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Italian Police Arrest Men With Suspected Links to Al-Qaida - 2001-11-29

Italian anti-terrorist police have arrested two North Africans in Milan, Italy's financial capital. The men are suspected of having links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

The two men, one Moroccan and the other Tunisian, both 35 years old, were arrested in Milan overnight in the latest sweep by Italian anti-terrorist police. A third man, from Algeria, who was in custody for possessing false documents, was notified that he is being investigated on additional charges.

Italian authorities say the North Africans are suspected of trafficking in explosives and toxic chemicals as well as being involved in the production of false documents. Italian police said they are seeking a fourth man, a 39 year-old Egyptian, also believed to be part of the same Islamic cell.

Raids were also carried out in two mosques in Milan. Police seized a large number of documents said to show that the four men had links with Islamic extremists outside Italy.

Earlier this year, the United States accused Milan's Islamic Center of being "the main al-Qaida station house in Europe" and harboring terrorists and representing a base of operations in Europe.

The investigation by Italian terrorist police into Islamic cells present in Milan was launched before the September 11 attacks in the United States. In April, Italian police arrested a Tunisian man in Milan, Essid Ben Khemais, following phone interceptions. He is believed to have been sent from Afghanistan to supervise Osama bin Laden's operations in Europe.

The head of Italy's anti-terror unit in Milan, Massimo Mazza, said the anti-terrorist operation has allowed the arrest of men believed to be representatives of al-Qaida in the Lombardy region of Italy. He said those arrested, "had the precise task of recruiting fighters for the Afghan cause."