistance.
‘Avni Metra, 53, was arrested in Watford as a result of a targeted Automatic Number Plate Recognition operation.
‘He was arrested on behalf of the Albanian authorities having been convicted of a double murder and sentenced in his absence.
‘He will appear in custody at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.’
Proof the UK’s lost its marbles (cont): Killer who gouged out his victim’s eyes in his homeland was arrested for wife-beating in London while on the run… yet it took the Mail just days to find him in a Home Counties flat
The dilapidated house lowers the tone of a smart, residential road near the centre of Borehamwood, the Hertfordshire town that is home to the famous Elstree film studios and which rather fancifully styles itself as ‘Britain’s Hollywood’.
Tenants behind the scruffy white front door include a careworn Romanian man, a middle-aged African woman and a Pole.
However, the character we were looking for was a shadowy Albanian. We were told that he seldom spoke to the other residents, and would come and go from his privately rented digs at irregular hours in a battered, green Ford saloon.
After a painstaking investigation that had begun in the remote mountains of northern Albania and ended in this leafy corner of the Home Counties, we were closing in on a ruthless convicted double-murderer.
This is a killer so gratuitously sadistic, Albanian witnesses and prosecutors had told us, that he and his gang gouged out the eyes and cut off the ears of one victim as he writhed on the ground pleading for mercy, before riddling him with bullets.
During the mid-Nineties he is believed to have served as the henchman for a mafia-style gang that took over an isolated mountain community amid an orgy of bloodshed, plundering banks and businesses and even raping local women.
Wearing a green military greatcoat, beneath which he concealed a Kalashnikov machine-gun looted from an army weapons store, witnesses recall how he would open fire without a second thought on anyone who stood in the gang’s way.
After a painstaking investigation that had begun in the remote mountains of northern Albania and ended in this leafy corner of the Home Counties, the Mail closed in on a ruthless convicted double-murderer.
He should now be serving a 25-year sentence for murder handed down to him in his absence by a judge in Albania’s capital, Tirana, in 2001, who branded him ‘an enormous danger’ to society.
Yet the man never faced a court of law. Long before the trial commenced, he had fled Albania and sneaked into Britain under the guise of being of a poor refugee from Kosovo. He has been living here incognito for 18 years — first on the margins of London, and now among the unsuspecting commuters and pensioners in this tranquil town.
It is known that in the past he has claimed housing benefit and income support, and he is believed to have secured child benefit for his family of four children, who all live here.
When we confronted him in his Borehamwood bolthole, the bedsit door inched open to reveal a squalid room reeking of roll-up cigarettes and strong lager, an empty bottle of which stood beside the unmade bed. And glowering through the narrow gap were blank, bloodshot eyes sunk deeply into a shaven head.
Then we saw the two knives. They were both long and sharp, and they appeared to have been deliberately placed on the kitchenette worktop just inside the door.
Barking his replies to our questions in gruff, heavily accented monosyllables, he insisted his name was Avdul Mekra, and that he was among the thousands who had been forced to flee the strife-torn Kosovo city of Gjakova in 1998, as war with Serbia lurched closer. ‘I am clean! I never killed nobody! F***ing hell, never!’ he exclaimed. ‘I am not Albanian — I am Kosovar!’
This was the story he had used to gull immigration officials to grant him asylum, after he paid people-traffickers £5,000 to smuggle him through Europe and across the Channel; the story that had eventually led to him securing the British passport he fished from a drawer and waved defiantly at us.
Pressed as to why impeccable sources in Albania, including his victims’ sister and senior judicial figures, had confirmed from photographs that he was a fugitive killer, and why his birth date record back home matches the one registered here, he spat: ‘Everything in Albania is corruption.’
Yet we have amassed incontrovertible evidence that ‘Avdul Mekra’, as he has long called himself, is in fact Avni Metra, who hails from the town of Burrel, in north Albania.
HOW WE EXPOSED ANOTHER ALBANIAN KILLER IN OUR MIDST
Last month, the Mail revealed the scandal of the one-legged Albanian double killer who has been granted legal aid to fight extradition from Britain — even though he has allegedly confessed to two murders.
Saliman Barci, 41, is using human rights laws in a desperate bid to avoid being sent back to his homeland, where he has been convicted in his absence of murdering two men.
The murders happened in Burrel, the same northern Albanian city where Avni Metra and his gang slaughtered two brothers in 1997.
Barci, who protests his innocence, has spent nearly a year in custody battling a request to be returned to Albania to serve a 25-year sentence.
