ITALY: ALGERIAN SUSPECTS ALLEGEDLY PLANNED TO KILL 10,000 Brescia and Naples, 18 Nov. (AKI) - The three Algerians detained on Tuesday in the Italian cities of Brescia and Naples were planning a massive terror attack - "on a ship as big as the Titanic, packed with explosives" - that aimed to kill "at least 10,000 people", as well as an attack on "Italian citizens and interests" in Tunisia, according phone conversations between the three men, which Italian anti-terror police say they intercepted after al-Qaeda's deadly 7 July attacks on London and on the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
In their tapped phone conversations, Yamine Bouhrama, Mohamed Larbi and Khaled Serai described the 7 July London subway and bus bombings that killed over 50 and injured 700, and the 23 July Sharm El-Sheikh terror attacks that killed 90 people and injured over 150 as "highdays and holidays", according to police. The three also spoke of having "documents ready", "war on the infidel", and "a bigger party" than the London attacks.
They are suspected of being members of the al-Qaeda-linked Algerian militant formation, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). Investigators allege they were not just in Italy to provide logistical support such as false passports and residency permits, but were actually "potential operatives" who were "ready to attack".
Serai and Larbi are being detained in Brescia, where they were living when arrested, while Bouhrama is being held in Naples, where he was living at the time of his arrest. three were detained on suspicion of association with the aim of international terrorism, a charge introduced in Italy following the September 11, 2001 attacks in America. Italy's interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu on Friday played down the case, saying "too much fuss" was being made about it. However, he said that Italy remains on "high alert" over possible terrorist attacks.
Naples magistrates on Friday approved Bouhrama's arrest warrant for suspected intent to carry out international terrorism, as well as minor offences. Brescia judge Roberto SpanÚ ruled Sarei and Larbi were to remain in jail on minor charges of receiving stolen goods, assisting illegal immigration and falsifying documents. He announced he would be referring their cases to magistrates in Naples.
The men's arrest in Brescia and Naples came as they were allegedly about to flee Italy and followed a complex three-year surveillance operation of a GSPC cell by the Italian intelligence service SISMI. The three were flush with cash, and moved around constantly between the northern cities of Brescia and Vicenza, the Italian capital, Rome, and the southern city of Naples, police allege. They were also in contact with other terror cells in the northern cities of Venice, Cesena and Milan, as well as the central Italian city of Florence, according to the investigators. They say they also have evidence of the three men being in contact with extremist groups in Norway, France and Britain.
Bourhama is thought to have undergone training at terrorist camps in Chechnya and Georgia and may be capable of making explosive belts used by suicide bombers. He allegedly had in his possession a bottle of "perfume" containing toxic substances, police said.
While under surveillance, Serai is believed to have been followed to Norway, where Mullah Krekar, an Iraqi Kurd who heads the radical Islamic militia group Ansar al-Islam, has lived since requesting political asylum in 1991, despite being wanted around the world. The US has accused Ansar al-Islam of offering sanctuary to al-Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan, including the now leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The GSPC is the main armed Islamic organisation in Algeria and its aims are reported to include replacing the Algerian government with an Islamic state and attacking Western interests in the region. The GSPC has been on America's list of "terrorist groups" since 2002 and is said to have extensive contacts in Europe, the US and the Middle East, as well as being linked to the al-Qaeda terror network.