ROME - Italian state and finance police announced they have broken up two alleged militant cells with a large anti-terrorism operation that led to a number of arrests. Police searches took place in around 20 properties in northern Italy and Sardinia. Interior Minister Marco Minniti hailed the operations, declaring that two hostile structures have been neutralized.
Judges in northern Italy and Sardinia, issued the arrest warrants for Operations “Foreign Fighters” and “Syriana”. Officials said the two cells were based in Lombardy and Sardinia. They were believed to have ties to militants in Syria, namely the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.
Investigators said they believed the two cells were autonomous, although one individual appeared to have had relations with both.
At a press conference in Rome Thursday, Italy’s chief terror prosecutor Federico Cafiero de Raho said 14 people were arrested in the operation, including 11 Syrians and three Moroccans. He said four of them are charged with association aimed at terrorism activities, and the others are charged with conspiracy to finance terrorism, in addition to crimes for abusive financial intermediation aimed at money laundering.
All those arrested in Italy were legal immigrant residents in the country.
Police added that they were able to track the laundering of about $2.4 million, some of which was sent to the Nusra Front. The prosecutor said the money was transferred largely using the informal network known as hawala that is common in much of the Arabic world and evades the usual checks to monitor for terror financing. A number of European countries were being used for these transfers.
The prosecutor added that the investigation had uncovered links between those financing terrorism and illegal immigration but did not find evidence that migrant traffickers were bringing in foreign fighters.
Swedish authorities collaborated with the Italians during their investigation and police officials said their assistance was of fundamental importance. The arrest warrant said that the man considered the head of the organization was a Syrian, Anwar Daadoue. He often worked in Sweden where he is already in state custody.