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Italian Authorities Crack Terrorist Cell

October 2, 2006

MILAN, Italy (AP) _ Italian authorities have cracked an Islamic terrorist cell that raised at least $2 million to finance attacks in Algeria, including two that killed 18 people in 2005, officials said Monday.

Three members of the cell were in custody and three others were being sought.

The Milan cell has ties with the Salafist Group of Call and Combat, or GSPC, police Col. Virgilio Pomponi said.

It financed at least two attacks carried out by GSPC, which has links to al-Qaida, including one on Jan. 3, 2005, in Biskra, 260 miles southwest of Algiers, and another on March 27, 2005, in Chlef, 90 miles southwest of Algiers.

Authorities began investigating the suspected cell in December 2003, tracking its activities and movements through wiretaps and surveillance. It ran legal businesses in Italy, including shops and a restaurant, from which it channeled money to fund terror activities in Algeria, and also provided fake documents, police said.

``The cell has now been dismantled, with all of its members in prison or abroad,″ police Col. Rosario Lorusso said.

Afif Mejri, 43, also known as Lofti, was arrested in Switzerland last week on charges of counterfeiting documents.

Two others have been jailed in Italy since May 2005 for weapons trafficking aimed at supporting terrorist groups. Yacine Ahmed Nacer, 35, and Ali El Heit, 36, are accused of criminal association aimed at international terrorism.

Three other suspects, identified as Rabah Bouras, 44; Lamine Ahmed Nacer, 35; and Farid Aider, 41; are fugitives and are believed to have left Europe last year. They also are being sought on the more serious criminal association with terrorism charges.

Authorities were investigating eight other Algerians also believed to be part of the Milan cell. Of those being investigated, three are detained in Italy. The others are free: one in Italy, one in England and three are believed to be in northern Africa.

At least $1.6 million was transferred via banks and another $405,000 was wired abroad, police said. The cash was tracked to Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland and Spain.

Money also was smuggled abroad via couriers, leading investigators to believe that the total sum being funneled for terrorist activities was far greater than $2 million.

The group met in a Milan storage area, where investigators found terrorist materials including videotapes of terrorist attacks.