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Britain Hails Anti-Terrorism Raids in Italy, Spain - 2003-01-24

Britain is hailing police raids against suspected Islamic terrorists in Spain and Italy. At the same time, British police continue to interrogate four North African men arrested on terrorism charges in a raid on London's most controversial mosque.

British officials say they are pleased with the arrests in Spain of several suspected al-Qaida terrorists and the discovery in Italy of a suspected terrorist plot, including explosives and maps of London.

British Home Secretary David Blunkett told reporters outside Parliament, the arrests prove the need for international cooperation to fight terrorism. "We've said all along that there was an international network," he said. "We said that the security services needed to work closely together to combat this. I'm very pleased that they've identified both the [arrests] in Italy and Spain, that they've been able to make the arrests. We'll learn from it very quickly. Obviously, we'll take whatever steps are necessary to protect ourselves here in the United Kingdom."

He spoke as British police continue to question four North African men arrested in the police sweep at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London.

They were among seven suspects arrested in Monday's raid. Of the remaining three, one North African man faces weapons and illegal immigration charges, an Eastern European man is being held on alleged immigration violations, and another North African man has been released.

Police wound up their search of the mosque on Friday and handed it back to its trustees, who have decided to keep it closed for renovations.

Police have long believed that the mosque was used to recruit and support suspected terrorists in Britain and abroad.

Monday's raid stemmed from the discovery earlier this month of traces of a deadly poison called ricin, in an apartment not far from the mosque.

The New York Times quotes U.S. law enforcement officials as saying there may have been a terrorist plot to contaminate food with the ricin at a British military base.

British officials have declined to comment on the newspaper report.