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Italy Thwarts Terrorist Attack Days Before Election

Just days before Italy's general election, the interior minister announced that authorities had foiled a planned terror attack. Security had already been increased ahead of the elections.

Security was heightened in Italy after the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, and has been tight ahead of general elections Sunday and Monday. Authorities are taking no chances, particularly after pre-election bombings in Spain in March 2004.

With only days to the vote in Italy, Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu made his announcement.

"I can confirm," he said, "that a serious terrorist attack has been foiled in the cities of Bologna and Milan."

Speaking at a campaign rally in Sardinia, Pisanu said there was a terrorist plan aimed at Italy, which was prevented, thanks to the controls and preventative measures taken by the security apparatus.

The interior minister said the targets were the subway system in Milan and the 14th century Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, which has a fresco of the Prophet Mohammad burning in hell. Muslim groups have interpreted that fresco as offensive to Islam.

Pisanu added that, of the seven alleged plotters, three have been expelled, two are in prison, one is under surveillance and another one is wanted.

The wanted man is believed to have been the mastermind behind the attacks.

In Milan on Friday, investigators began presenting their evidence at a trial against a man dubbed Mohammed, the Egyptian, suspected of having helped plan the Madrid train bombings.

The trial comes days before a Spanish judge is due to charge about 30 people with involvement in the Madrid train bombings, bringing to an end a two-year investigation.