His taxpayer-funded extradition battle has been led by a well-known human rights barrister. But his campaign to remain in this country suffered a blow after his estranged Albanian wife told the Mail he had confessed to her on the night of the killings.
According to her, the couple were smuggled into the UK in a van from Calais, posed as Kosovar refugees to gain British citizenship, and have lived rent free in a lavishly furnished four-bedroom housing association house.
In total, she said, Barci has enjoyed nearly £2,000 a month in benefits while making (before his arrest) huge sums from selling cocaine in London.
Interpol considers Metra so dangerous that he is on its ‘most wanted’ list. As far back as 2008, having received information Metra was in this country, Interpol requested Britain’s help in tracking him down.
Interpol says that it has also urged our police to find his evil fellow gang member, Kadri Hoxha, 56, who is said to have bribed his way out of prison in Tirana after being convicted of the same two murders and receiving the same 25-year sentence.
That second killer is believed to be hiding in northern England using a false Kosovar identity. More pertinently, a relative of his in Albania told us that 15 members of his family have settled here, too.
This is just the tip of an iceberg.
The Albanian region Avni Metra is from has a population of just 60,000. But locals confidently assert that about 5,000 of them have spirited themselves into Britain posing as Kosovars. They did so because thousands of Kosovars were offered sanctuary here by the Blair government to escape the Balkan War in the Nineties.
‘Every one of us here has at least one relative in your country,’ a relative of Metra’s murdering accomplice told us when we visited their impoverished home town in northern Albania. He did not realise he was speaking to journalists.
‘There are so many in one part of East London [thought to be Barking, where the Albanian flag has been raised above the town hall on the nation’s independence day] that we call it Little Burrel.’
So how could this incredible state of affairs have been allowed to happen? How did a monster such as Avni Metra meld so effortlessly into British society, where, it seems, he has continued to live like a small-time gangster, consorting with Albanian pimps, drinking and gambling and terrorising his own family?
The story of this Albanian murderer is a scandal in its own right, but it is also as powerful an argument as you will read for the need for Britain to regain control of our dangerously porous borders.
The bloody slayings
The town of Burrel in northern Albania became known as the country’s murder capital after no fewer than 150 people were brutally slain there in a single year in 1997.
The killing spree erupted as two rival gangs fought for control. They were named after the local families that ran them: the Kolas and the Dedas. After looting a munitions store, the gangs armed themselves with rocket-launchers, grenades and machine-guns.
Avni Metra, then a thuggish 34-year-old with a violent temper, chose to join the Kola gang. According to his estranged wife Linda Lami, who was forced into an arranged marriage with him as a naïve 16-year-old, he was ‘a psychopath’ and ‘capable of anything’. We tracked her down in the Home Counties this week, where she lives in a privately owned house with a new partner.
She said she is so ashamed of being married to Metra — and bearing him four children — that she admitted they had come to Britain illegally and under false pretences. She was among those who identified her husband from photos.
Locals in Burrel believe Metra committed a string of murders, but the first of the two for which he was convicted occurred in April 1997.
Enraged that an armed security guard named Kadri Xhetani stopped them robbing a flour factory in the town, he and his accomplice (the fugitive now believed to be in northern England) ambushed the man’s car and gunned him down.
Detectives did not realise that Metra, using the bogus name Avdul Mekra, was in fact a notorious fugitive. Pictured: his UK passport.
Three months later, in July, two Kola gang bosses were shot in the street. Believing those responsible to be members of the murdered guard’s family, others in the Kola gang sought vengeance.
First, they surrounded a restaurant run by the dead security guard Kadri Xhetani’s father, and opened fire on the man — a much-loved local chef — as he ate breakfast. Then they forced his eldest daughter — who witnessed the shooting — to crawl home on her hands and knees. But the Kola gang members were not finished. Aware that the dead security guard’s older brother, Nevruz, would drive to Burrel for the chef’s funeral, they then lay in wait beside a bridge leading into the town, and attacked his car.
Nevruz Xhetani was wounded, but was able to hobble into a forest beside the river.
However, in a harrowing interview given in a Tirana cafe, his younger sister Anila — who also identified the fugitive Avni Metra from his photograph — told us how the gang hunted down her brother, and Metra and his fellow gang member ‘cut him to pieces while he was still alive’, taking out his eyes and slicing off his ears.
‘There was almost nothing left to identify,’ she wept.
The flight to Britain
By 1998, a semblance of order had returned to Albania and the authorities began investigating the glut of murders in Burrel. At this point, the few Kola gang members who were still alive plotted their escape.
