Italy to expel 700 terrorist suspects

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Key points

• Italy has arrested 141 suspected Islamic militants, with more to follow

• 32,000 questioned after introduction of new anti-terrorist laws last month

• Still unknown what action against terrorism Britain is to take

Key quote

"We remain worried. It would be absolutely foolish for me or anybody else to say that we have eliminated the risk. We have not. There is no particular intelligence that we are addressing, but we are working on the basis that the people who organised these attacks could proceed with other attacks as well." - CHARLES CLARKE, HOME SECRETARY

Story in full ITALIAN security forces have arrested more than 100 suspected Islamic militants and plan to expel hundreds more in Europe's most sweeping counter-terrorism operation, officials revealed yesterday.

The decisive Italian action immediately turned a renewed spotlight on Britain's security operation in the wake of the London attacks, which has been criticised for lacking focus and direction.

While Italy has speedily enacted new anti-terror laws, the British government is still consulting on new rules. In the meantime, a number of ad hoc government measures - including charging extremist preachers with treason and "rebranding" British Muslims - have been floated then embarrassingly buried.

As Italian security chiefs released their assessment that the country faces a serious threat of terrorist attacks, the British government said it "remained worried" about more attacks following two bomb attacks in London last month.

In all, 141 people have been arrested, most of them in a series of raids in the 48 hours between 12 August and 13 August. In total, Italian police, intelligence and customs agents have questioned more than 32,000 people during the swoop.

The focus of attention was internet cafes, call centres, money transfer bureaus and halal butchers as well as other focal points of Italy's Muslim community.

Two people were held for being in possession of false documents under tough new anti-terrorist laws brought in last month.

Others were held for a number of minor offences. The Ministry of the Interior said none of those arrested had actually been charged with terrorist activity.

The Italian parliament earlier this month passed legislation that has drawn criticism from civil liberties groups. The new laws make it easier to detain people for suspected terrorism and give police greater power to control internet sites and tap telephone calls.

Announcing details of the nationwide sweep, Giuseppe Pisanu, the Italian interior minister, said the country faces an "elevated terrorist threat" in following the attacks on London and Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt last month.

Mr Pisanu also described how security had been increased around more than 13,000 so-called "sensitive targets" mainly airports, train stations, ports but also including museums, art galleries, embassies and places where large crowds gather.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, yesterday said the investigation into the London attacks - dubbed "the biggest murder inquiry in British history" by police - is a vital part of preventing more attacks.

"We remain worried," said Mr Clarke after meeting senior police officers at Scotland Yard. "It would be absolutely foolish for me or anybody else to say that we have eliminated the risk. We have not. There is no particular intelligence that we are addressing, but we are working on the basis that the people who organised these attacks could proceed with other attacks as well."

Despite that threat, Mr Clarke admitted he could not say when ten Islamic preachers accused of promoting extremist values would be expelled from Britain as all are appealing against the move.

Even the case of the one alleged radical to be barred from Britain, Omar Bakri, has been marred by government indecision. Just days before the government move to prevent him from re-entering Britain, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, appeared to rule out such a move.

While British political parties are publicly observing a cross-party consensus over terror laws, some Tory and LibDem MPs privately accuse Downing Street of pushing an agenda more concerned with media coverage than directly confronting terrorism.

One of the suspects in the failed 21 July attack on London, Hussain Osman, is currently under arrest in Rome pending extradition.

Osman is one of 701 people Italy plans to expel or extradite in connection with alleged terrorist activities.

• A LONDON judge yesterday postponed a ruling on Spain's request for the extradition of a man wanted for alleged involvement in the last year's Madrid bombings,

Moutaz Almallah Dabas, a Spanish citizen, is fighting a return to face prosecution in Spain, where his lawyers argue he could face possible abuses of his human rights.

The judge, Anthony Evans, ordered Dabas to remain in custody until another hearing in Bow Street Magistrates' Court on 28 September.