Italian Police Arrest Three in Bin Laden Hunt
Police in northern Italy have arrested three North Africans believed to be part of a logistics network linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist organization, anti-terrorist police and magistrates announced Thursday.
Anti-terrorist police named the three men as Yassine Chekkouri of Morocco, Tunisian Nabil Banattia and Algerian Hafed Remadna, all aged 35.
They are being held on charges of trafficking in explosives, toxic chemicals and false documents, according to Milan investigating magistrate Luca Pistorelli.
"This operation has allowed us to hit those we believe represent al-Qaeda in Lombardy, whose task was to recruit fighters for the Afghan cause," said Massimo Mazza, a top member of the DIGOS anti-terrorist police.
Prosecutors said police were seeking a fourth man, an Egyptian they named as Abdelkadir Es Sayed, 39, who is believed to have left the country.
The Milan prosecutors' office said that the investigation "is closely linked to that which dismantled a radical Islamist cell led by the Tunisian extremist Essid Sami Ben Kemais."
Ben Khemais has been held in Milan since last April.
Italian anti-terrorist investigators believe he is a key figure in al-Qaeda's logistics operation in Europe, providing extremists with weapons as well as documentary and other support to carry out terrorist attacks.
Mazza told a news conference in Milan that the three arrested men had been under telephone surveillance, which had revealed a direct link between Ramadna, the Algerian arrested two weeks ago, and a top lieutenant of bin Laden.
Mazza said Ramadna had made that particular call from a satellite phone at Milan's main Islamic centre, located in the northern city's Viale Jenner.
The DIGOS said they had carried out a search at the Viale Jenner center and another Islamic center in Milan, thought to be prime recruitment locations for bin Laden's organization, but they gave no further details.
A spokesman for the Viale Jenner center told the ANSA news agency that an office of an employee had been searched.
Telephone surveillance had also been used to gather evidence against ben Khemais before his arrest.
Anti-terrorist investigators last month revealed they had recorded telephone conversations between ben Khemais and a Libyan, Lased ben Heni, in which the two men talked about preparations for a chemical attack in France.
Ben Heni was arrested on October 10 in Munich and extradited to Italy last week. – Rome (AFP)
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