Locals say that Avni Metra was among the first Burrel migrants to travel here using faked Kosovo identities, and that others followed in his wake.
When townsfolk heard how easily he had passed through our borders, and how he had been given rent-free housing and free food vouchers, many more followed.
All Metra would tell us about his precise route into this country is that he came through Calais ‘underneath a lorry’. However, his wife later gave us a graphic account of her illicit 48-hour journey.
Nine months after her husband’s escape, she and her baby son were driven overnight through the mountains to the city of Korce, then bribed border officials to allow them into Greece.
Using an Albanian passport, she says that they then flew to Austria and on to Belgium without being stopped. From there they were taken by car to Paris, where, unchallenged, they boarded the Eurostar for London.
As instructed, Linda dumped her passport on the train and arrived at Waterloo ‘frightened to death’ and without any identity papers.
Astonishingly, however, there were no probing questions from immigration officials. No one asked for proof that she was from Kosovo.
Her husband had by now registered her under an assumed name with the Home Office, informing them she and their son would be joining him. She says this was enough for her to be welcomed into the country.
And a cushy life on benefits
For Metra’s wife, life in London was no less harsh than in Burrel. She claims he treated her as a slave whose only role was to cook and clean for him, and look after the three children they produced in the ensuing years (who are now in their teens).
Meanwhile, he fell in with the thriving Albanian underworld in London, disappearing without explanation from dawn till dead of night.
Among his cohorts was one of the Kola brothers from the gang back home. We have been told by sources in Albania that this man was convicted of murdering the flour factory security guard’s father — the restaurant owner — but released after serving half his sentence and is now in Britain, too.
For one of the many ironies of this story is that other members of the murderous gang have also claimed asylum here, on the pretext that they could fall victim to traditional Albanian revenge attacks known as ‘blood feuds’ if they returned home.
Metra’s wife Linda says this Kola brother ran a prostitution racket here, and strongly believes her husband was in league with him.
Down the years, she heard whispers that her husband was responsible for the brutal murders of the Xhetanis — the security guard and his brother — in Burrel. But when she summoned the courage to inquire about his past, he would become violent and evasive.
Avni Metra would beat her virtually every day without provocation, she says, and threatened to kill her if she left him. In 2003, she passed her nationality test, acquired a British passport, and endured their marriage for seven more years.
Then came the episode that put an end to it — and ought to have alerted the police to Avni Metra’s past.
Linda recalls how her husband, who had become prone to mood-swings, began haranguing her one morning as she fed the children.
Within moments he erupted, dragging her upstairs by the hair and locking her in a toilet. Then, as the children screamed, he went downstairs to fetch a knife and told her he was about to kill her.
She believes, from the ‘evil’ look on his face, that he would have done so, if her eldest son hadn’t called the police.
That day, in 2010, he was arrested at which point, his fingerprints and photograph would have been taken as a matter of course. Since he was never arrested in Albania, however, there would have been no records to match them against, even if anyone had suspected his identity.
So, having been charged with false imprisonment and assault, he spent a few weeks on remand in jail without anyone knowing he was the subject of an extradition request.
Though the false imprisonment charge was dropped, the ‘Kosovar refugee’ was convicted of assault in April 2011, and placed under a 12-month restraining order. He was also given a 12-month community order. He later breached the restraining order, and in November 2011 he was placed under a restraining order for a further year, and ordered to do 12 months’ community work.
Because of the restraining order, he was forced to stay away from his wife and children. When we confronted Avni Metra, he claimed he was working as a building labourer, but a letter on his bedside cabinet suggested he was claiming Jobseeker’s allowance earlier this year.
And as he rummaged in the drawers for his passport, we spotted dozens of pairs of surgical gloves — the type that burglars often use so they don’t leave fingerprints. More chillingly, police sources say thin rubber gloves of this type are also often worn by professional hitmen.
Very belatedly, the police — having been alerted to his whereabouts by the Mail — this week launched a full-scale manhunt for Metra.
And yesterday afternoon, at long last, he was arrested.
Judging by the tactics used by other Albanian criminals here, he is now likely to fight tooth and nail to remain in Britain, either on the grounds that he is entitled to a family life here, or because he would not be safe if sent back to Albania.
If so, his cause will no doubt be defended by expensive lawyers. No prizes for guessing who will pay their exorbitant fees. That’s right — you, via the legal aid system.
What an indictment of our immigration system it is that this killer has been allowed to enjoy 18 years of taxpayer-funded freedom here.