updated 10/3/2010 2:31:11 PM ET 2010-10-03T18:31:11

Italian police have arrested a Frenchman suspected of links to a network recruiting fighters for Afghanistan, a French official said Sunday.

The man was arrested in Naples in southern Italy in early September, based on a French probe underway for several months into alleged involvement in a terrorist enterprise, the official said. The official was not authorized to be publicly named because terrorism cases are classified.

The official said the man is suspected of having fought in Afghanistan and belonging to a network for recruiting fighters.

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Two Italian newspapers say the man is 28 years old, of Algerian origin and suspected to be a member of al-Qaida.

Il Mattino, a newspaper based in Naples, and the Naples editions of La Repubblica said Sunday that the suspect had notes and a kit for making bombs when he was arrested. The French official, however, said the material seized was "insignificant."

Story: U.S. warns Americans of potential terror attacks in Europe

Il Mattino said the arrest took place two weeks ago but only became public during a closed-door hearing in Naples that approved the suspect's extradition to France.

The arrest comes at a time of heightened concerns about a terrorist attack in Europe.

The U.S. government issued a travel alert Sunday warning Americans of potential terrorist threats in Europe and urging them to be vigilant in public places, including tourist spots and transportation hubs.

French officials have not however disclosed any concrete new threats.

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France's Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux told AP Television News on Sunday that "The threat is real. Our vigilance is total." But he said there was "no change" to France's own terrorism alert level.

Italian Interior Minister Maroni was quoted in a newspaper interview Sunday as saying Italy is "prepared" for a terrorist attack. "But — as shown by what happened last year in Milan when a foreigner blew himself up in front of a military barracks — the situation is complicated."

Last year, a Libyan man set off a small bomb while trying to enter an army barracks in Milan, seriously injuring himself and slightly wounding the guard who stopped him. Maroni said at the time that the man appeared to be opposed to Italy's military missions overseas. Two other North Africans were also arrested in the case.


Associated Press writer Alessandra Rizzo in Rome and APTN reporter Nicolas Garriga in Paris contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Isikoff: U.S. identifies suspects in Europe plot

  1. Closed captioning of: Isikoff: U.S. identifies suspects in Europe plot

    >>> americans in europe to be extra vigilant. the new travel alert issued by the state department reads in part u.s. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. u.s. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling. i'm joined now live by michael isikoff , national correspondent for nbc news. michael, good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> i'm told that you have new information to share. what is that?

    >> i do. european and u.s. security officials and law enforcement officials are actually on the lookout of ifg abodentifying about ten al qaeda operatives on the loose in europe as part of this plot hatched in pakistan by osama bin laden himself to attack public places in europe , simultaneous attacks in several european cities . there is specific intelligence about this and that they actually have identified some of the operatives who are believed to be in europe now for this plot. that's the intelligence that led to this rather unusual state department alert that came just today. there's a couple of extraordinary things about it. one is bin laden himself is believed to be actively involved in plotting and gave the instructions for this plot. as one intelligence official says to me, we haven't seen his involvement in a specific plot in a very, very long time, and i think that's one of the aspects of this that raised eyebrows as well as just the -- the level of specific intelligence about this goes well beyond what -- what security officials normally get. now, fair to point out and important to point out that there's no specific information about where the targets are, when this attack is supposed to take place, if it's going to take place. there's still a lot of vagueness about this, but it is being taken much more seriously than anything we've seen in quite some time.

    >> do you get a sense of those that are tracking the suspects knowing where they are, and if so are they waiting to do anything to get further information to use against them?

    >> look, they are trying to find these people and pulling out all the stops as one senior u.s. counterterrorism official told me, you know, all stops are being, you know, everything is being exercised here including national security -- nsa intercepts, the full range and panoply of u.s. and western intelligence . now, you know, look. we've been down this road many times before with security alerts and, you know, many times these things don't pan out. how far this one gets is anybody's guess, but it is -- what is significant is, you know, several times officials have said to me this goes beyond as operational. they believe the plot has begun, and that's one of the reasons that they are taking this step of caution. if you read -- by the way, if you read that state department alert, it's not going to be very helpful to european tourists.

    >> not at all.

    >> american tourists in europe right now. it doesn't tell you very much other than be vigilant, be very vigilant.

    >> taking homeland security 's mantra of see something and say something and taking it overseas. i'm curious about the osama bin laden factor, michael.

    >> yes.

    >> how significant is that? what does that mean potentially to the way al qaeda is running its operations now, and is it different than what we've seen in the past years with failed attempts or really no attempts at all? they have been more on the quiet side and certainly nothing large coming out from them.

    >> right, right, right. you have almost simultaneously this public relations offensive by bin laden just in the last couple of days. two audio tapes which is interestingly, it's not the usual standard fare rallying about the infidels in the west. he's talking about flood controls and humanitarian efforts. it's almost as if it was a political ad . bin laden is going positive right now, yet at the same time western intelligence has this very specific information about his involvement in orchestrating this plot and directing the plot, in reaching out to allied terror groups in pakistan, particular particularly the parties responsibility for the mumbai attacks and logistical support in aiding this plot. something clearly is going often i'm not sure that u.s. intelligence really has a firm grasp on it but to see simultaneously a positive message from bin laden about humanitarian relief at the same time there's this intelligence about an actual plot in europe is -- is pretty extraordinary.

    >> it is indeed. we thank you for bringing it all to us. our nbc correspondent michael isikoff . thank you.

    >> thank you.


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