Page last updated at 08:17 GMT, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 09:17 UK

Italy arrests 'al-Qaeda plotters'


Two French nationals detained in Italy over alleged illegal immigration offences are now suspected of being key al-Qaeda figures, Italian police say.

Bassam Ayachi, a 63-year-old Syrian-born imam, and Raphael Gendron, 34, were arrested in November in Bari.

They have now been served with arrest warrants for planning "terrorist attacks and guerrilla actions", Italy's Ansa agency said, citing court files.

One of the intended targets was Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, they added.

However, police said they believed there was no immediate threat.

'Leading men'

Mr Ayachi and Mr Gendron had lived in Belgium before they were arrested by Italian police six months ago in the southern city of Bari on suspicion of trying to smuggle five illegal immigrants from Greece.

Subsequent investigations allowed officers to identify them as "two leading men for the communication of al-Qaeda in Europe", a police statement said.

They were arrested this week on suspicion of criminal association linked to international terrorism, it added.

The two men had possessed weapons and explosives, and had also set up a recruitment and training network for Europe-based militants ready to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, the magistrates' dossier alleged.

Documents found in their possession mentioned attacks in France and the UK, "but as a mere possibility, without anything concrete or any immediate threat," Claudio Garzellano, an official of Italy's anti-terrorism police division Ucigos, told the Reuters news agency.

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