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Italy Sentences Tunisians to 5 Years

May 17, 2002

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MILAN, Italy (AP) _ An Italian judge on Friday convicted three Tunisians with alleged ties to al-Qaida of making false documents and sentenced them to up to five years and 10 months in prison, news reports said.

The men will be expelled from Italy after their sentences are served, judge Ambrogio Moccia ruled. They had denied any wrongdoing and were cleared of several charges, including supplying false documents and smuggling arms.

The men were not directly connected to the Sept. 11 terror attack, prosecutors said, but were suspected of providing logistical support for members of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network in Europe.

Mehdi Kammoun was sentenced to five years, 10 months in prison; and Riadh Jelassi and Adel Ben Soltane were each sentenced to four years and six months, ANSA news agency reported.

Court officials were not available to confirm the reports Friday night.

The three men were picked up last year during a crackdown on suspected Islamic terrorist cells.

``We are terrified, not terrorists,″ ANSA quoted Kammoun as telling the court. ``This is a political game and we are the victims.″

``I am sorry for what happened in the United States,″ another news agency, AGI, quoted him as saying.

Defense lawyers argued the defendants may have committed some illegal acts, but not terrorist crimes.

In his closing arguments Friday, prosecutor Stefano Dambruoso _ who is leading the investigation into Islamic terrorism in northern Italy _ insisted that logistical support can be described as ``terrorist activity in the full sense″ of the word. Earlier, he had argued the men were part of an international ring that ``referred directly to al-Qaida.″

Four Tunisians, who were arrested in Milan as part of the same investigation, were convicted in February and sentenced to prison terms of up to five years for helping al-Qaida recruits.

Among those four was Essid Sami Ben Khemais, bin Laden’s alleged European logistics chief.

The State Department has called a Milan mosque and Islamic cultural center ``the main al-Qaida station house in Europe.″

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