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Friday, 24 January, 2003, 19:19 GMT
Arrests trigger Italy terror alert
Italian policeman escorts suspect
Italy has carried out a series of arrests in recent months
Italy's National Security Committee is reviewing security at sensitive sites, amid fears that five Moroccans arrested this week were planning terrorist attacks.

The men, detained for illegal possession of explosives, are suspected of having links to extremist groups elsewhere in Europe.

Police found maps with Nato bases in northern Italy ringed and a plan of central London during the arrests south of Venice.

Italian authorities are now considering how best to secure their military sites, as well as prominent historical sites such as the leaning tower of Pisa.

The arrest of the five suspects was approved by the investigating judge and they have now been remanded in custody, say reports.

Unsophisticated

The BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner, says if the men had been plotting an attack, it is more likely that it would have taken place in Italy than in London.

The map of central London did not have any targets marked but other maps showed a Nato base in Verona where targets had been ringed.

Officers found a kilogram (2.2 lb) of explosives in the building where the men were staying in the northern city of Rovigo, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south-west of Venice.

Our correspondent says the powerful C4 explosive discovered is the same type as that used in the Bali bombing in October and could only be accessed through military sources.

But, he says, if the men were indeed planning any attack, it would not be particularly sophisticated and certainly nothing on the level of the 11 September operation.

Routine search

Police said they found the explosives during a routine search for illegal immigrants in an abandoned building where the men were squatting.

Building where explosives were said to have been found
The men lived in an abandoned building

Reports say the flat was scattered with beer cans and the explosives were found in a sock under a pile of laundry.

A religious leader of Rovigo's Muslim community was among those arrested, the Associated Press news agency quoted a police source as saying.

In court on Friday, Judge Rosanna Oggioni confirmed that the men were charged with possession of explosives, according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

She ordered that they be remanded in custody, on the grounds that they could attempt the crime again, tamper with evidence or abscond.

Sofia Tiengo, a lawyer for two of the suspects, said her clients denied the allegations.

If found guilty, the men face up to eight years in prison.

US praise

The US attorney general, who met Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli on Thursday, welcomed the latest development.

Mr Ashcroft said the arrests were "tangible evidence that Italy takes terrorism seriously and fights it aggressively".

Mr Castelli said Italy was "engaged in the front line, and Italy has shown concrete results".

Dozens of people have been arrested in Italy in recent months as part of a crackdown on Islamic terror cells operating in the country.

Last October, police arrested three Egyptians in Anzio, south of Rome, after they said they found explosives and a map of a US military cemetery in the men's apartment.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Frank Gardner
"This certainly appears to be an alarming development in the war on terror"
The BBC's Frances Kennedy
"The explosive was found inside an old sock"

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European probe

Background

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See also:

06 Sep 02 | Europe
11 Jul 02 | Europe
24 Feb 02 | Europe
22 Feb 02 | Europe
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