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U.S. freezes assets of 15 in Italy

Some of the 15 people acted for or on behalf of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian with ties to al Qaeda.
Some of the 15 people acted for or on behalf of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian with ties to al Qaeda.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Department of the Treasury said Wednesday it has designated 15 people as terrorists for their involvement in al Qaeda cells in the Italian cities of Milan, Cremona and Parma.

The Italian government has frozen the assets of the cells within Italy, where most of the 15 are in custody. The U.S. designation is a sign of support of Italy's effort to have the United Nations declare the 15 as terrorists.

The U.S. designation freezes any assets the 15 had in the U.S. and bars transactions with U.S. nationals. U.N. designation will require all U.N. member states to take similar actions.

Members of the cell in Milan forged passports, collected donations and helped with the illegal entry and transport of recruits through Italy to Iraq to fight coalition forces, the Italian government said.

The Milan members also recruited people to send to Ansar al-Islam camps in Iraq by way of Syria, the Italian government said. The U.S. government and the United Nations consider Ansar al-Islam, which operates in northern Iraq, a terrorist organization with links to al Qaeda.

Also, some of the 15 acted for or on behalf of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian with ties to al Qaeda, the treasury department said.

Acts of terror

The Bush administration considers Zarqawi an al Qaeda terrorist who fled to Iraq from Afghanistan in May 2002 for medical treatment and then stayed to organize terror plots with Ansar al-Islam.

Zarqawi is suspected of orchestrating the bombing of Jordan's embassy in Baghdad in August, which killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens more. He also is being tried in absentia for last year's killing of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman, Jordan.

The Treasury Department said some of the 15 acted on behalf of other terrorist leaders, including Ramzi Mohammed Abdullah Binalshibh, who was involved in planning the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Eight of the suspects were born in Tunisia. The others are from Egypt, Somalia, Iraq, Morocco and Libya, officials said.

The United States and other nations have designated 342 people and groups as terrorists and terrorist supporters. Those nations have frozen more than $136.8 million and seized more than $60 million in terrorist-related assets, the Treasury Department said.

In October, the Treasury Department announced it was freezing the assets of the al Akhtar Trust, a Pakistan-based entity supporting al Qaeda in Afghanistan that had taken over for the Al Rashid Trust, which the United States also designated a terrorist support organization.

The 15 in Italy are charged with participating in the following crimes, according to the Treasury Department:

•  Fabricating, receiving, providing and hiding forged documents to be used to help people reach military camps in Iraq and move throughout Europe so they can maintain contact with other cells and help illegal immigrants enter Italy and other European countries.

•  Recruiting people to train in military camps, mainly in Iraq.

•  Collecting money for terrorist-related activities.

•  Organizing actions to carry out the terrorist cell's plans.

•  Planning to commit international terrorist activities in Italy and the rest of Europe.

•  Providing forged documents to terrorists living in Europe and the Middle East.

•  Maintaining contacts in Europe, the Middle East, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Malaysia and Afghanistan.

•  Sharing religious and extremist ideals.

•  Providing cell members with weapons and explosives.

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