Italian police said on Friday they were carrying out a "vast anti-terrorism'' operation against an organization inspired by al-Qaida that wanted to support attacks against Pakistan's government and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Police wiretaps had determined that two people among 18 targeted by arrest warrants were suspected of being part of a group that had protected al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. special forces in a raid on his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011, a statement said.
All the suspects were Pakistanis or Afghans, anti-terrorism police official Mario Carta told Reuters by telephone. Some had been arrested in Italy and others were believed to have left the country, he said, adding that the operation was still in progress.
Some of those under investigation were believed to be involved in attacks in Pakistan, including one that killed more than 100 people in a market in the northwestern frontier city of Peshawar in 2009, the police added.
Most of the warrants centered on the Italian island of Sardinia, but the operation covered a total of seven Italian provinces, the statement said.
The organization arranged for Pakistanis and Afghans to get into Italy under work contracts or as refugees seeking asylum and later sent some to cities in northern Europe, a police statement said.