Italy arrests six accused of helping al-Qaida-linked group
ROME -- Police in Milan arrested six people Tuesday suspected of supporting an al-Qaida-linked group and of having contacts with alleged Sept. 11 coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh.
The six -- five Tunisians and a Moroccan -- are accused of helping the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, an Algerian-based organization that had a cell operating in Milan, police said. A seventh suspect is at large.
They have all been charged with association with the aim of international terrorism -- a charge that was introduced here after Sept. 11 to step up Italy's fight against suspected terrorists.
The suspects were not planning any attacks and did not have weapons, said Milan police. But they were believed to provide logistical support and financing with the aim of Islamic terrorism, fraud, aiding illegal immigration and possessing false documents among other charges.
One of them had also recruited fighters for Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan in the past, said an official in Milan who asked his name not be used.
The suspects include one man whose name had been added earlier this month to a U.S. Treasury Department list of entities suspected of helping to bankroll bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.
Telephone intercepts showed that at least two of the suspects knew Binalshibh personally, said the official. Binalshibh, who was arrested in Pakistan last September and is in U.S. custody, is a former roommate of Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta.
Another one of those arrested, the Moroccan, was the imam of the mosque in Gallarate, a suburb of Italy's financial capital.
Italian authorities have expressed concern that several mosques in Italy are centers of Islamic extremism. A U.S. government report had labeled a Milan mosque as an al-Qaida "station house," and earlier this year Italian authorities arrested the imam at a mosque in another northern Italian town, Cremona.
The suspects had been active since 1999, collecting money that was then sent to many countries abroad, including the United States, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, as well as European nations.
The probe in Italy started three months after the terror attacks in New York and Washington. The dawn raids Tuesday were carried out by about 170 policemen who searched some 40 houses in northern Italy.