European anti-terrorism swoop nets 14 suspects

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ROME, Nov 6 (Reuters) Police arrested 14 Algerians and Tunisians across Europe today in an anti-terrorism operation led by Italian authorities, Italian officials said.

The operation was ordered by Milan prosecutors and targeted the northern Italian cities of Milan, Bergamo, Varese and Reggio Emilia as well as Britain, France and Portugal.

Police said they had seized poisons, remote explosive detonators and manuals on guerrilla warfare.

Police believe the detainees have been setting up ''Salafist jihadi'' militant cells which have recruited and assisted would-be suicide bombers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The leaders of the group were named as Dridi Sabri and Mehdi Ben Nasr, both Tunisians who operated out of Italy, public prosecutors told Reuters.

''The cells were not planning attacks in Italy but were indoctrinating and recruiting people to send to places where terrorist attacks are an everyday activity,'' Giampaolo Ganzer of the Milan anti-terrorism police told a news conference.

The police investigation began in 2003, he said. Four suspects were still at large.

Police had previously said 17 people were arrested but then reduced that to 16 and said the figure also included two men who were already being held in Italian and British jails.

VOLUNTEERS The suspects are also accused of illegal immigration, falsifying identity documents and helping hide people sought for terrorist activity, the police said.

Two suspects were arrested in Britain, one in Portugal and one in France, the police said.

Ali Ben Zidane Chehidi, aged 34, was arrested in the London suburb of Croydon, and Mohamed Salah Ben Hamadi Khemiri, aged 53, was arrested in the northern English city of Manchester.

''The two men were arrested on behalf of the Italian authorities under an extradition warrant in relation to allegations that between 2003 and 2005 they forged documents to facilitate the illegal entry into Italy of recruited volunteers to fight jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan,'' British police said.

In Portugal, police in the northern city of Porto arrested an Algerian-born man on suspicion of international terrorism, illegal immigration and smuggling. He had been living in Portugal for three years.

A French police source confirmed the DST domestic intelligence service had been involved in a broader European operation linked to the arrests in Italy.

In July, Italian police arrested three Moroccans they suspected of running a ''terrorist school'' at a mosque, using it to recruit and train militants for attacks abroad.

On that occasion materials seized included instructions on handling poisons and explosives and on how to fly a Boeing 747.

REUTERS MP AS0117

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