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Italian Court Convicts 5 Arabs of Supporting Terror Groups - 2004-02-02

An Italian court Monday convicted five Arabs of supporting terror groups with ties to al-Qaida and sentenced them to between four and eight years behind bars.

A Milan court found the five men guilty of providing financial and logistic support to a militant Algerian organization known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. The group is believed to be supported by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network. The court handed down prison sentences of between four and eight years to the five men, an Egyptian, an Algerian, a Moroccan and two Tunisians.

All five were arrested during an anti-terror sweep carried out by Italian police in Milan last June. A sixth man arrested at the same time was sentenced 10 days ago to one year and four months in jail.

Investigators said the men were members of an Islamic cell in Milan that centered on a mosque and was running businesses and activities as fronts to raise money for the organization. Police broke up the cell in 2001.

The Italian judge said in his ruling, the cell was believed to recruit and send volunteers to Afghanistan, Tunisia and Algeria. He said the cell financed itself by selling fake identity documents.

The judge also said the Salafist Group had contacts with similar terror cells in a number of other European countries.

Italian authorities have stepped up operations against suspected Muslim militants since the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. They have focused their attention on an Egyptian Islamic center and the Milan mosque suspected of links with al-Qaida.