Related topics

Italy Terror Suspects Wiretapped

March 2, 2002

ROME (AP) _ Members of a suspected terror cell arrested this week discussed guns, bombs and vague ideas for attacks in conversations recorded in a bugged mosque and on phone wiretaps, police officials said Saturday.

Carabinieri paramilitary police said there was also loose talk of killing President Bush, but insisted that no actual plan was recorded on the tape, which has numerous inaudible passages and is often unclear.

``There was no plan to kill him, but they expressed hatred for Bush,″ said one Carabinieri source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

After a seven-month investigation during which a squad of 30 officers followed six suspects day and night, authorities swooped down Thursday and Friday, taking them all into custody. Police are still hunting for several more suspects but would not say how many.

The six arrested _ a Pakistani believed to have headed the group, three Iraqis, an Algerian and a Tunisian _ are charged with ``subversive association,″ and are suspected of trying to obtain weapons and explosives, and setting up a logistical base for terror operations.

Authorities picked up videocassettes, political pamphlets and names and telephone numbers that they say implicate the suspects in extremist Islamist groups. However, police did not find any weapons during their raids.

The Carabinieri police source said the six suspects are believed to have ties to the radical Algerian insurgent movement, the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA. There were no clear links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network.

A partial transcript obtained by The Associated Press of conversations recorded by police includes references to cyanide, arms and bombs _ although there are many gaps due to inaudible passages. Additionally, the suspects often speak in unclear Italian _ presumably the suspects’ only common language.

During a conversation in Rome’s al Harmini mosque on Jan. 14, three men _ the Pakistani suspect, Ahmad Naseer; the Tunisian suspect, Mansour Abdelmoname ben Khalifa, referred to as ``Naim″; and a third unidentified man _ discuss arms and make a reference to Bush.

Naim: ``...that man doesn’t care about the gun...″

Naseer: ``...nor the submachine gun ... keep it hidden ...″

Unidentified man: ``...oh I kill Bush ...″

Another unidentified man: ``...Naim he has to be killed...″

After some more unclear material, Naim says ``a bomb and a pistol are necessary,″ then later, ``you have bullets ... send them up ... Kalashnikov ... bullets.″

Among the places that police monitored was a travel agency in Rome run by Naseer. Younas Samuel, an employee at the agency, strongly denied the police accusations against Naseer.

``It’s false,″ Samuel said. ``He always worked to help people.″

The Carabinieri police official said authorities discovered anti-American books and pamphlets at the agency.

Italy has been on high alert for a terror strike since the Sept. 11 attacks, and concerns intensified last week when police arrested a group of Moroccans suspected of plotting an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

Police have found no known ties between that group and those arrested this week.

Also last week, an Italian court in Milan handed down the first al-Qaida-linked convictions in Europe since Sept. 11, ruling on the case of a group of Tunisians accused of helping al-Qaida recruits get fake documents.

Update hourly