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Italy Stages Anti-Terrorism Sweep


Italian police officers patrol Rome's Fiumicino Airport
In the wake of the London bombings this week and fears of terrorist attacks elsewhere in Europe, Italy is stepping up security across the country. Authorities carried out a major anti-terrorism sweep in the north, arresting 142 people.

Italy has reacted quickly to fears that it could be the target of a terrorist attack. Authorities announced the arrest of more than 140 people around Milan, as part of a major anti-terrorism sweep, which followed Thursday's bomb attacks in London.

Of the people arrested, 83 are immigrants and 52 will be deported. Police also said they found 1.5 kilos of explosives.

Italian authorities have been very active in their efforts at home to identify and put on trial Islamists believed to have links with international terrorism. They have managed to uncover various cells operating in and around Milan.

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Italy has arrested a large number of people, mainly in the north of the country, who were believed to be recruiting Muslims for terrorist activities and providing false documents.

The day after the deadly attacks in London, a group claiming links to al-Qaida posted a message on the Internet threatening to attack Rome to punish Italy for supporting the United States in Iraq.

Italy has around 3,000 troops deployed in Iraq, the fourth largest contingent, after the United States, Britain and South Korea. Authorities have feared for some time that Italy too could be a terrorist target.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has confirmed Italy will begin a partial withdrawal of its troops from Iraq in September. Speaking at the end of the G-8 summit in Scotland Friday, Mr. Berlusconi said Italy was a prime target for Islamist extremists.

He said Italian troops could not be pulled out any faster from Iraq because there are commitments that need to be fulfilled, and a job that needs to be completed. He denied the planned withdrawal was linked to any terrorist threats against Italy.

But at home no chances are being taken. Following the London attacks, security was stepped up at U.S. and British interest in Italy, as well as at airports, train and subway stations and at sensitive sites across the country.