In a move that followed a six-year investigation into an illegal immigration racket run from Sardinia, police on the Mediterranean island ordered the arrest of 18 people in coordinated raids across Italy.
The arrest warrants accuse the suspects of belonging to “an organisation dedicated to transnational criminal activities inspired by Al Qaeda and other radical organisations pursuing armed struggle against the West and insurrection against the current government of Pakistan.”
At least six of the suspects were detained on Sardinia and raids were continuing at several locations in the regions of Le Marche, Lazio, and Lombardy on the Italian mainland.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano described the swoop as “an extraordinary operation” that demonstrated the efficiency of the security services.
“With one sole investigation that started in 2009 we have succeeded in not only dismantling a network of people traffickers but also (detaining) several individuals accused of conspiring with terrorist aims and others of involvement in attacks,” Alfano said.
Wire tap recordings has led the specialist anti-terrorist unit which conducted the investigation to believe that two of them men arrested had been part of bin Laden’s security detail at some point prior to the late Al Qaeda leader’s slaying by US special forces in Pakistan in May 2011.
Some of the men arrested or being sought are suspected of involvement in the October 2009 bombing of the Meena Bazaar in Peshawar, which left more than 100 dead and over 200 people injured.
Many of the victims of the attack were women and children. The authorities blamed the Taliban for carrying out the attack in reprisal for anti-militant actions by government forces. The Taliban denied being involved.
Further details of the alleged terror network on a sleepy island that is a holiday playground for celebrities and some of the world’s richest people were due to be released at a press conference by local prosecutors later on Friday.
According to police, the Sardinia-based group’s main activity was smuggling Pakistani and Afghan nationals into Europe through Italy, either by securing temporary visas via contacts with corrupt businessmen or helping applicants fraudulently present themselves as victims of ethnic or religious persecution who should be granted asylum in Europe.
Funds raised from this activity were allegedly sent back to radical groups in Pakistan. -AFP