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Italian Document Falsification Ring Members Arrested - 2002-07-12

Italian anti-terrorism police have arrested at least eight people suspected of providing logistical support and false documents to operatives of Osama bin Laden's al Qaida organization. The police say they seized more than 400 false documents in raids in Milan and nearby suburbs.

Italian anti-terrorist police say they believe an apartment in Milan was used as a logistics headquarters to produce false papers for Islamic fundamentalists. Investigators say the men arrested in Italy's industrial capital Thursday night are "professionals in document falsification."

The men arrested are all foreigners, mainly Tunisians and Moroccans. The arrests were carried out as part a vast operation aimed at clamping down on trafficking in false documents. The investigation led by a Milan prosecutor has already led to numerous arrests and a number of convictions of men linked to al Qaida.

Police believe the false papers were being supplied to terrorist groups with links to al Qaida. But investigators said there is no evidence that any of the false documents were used by the terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Italian investigators say they have uncovered a plot by al Qaida operatives who last year planned to attack targets in Italy, including the Vatican and a church in Venice, as well as U.S. diplomatic missions in Europe. Milan's most respected newspaper, Corriere delle Sera, reported this week that investigators are now studying whether those plans may still represent a real threat.

The newspaper quoted a report by Italy's anti-terrorist police from May of last year which said an Italian cell of an Algerian-based terrorist group was making plans for what it called "a sensational terror attack, either against a U.S. target in Europe or against the Vatican".

Following the newspaper's reports, security was stepped up in Jewish neighborhoods in both Venice and Rome. Small submarines are being used in Venice to patrol the city lagoon.