Police Say Arms Dealer at Center of Hostage Affair
MILAN, Italy (AP) _ Police said Sunday that a Lebanese woman arrested in Milan planned to deliver photographs of American hostages to an Italian man who has been linked to arms scandals and the Italian secret service.
The man, Aldo Anghessa, was questioned by police after they found the photos and a letter from a hostage hidden in a false bottom of the woman’s suitcase Thursday, authorities said. She said Anghessa was to receive them, they reported.
Fortunato Finoli, deputy director of Milan’s police anti-terrorist unit, refused to say what Anghessa told police or who he might be representing. The Italian was released after questioning.
The Lebanese woman, identified as Aline Ibrahim Rizkallah, 36, was charged with carrying $1,000 in counterfeit U.S. bills and 50 grams of heroin, police said. She was in jail in Milan.
The Rome daily La Repubblica said Anghessa had ties to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The U.S. Embassy refused comment on the report.
Police were still checking Sunday to see if the photographs of Terry Anderson, Alann Steen and another man were originals, said Finoli.
Police also asked U.S. authorities for samples of Steen’s handwriting to authenticate the letter bearing his name, Finoli said by telephone.
The third photograph originally was believed to be of hostage Thomas Sutherland, but authorities later decided they were unsure and were still examining the picture, Finoli said.
The identification of Anghessa added a new twist to the case, which police first described Saturday.
Italian media speculated that Anghessa may have been acting as a go-between in efforts to free hostages held in Lebanon. Police refused to comment on his role.
Anghessa, 44, who has dual Swiss-Italian nationality, was arrested a year ago following the seizure of a Lebanese cargo ship off Bari in southern Italy. Police said the ship was carrying drugs and weapons for use by the Mafia and Middle East terrorists linked to Palestinian extremist Abu Nidal.
The case was dubbed ″Italy’s Irangate scandal″ by Italian media after investigating magistrates said the cargo was part of a ring that also delivered Italian mines to Iran via Syria.
Anghessa was charged with organizing groups for illegal export of weapons, international drug trafficking and organizing an armed band for terrorist ends. However, the charges were later dropped.
He has also worked as an informer for Swiss and Italian secret services, according to reports by officials in both countries last year. Italian authorities have not given details of his role in the secret services, but the Italian news media said he worked in several countries, including Lebanon.
The Lebanese woman said she was a courier and denied knowing anything about the photos, the letter or other documents written in Italian that were hidden in her suitcase, police said.
Authorities were still trying to decipher the documents, which appeared to be in code, Finoli said. The letter bearing Steen’s name was written in English and ″expressed thanks to everyone who was working for his liberation,″ Finoli said.
The Lebanese woman arrived at Milan’s Linate Airport on Thursday on a Middle East Airlines flight from Beirut.
She told police an Italian man was to receive the photographs and documents. Police traced Anghessa through a telephone number in the woman’s purse, newspapers said.
Newspapers said the woman told police the heroin was to be delivered to a different man.
Finoli said the woman told them she was a Maronite Christian guerrilla until last year. She has a Lebanese passport but was born in Jordan, police said.
Maronites are a Western-oriented group that oppose pro-Iranian fundamentalist factions like those holding the U.S. hostages.
Anderson and Sutherland are held by Islamic Jihad, while Steen’s kidnapping has been claimed by the Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine.
Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press, is the longest-held foreign hostage in Lebanon. He was kidnapped on March 16, 1985.
Sutherland, acting dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut, was abducted three months later. He is of Fort Collins, Colo.
Steen, of Boston, was kidnapped on Jan. 24, 1987 at Beirut University College, where he taught.
There are nine Americans held by pro-Iranian extremist factions linked to Hezbollah, or Party of God. Other foreigners believed held are three Britons, an Irishman and an Italian.