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Italy terror suspects arrested

Officials fear Italy could be used as a recruiting ground for attacks in Iraq.
Officials fear Italy could be used as a recruiting ground for attacks in Iraq.

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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Police in Italy and Germany have arrested three men suspected of belonging to a group involved in recruiting suicide attackers in Italy for strikes in Iraq and elsewhere, officials say.

Prosecutors in Milan have issued five arrest warrants against suspected militants. One male and one female suspect remain at large.

The announcement of the arrests came a day after the arrest of a 24-year-old man in Gloucester, western England, and the discovery of small amounts of explosives. He is being questioned about suspected international terrorism links. (Full Story)

CNN's Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci said the arrests in Italy and Germany were "significant" because it had been thought that Italy had been used only for logistical purposes, such as a base for providing false documents or shelter.

But the authorities are now investigating the possibility that Italy is being used to recruit and train terrorists for Iraq and elsewhere.

Security analyst Crispin Black, of the Risk Advisory Group, told CNN the arrests signaled a "good day for the security forces."

He added that there seemed to be a theme in the Italian and UK arrests -- the suspects all appear to have links to extreme radical centers of preaching.

Abdelrrazak Mahdjoub, a 30-year-old Algerian arrested Friday in Hamburg, is believed to be one of the ringleaders of the recruiting organization and a top al Qaeda operative in Italy.

Mahdjoub had been arrested earlier this year in Germany for his alleged involvement in an attack in Spain but was later released.

The other two suspects in custody are Bouyahia Maher Ben Abdelaziz, alias Abu Dahr Al Tunisi, born in Tunis in 1970 and Housni Jamal, alias Jamal Al Maghrebi, born in Morocco in 1973. Both are being held in Milan.

Two suspects are still at large, officials say. The female suspect is Bentiwaa Farida Ben Bechir, born in Tunis in 1961, but who has been living in the northern Italian city of Padua. Investigators believe she may have recently returned to Tunisia.

The male is Muhamad Majid, alias Mullah Foua, born in Baghdad in 1970, who Italian investigators believe is in Syria.

A sixth person identified as Toumi Ali Ben Sassi, alias Ali the Tunisian, has been in custody since November 25.

The suspects have not yet been formally charged.

Investigators are likely to charge them with "subversive association aimed at international terrorism," which means that under anti-terrorism laws adopted in Italy after the September 11 attacks in the U.S., the accused could spend months in jail before being charged.

Sources also said investigations during the arrests and subsequent searches found more than 200,000 euros or ($240,000) in cash.

The arrests were ordered by Milan Prosecutor Stefano Dambruoso, who has been leading investigations into alleged terror cells suspected of links with al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's network.

Italy has put dozens of suspected terrorist behind bars over the past two years, following a series of probes mainly in the northern part of the country.

-- CNN's Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci contributed to this report.

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