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Friday, 12 July, 2002, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
Italy arrests nine over al-Qaeda links
Milan is thought to be a major logistics base for al-Qaeda
Police in Milan have arrested nine people, mostly from north Africa, on charges of providing logistical support and false papers to members of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Italian police officers in Rome
There are fears al-Qaeda operatives may mount a large scale attack in Italy

The arrests are part of a major crackdown on suspected cells of the network operating in the north of the country.

They come as Italian police in Venice stepped up security around the historic Jewish Ghetto area following reports it may become the target of attacks by the terrorist group.

Investigators from Italy's anti-terrorism police squad also seized around 400 false passports and identity cards, which local media reports said might be linked to some of the hijackers that carried out the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington.

Police believe the forgers were also working for criminal clients and illegal immigrant traffickers.

Several trials

Two men in the group - Said Kazdali and Mohammed Kazdali from Morocco - had previously been convicted of forging documents, but were released last August after receiving suspended sentences.

Italian police search tourists' bags on the steps of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice
Police have stepped up security in Venice following reports of possible attacks

The pair were also investigated over allegations of dealing in chemical weapons, but were not charged for the offence.

The arrests are the latest in a series involving members of the al-Qaeda network in Italy, which has been identified as a major support base for the group.

In February, four Tunisian men alleged to be members of the network were jailed for terrorist-related offences and received sentences of up to five years.

One of the men, Essid Sami Ben Khemais, whom prosecutors said was the group's leader, was suspected of planning an attack on the US Embassy in Rome in January last year.

Four Moroccans are also currently facing charges relating to an apparent plot to carry out a chemical attack on the US embassy in Rome, also in February.

And last week prosecutors in Milan were forced to drop charges of international terrorism against a man originally suspected of being a member of al-Qaeda.

Ben Hani Lased is still accused of criminal association with intent to traffic in arms, explosives and chemical agents, and of receiving and trafficking false documents.

Further attack fears

Earlier this week Italian newspapers reported that investigators had uncovered plots by al-Qaeda to mount attacks on targets such as a church in Venice, the Vatican and US diplomatic missions in Europe.

Security has already been increased in Venice in the historic Jewish Ghetto area following reports that militants linked to the al-Qaeda network were planning to attack the area.

Officers from Italy's anti-terrorist squad patrolled the ghetto area on Thursday, making checks around the synagogue and other buildings, while divers and small submarines checked canals in the vicinity.

Key stories

European probe


See also:

11 Jul 02 | Europe
24 Feb 02 | Europe
22 Feb 02 | Europe
11 Dec 01 | Europe
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