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Italy Arrests Moroccan Terrorism Suspects

Italian news reports say five Moroccans have been arrested in northeastern Italy for possession of one kilo of plastic explosive. Police say the suspects also had maps showing sensitive targets in the area.

The Moroccans were arrested Wednesday after Italian police carried out a search of the farm where they were living near Rovigo, in northeastern Italy. The men are said to be between 28 and 40-years-old. Only one of them produced regular working papers.

During the search, police found a kilo of plastic explosive hidden in a sock in the kitchen, among boxes of spaghetti.

Police also found maps of three towns in northeastern Italy: Verona, Padua, and Treviso. Points marked on the maps included the NATO base in Verona and the Basilica of Sant'Antonio in Padua.

About 10 pages written in Arabic were also confiscated. Anti-terrorist police have taken over the investigation. Police had been carrying out routine checks on immigrants in the area when they came across the farm.

Police say the searches were motivated by the nervous behavior of one of the Moroccans arrested, 31-year-old Redouane Boughazi. Known as the "Preacher," he is a well-known Muslim leader in the area's Islamic community. Mr. Boughazi says his only aim in life is to spread the Islamic faith.

Italian authorities have arrested dozens of suspected Islamic terrorists since the September 11 attacks in the United States. Investigators say Italy is being used as a logistics base for Islamic terrorists, security has been stepped up at sensitive targets around the country, and anti-terrorism operations have been increased.

Meanwhile, during a visit to Rome, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft praised Italy's efforts to combat terrorism. Following a meeting with his Italian counterpart, Roberto Castelli, Mr. Ashcroft said the latest arrests "are tangible evidence that Italy takes terrorism seriously and fights it aggressively."