European anti-terrorism swoop nets 20 suspects

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ROME, Nov 6 (Reuters) Twenty people were arrested across Europe today in an anti-terrorist operation led by Italian authorities, Italian police said on Tuesday.

During the operation, ordered by Milan prosecutors and being carried out in the north Italian cities of Milan, Bergamo, Varese and Reggio Emilia as well as Britain and France, police said they seized poisons and long distance ignition devices for explosives.

The operation is still in progress, police said, adding that they had also found instruction documents on guerrilla warfare techniques.

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

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

Two suspects were arrested in Britain, and others were being held in France, officials said.

Ali Ben Zidane Chehidi, aged 34, was arrested in Croydon, southeast England and Mohamed Salah Ben Hamadi Khemiri, aged 53, was arrested in Manchester, northwest England, by officers from the Metropolitan Police extradition unit.

''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.

A French police source confirmed the DST domestic intelligence service had been involved in a broader European operation linked to the arrests in Italy. A number of suspects were detained but no further details were immediately available.

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, explosives and on how to fly a Boeing 747.

Police said there were also ''instructions aimed at aspiring mujahideen to get safely to conflict zones''.

Last month Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, or ''Mohammed the Egyptian'', one of the men originally accused of masterminding the 2004 Madrid train bombings who was arrested and jailed in Italy, was acquitted of any direct involvement.


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