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ARAB-EUROPEAN RELATIONS - June 24 - Italian Police Arrest 6 For Alleged Al Qaida Ties.

The Italian police arrest 6 suspected members of a militant Islamic cell in Milan and charge them with raising funds for groups linked to Al Qaida and with promoting international terrorism. At about 5 am, more than 170 financial police raid 42 houses and businesses around northern Italy, serving six of seven warrants for criminal association to finance a terrorist organisation, according to Lt. Col. Virgilio Pomponi of the financial police. The police quickly arrested five Tunisians and a Moroccan imam, Mohammad el Mahfoudi, a cleric based in a mosque on the city's fringe in Gallarate. Pomponi said the police limited their search to the imam's office and did not enter the mosque. The seventh suspect is believed to be in Tunisia, where he was arrested in 2001. "But that doesn't mean he is still there", Pomponi said. The suspects are accused of various illegal acts, from printing phony passports to falsifying accounting to stealing cars, all to finance the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an extreme Islamic movement trying to overthrow Algerian secular authorities and establish a fundamentalist state. The group, which has been linked to Al Qaida and is believed to be holding 15 Europeans hostage in the Sahara, made the UN's list of terrorist organisations in October 2001. In Dec. 2002, the head of Milan cell of the group was sentenced to more than four years in prison for distributing fake documents and for trafficking in illegal immigration. Pomponi said evidence included wire taps on telephones and the seizure of passports and green cards sold to illegal immigrants, a pool from which the suspects are believed to have scouted recruits for training in terror camps. The suspects are said to have funnelled money through foreign bank accounts in 16 countries, including the US, the UK, France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The police said they were still investigating how much went through those accounts. Stefano Grassi, another police official, told reporters: "They formed a logistical and economic support structure that funded militants from a network tied to Al Qaida".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jun 30, 2003
Words:343
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