During a raid on a small Roman apartment frequented by alleged
Arabic terrorists arrested at dawn last Friday, police found videos
of decapitations and suicide bombings, plus political propaganda for
a holy war.
But what set off alarm bells was an Arizona address on a folder
of Arabic documents. "We are working with our American colleagues to
see if there is a link between this Phoenix address and pilots of
the September suicide attack in New York," says Col. Gianfranco
Cavallo, a leading police investigator, in an interview. He says
Italian and FBI detectives are also exploring the possibility that
Lofti Raissi, the Algerian accused of training the Sept. 11 suicide
pilots, stayed at the Phoenix address.
Investigators also believe the men arrested Friday may have been
part of a network of cells operating throughout Italy and Europe
with links to the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) and the GSPC (Salafist
Group for Call and Combat), and ultimately with Osama bin Laden's Al
Salafism, a philosophy shared by bin Laden, is a pan-Islamic
movement advocating a return to the purity of the roots of Islam, as
Mohammed and his companions practiced it. The GSPC is an offshoot of
the GIA, the most radical antigovernment force in Algeria, which has
been waging war on the government for several years. Where the GIA
puts priority on overthrowing the Algerian government, the GSPC
believes "that if jihad is not international, it has no meaning,"
says Claude Moniquet, an expert on fundamentalist Islamic groups.
The GSPC is believed to have received funding from bin Laden, and
to have sent members to his Afghan training camps. The group was
banned in March 2001 in Britain, where police say it raises money
from racketeering, smuggling in Algeria, and money laundering. The
organization was on President Bush's list of 27 organizations whose
assets were frozen after Sept. 11.
Italian authorities are looking for any links between the group
arrested last Friday - which included a Pakistani (suspected as the
ringleader), a Tunisian, an Algerian and three Iraqis - and a group
of nine Moroccans arrested earlier this month after the discovery of
a perforation in a tunnel near the US Embassy. So far, the only
links between the two groups are cyanide and a mosque whose address
was found in the Moroccans' apartment. The mosque was attended by
the other group.
In conversations bugged in mosques and apartments and published
in the press (which police confirm as authentic), the group led by
the Pakistani allegedly discussed the need to find cyanide and also
talked about having a pistol, obtaining other arms, killing a
policeman, and even the need to eliminate US President George Bush.
The group's alleged leader, Ahamad Naseer, arrested at the
Fiumicino airport in Rome on charges of "subversive association and
violation of arms" as he returned from Saudi Arabia, is the director
of a small makeshift mosque near Rome's main train station.
Chihab Goumri - an Algerian accused of being the "messenger" of
the cell and in "direct contact with elements of Islamic
fundamentalism," according to published judicial documents - argued
that he frequented the mosque to have assistance for a physical
handicap resulting from the loss of his left leg in an accident in
the early 1990s. …