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Italian Court Acquits Suspects of International Terrorism Charges

An Italian judge dropped charges of international terrorism against five North Africans arrested in April 2003. The men had been accused of sending recruits and financial support to paramilitary training camps in Iraq.

A judge in Milan handed down soft prison sentences against five North Africans accused of sending men to Iraq to be trained as fighters and suicide bombers. The judge ruled the men were involved in guerrilla activity, which did not constitute terrorism as defined by Italian law.

The four Tunisians and one Moroccan were arrested in April 2003. They were involved in recruiting men and providing financial support to paramilitary camps in Iraq. But the Italian judge said there was no evidence these paramilitary training structures provided for concrete programs with targets exceeding guerrilla activity.

In a statement explaining her ruling, the judge wrote that "Historically, the activity of the cells in question coincided with the United States' attack on Iraq."

The men were also accused of planning bomb attacks in Europe but the judge said there was no evidence of this.

Ali Toumi, from Tunisia, was sentenced to 3 years in jail for trading false documents. As he left the court he thanked God and the Italian justice system.

The defense lawyers praised the judge's great respect for freedom and legality saying the ruling recognized that those who fight in irregular forces against a military occupation are not terrorists. The visibly irritated prosecuting team immediately announced it planned to appeal the sentences.

The ruling also drew fierce criticism from members of the center-right government. Italy's foreign minister Gianfranco Fini said the judge's ruling was a "shameless distortion of a reality that is under the eyes of the world."