Italy arrests egyptian bombing mastermind
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Italy Arrests Suspected Madrid Bombing 'Mastermind'
Tue Jun 8, 2004 07:17 AM ET
By Emilio Parodi and Clara Ferreira-Marques
MILAN, Italy (Reuters) - Italy arrested an Egyptian man considered to be a mastermind of the Madrid train bombings in the first Europe-wide swoop on Islamic militants linked to the March attack, judicial sources said Tuesday.
Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said militants had been planning more attacks as police swooped as part of an operation across Europe. He said the swoop was aimed at a group "close to al Qaeda."
Police in Milan arrested Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, known as "Mohamed the Egyptian," and another man as part of cross-border raids into the March 11 bombings that killed 191 people in the Spanish capital, the judicial sources said.
Ahmed was considered "one of the masterminds" of the Madrid bombings, a Spanish Interior Ministry spokesman said.
He has been linked to a Tunisian man, now dead, whom investigators identified as the ringleader of the suspected Islamic militants behind the attacks, the spokesman added.
A Madrid court will now seek the extradition of the 32-year-old Egyptian, a court official said.
Police in northern Italy, France, Spain and Belgium took part in the coordinated raids, Italian judicial sources said.
"Raids are under way in Belgium, Spain and France as well as in Italy," an Italian judicial source said. Another judicial source said: "It is coordinated at the European level."
Italian police were acting on an arrest warrant when they seized Ahmed late Monday. High Court Judge Juan del Olmo, who has been leading the probe into the train attacks, issued the warrant Monday.
"I know that there has been an arrest for which we should congratulate the Italian police and all the police who have worked with the Italians," Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso told reporters.
"Mohamed the Egyptian" was seized after a three-month probe by Italy's anti-terrorist unit and Italian intelligence and he was thought to be the head of a Moroccan radical Islamist cell, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera said.
On April 4, Spain's Interior Ministry released a picture of the man, saying he was wanted for "Islamic terrorism," but at that time he was not directly tied to the train bombings.
Corriere reported the owner of the man's apartment in Milan, believed to be a north African, was also arrested.
Belgian federal prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt confirmed Brussels was working with the Italian authorities. Italian news agency ANSA said Belgian police arrested one man in Belgium and detained about a dozen others.
So far, 20 people have been accused of involvement in the Madrid bombings. Fourteen of them are under arrest, while at least 20 others have been arrested and cleared.
Another Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, said three or four men had been arrested in raids in three northern Italian towns including Milan and they had planned an attack in Italy.
Italy has long been seen as a target for militant Islamic groups after its support for the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq and it has stepped up security since the Madrid bombs.
Italian police have made several arrests, mainly in the north, since September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Last month in Florence, anti-terror police arrested five suspected members of a militant Islamic group who were believed to be recruiting suicide bombers to carry out attacks in Iraq.
An Algerian imam and four Tunisians were detained in Florence as part of a year-long investigation into alleged "terrorist" cells there and in the port city of Genoa, according to officials working on the probe.
Those men were suspected of giving logistical support to al Qaeda, the network headed by Osama bin Laden and blamed for September 11, and of belonging to Ansar al-Islam, which America describes as its main "terrorist adversary" in postwar Iraq.
Italy's Interior Ministry said last year 71 people were arrested on suspicion of links to "international terrorism."
Last November, Italian officials said they smashed a Europe-wide network also suspected of recruiting mujahideen on behalf of Ansar al-Islam, arresting five alleged ring-leaders.
© Copyright Reuters 2004.