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Italy says thwarted terror attack ahead of election

Written by: Staff
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CAGLIARI, Sardinia, Apr 6 (Reuters) - Italy has thwarted a planned terror attack, Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said today during a campaign rally ahead of the April 9-10 general election.

A source familiar with the operation, who declined to be named, said the strikes in northern Italy were likely meant to take place before the vote, in which US Iraq war ally Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is running for re-election.

The source gave no further details.

''Now I can say it. There was a terrorist plan aimed at our country which was prevented thanks to the controls and preventative measures taken by our (security) apparatus,'' Pisanu said, in comments confirmed by his spokesman.

Pisanu said the likely targets appeared to have been the Milan metro rail system and the 14th century San Petronio basilica in Bologna, which has a fresco of the Prophet Mohammad burning in hell. The work, inspired by Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy, also shows Mohammad being tormented by a demon.

Pisanu added six people had been arrested in the anti-terrorism operation. Three of the suspects were later expelled from Italy, two were detained and one placed under observation. A seventh man was still being sought.

''As one can see, our system of prevention, based on focused control of the territory and of the at-risk environments, is shown to be once again very effective,'' Pisanu said.

Italy has been on high alert for possible terrorist activity since the March 11, 2004 bombings in Madrid, just days before Spanish elections, and the attacks on London's transport network last July.

The United States issued a travel alert to US citizens last month saying that Italy was ''under heightened public threat by al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists'' for its military role in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Italy has the fourth largest foreign contingent in Iraq, but plans to withdraw 1,000 of its 2,600 troops by June and finish its mission there by the end of the year. Italy has 1,775 troops in Afghanistan.

REUTERS OM KP1817

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