BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 16:15 GMT
'Cyanide attack' foiled in Italy
View of Rome
The four allegedly had maps marked with water systems
Italian police say they have arrested four Moroccans who were planning a chemical attack in Rome, targeting buildings which included the United States embassy.

We will be discussing the matter with Washington today

US Embassy spokeswoman
The four men, aged between 30 and 40, were detained on Tuesday in a dawn raid on a flat in the Tor Bella Monaca area in the south of the Italian capital. The news did not emerge until early on Wednesday.

They were discovered to be in possession of a powdered cyanide-based substance, maps marking the capital's water supply network, as well as a hoard of false documentation and Islamic extremist propaganda, officials said.

Map showing US embassy in Rome
It is suspected that they were intending to poison the water supplies in a commercial area of the capital where the US embassy is located.

"The speculation is that we were a target," a spokeswoman at the embassy in Rome told BBC News Online. "We'll be discussing the matter with Washington today."

The four kilos of the substance in the possession of the four Moroccans is reported to be sufficient to poison the water supply of an entire neighbourhood, and cause dozens of deaths.

Terror links

The BBC's Frances Kennedy in Rome says there is mounting speculation that the men are linked to Osama Bin Laden's terrorist al-Qaeda network.

Police said the men have been under surveillance for several days. Officers moved in to arrest them once they had sufficient evidence they were in possession of a potentially deadly substance.

The tapping of their telephones has also allegedly revealed links between the four Moroccans and four Tunisians currently on trial in Milan over purported ties with the al-Qaeda network.

They are accused of conspiring to traffic in false documents, weapons, explosives and chemical weapons.

But Italian magistrates are said to be furious that the news of the arrests of the Moroccans has been leaked to the press.

They say it will jeopardise efforts to reveal who the men were working with, and who had supplied them with the poisonous substance.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"It is possible that they were targeting the US embassy"
The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"There are now fears that a full-blown cyanide attack was planned"
The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"They had diagrams of the city's water supply"
The BBC's Frances Kennedy
"The group may have been planning a terrorist attack"
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories