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Italy Arrests Imam Linked to Morocco Suicide Bombings


Italian police have arrested a Muslim imam from Morocco who has been linked to suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003. The imam of a mosque in the northern Italian city of Varese was picked up at his home in Italy and Italian authorities say they plan to extradite him to Morocco. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

Abdelmajid Zergout, 43, is well known to the Italian authorities. He was arrested in 2005, along with two other Moroccans on suspicion of raising funds and recruiting for the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.

That organization was blamed for the 2003 Casablanca attacks in which 45 people were killed, including 12 suicide bombers. Moroccan authorities have requested his extradition from Italy and want to try him for participating in acts of terrorism.

A Milan court last year acquitted Zergout. But he still faced expulsion. This was suspended at the urging of the European Court of Human Rights, which argued that he and the other two Moroccans would face mistreatment by authorities back in their own country.

On Saturday the Italian police decided to follow up on the Moroccan extradition request and arrested Zergout at his home in Varese. A laptop and some documentation in Arabic were confiscated during a search of his home.

An Italian court now has 40 days to decide whether he will be handed over to the Moroccan authorities.

Maurizio Grigo, the chief prosecutor of Varese, says the imam was picked up in an area where there are a number of individuals involved in recruiting, training and gathering financing for subjects involved in acts of terrorism.

For his part, Zergout's Italian defense lawyer, Luca Bauccio, said the new charges against his client had been "fabricated against an innocent man who has not set foot in Morocco for 10 years". He added that he would be appealing against the extradition request.

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