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 Police target Italy-based terror network

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PostSubyek: Police target Italy-based terror network   Tue Nov 13, 2007 9:27 pm

Police target Italy-based terror network

MADRID - Police around Europe arrested at least 14 suspected Islamic extremists yesterday in an operation targeting an Italy-based network that allegedly trained and dispatched suicide bombers from Europe to battle zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, authorities said.
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The network allegedly gave clandestine training in explosives and tactics to its recruits, predominantly North African immigrants, before sending them via Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan, authorities said.
"We believe they sent at least 10 fighters to Iraq between 2003 and 2007," said Colonel Mario Mettifogo of the Carabinieri, Italy's paramilitary police. "The three leaders were Tunisians based in Milan."
Italian investigators arrested most of the suspects in a sweep across the north of the country, Mettifogo said in a telephone interview. Police also arrested three men in Britain and one in Portugal. French police were seeking at least two more people, he said.
During a wiretapped conversation in a moving car in Italy, a chief suspect explained how to carry out a vehicle-bomb attack, Italian antiterror officials said. Raids in Milan, Bergamo, and Reggio Emilia turned up manuals with instructions on poisons, long-distance detonating systems, and bomb-making, officials said.
Although investigators found no signs of plans for an attack in Europe, the Milan cell grew out of a network dismantled in 2005 that allegedly plotted bombings in France and Italy, Italian counterterrorism officials said.
The raids come at a time when authorities in southern Europe are increasingly worried about the threat from Al Qaeda in the Magreb, an Algerian-dominated network that has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Ayman al-Zawahiri, considered deputy leader of the broader Al Qaeda movement, recently issued a videotaped statement repeating his exhortations to the North African group to strike European countries.
Despite the propaganda and recent attacks in Algeria, Al Qaeda in the Magreb has struggled in its efforts to federate North African groups into a single force. And there is not yet much evidence that it has established strong operational links to the core leaders of Al Qaeda, who are believed to be based in Pakistan, experts say.
Nonetheless, the two-year probe by the Carabinieri reiterated the front-line role of extremists in Europe's North African diaspora in providing fighters to Al Qaeda's offshoot in Iraq and, increasingly, to the Pakistani-Afghan region where foreign jihadis battle alongside the resurgent Taliban. And the case shows the connections between the Iraqi and South Asian combat zones, investigators said.
"Today, everybody wants to go to Afghanistan," said a senior Italian anti-terror official who, like many officials involved with investigating sensitive terrorism cases, requested anonymity. "In this case, the route was to cross Iraq and go through Iran to Afghanistan. But the most interesting thing is the proof of previous training in Italy. It was mostly theoretical. They showed them how to make a little bomb, how to get to the jihad zone, what to do when you arrive."
Italian investigators coordinated with American counterparts, providing intelligence that enabled US troops in Iraq to capture some of the recruits who arrived from Italy, the anti-terror official said.
The case has another interesting and enigmatic aspect. The suspects in Reggio Emilia belong to Hizb ut Tahrir, a disciplined and structured fundamentalist group with roots in the Middle East and a strong presence in Northern Europe and Central Asia.

Despite its radical calls for establishment of a worldwide Islamic caliphate and virulent anti-Semitic rhetoric, Hizb ut Tahrir insists it is nonviolent
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