Italian police in Milan have arrested three Tunisians on suspicion they provided financial and logistical support for a North African Islamic militant group linked to al-Qaida. In a related arrest, British police picked up a Tunisian man linked to the Italian operation at his home in London. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.
The dawn operation carried out by Milan finance police was called "Rakno Sadess", an Arabic expression, which means Sixth Pillar.
The arrests were carried out under police warrants for a total of nine North African suspects. The warrants say the men were potentially able to strike targets in Italy, Europe, and other countries in the world.
The suspects are believed to have provided logistical and financial support to an Islamic militant group with ties to al-Qaida. They were allegedly part of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC, linked to the twin bombings in Algiers last April that killed more than 30 people.
Investigators said members of the cell provided false documents, as well as apartments, cars and communication devices registered under false names.
Police confirmed that, in addition to the three Tunisians arrested in Milan, one was taken into custody in London and one is being held in prison in Tunisia. The police said the others may have been killed in suicide attacks.
One of the investigators said the police are still trying to confirm that some of the men were involved in a string of suicide attacks in Iraq, Algeria, and Tunisia in recent months, between the end of 2006 and spring 2007.
Police said the declarations made by a Tunisian collaborator Tlili Lazar were of utmost importance to the investigations. Lazar was extradited from France in November 2006.
Investigators said Lazar spoke of the psychological aspects during the recruitment phase of the men in mosques of Milan and of the training aspects in Afghanistan.
The group allegedly recruited extremists and sent them to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan before they joined militants in Algeria, Tunisia, Chechnya, Bosnia or Afghanistan.
Police said they were also able to track a flow of tens of thousand of dollars destined for Afghanistan through Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.