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Italian Police Say Moroccan Imam Had Bomb-Making Materials


Italian investigators say they have found chemicals in the apartment of a Moroccan imam accused of running a so-called "terrorism school" that could have been used to make bombs. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

Italian anti-terrorism police said Sunday they found dozens of bottles of highly toxic chemicals in the cellar of imam Korchi El Moustapha's home in the central city of Perugia.

Perugia police chief, Arturo De Felice said among the chemicals were various acids, nitrates and ferrocyanide.

The police chief said the chemical substances are being analyzed to see if, when mixed with each other and other easily available products, they could create explosives and dirty bombs.

Authorities said police also seized photos of Rome's Fiumicino airport and films and Internet files believed to be used for combat training.

El Moustapha and two associates were arrested Saturday outside Perugia and charged with running a terrorism school from the city's Ponte Felcino mosque. A fourth man is also wanted and has been identified but is on the run.

The arrests have shocked Italy which, unlike Britain and Spain, has not experienced attacks by Islamic extremists.

This man who frequented the mosque says imam El Mostapha did his job well. He says people went to the mosque to pray, especially on a Friday, when the mosque was always full.

The arrests brought a chorus of reaction from political leaders and moderate Islamic leaders who condemned anyone who preaches violence. The head of Perugia's Muslim community said he hoped there would not be a backlash against the faith.

Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said the Perugia case confirmed the need to always maintain high surveillance in locations where only religious activities should take place.

European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, Franco Frattini said plans are underway in Europe to deal with the problem of mosques being used for illegal purposes.

Frattini said he would soon propose Europe-wide legislation to punish those who incite terror attacks or train in bomb-making. He said new rules will also be implemented in Europe on the use of mosques, the funds they receive and what channels they can use to finance themselves.

In recent years Italian authorities have tightened the country's anti-terrorism laws and significantly stepped up surveillance at mosques and Islamic centers.