updated 4/30/2004 8:44:29 AM ET 2004-04-30T12:44:29

An Italian court on Friday acquitted three Egyptians of planning an attack on an American military cemetery near Rome and other U.S. interests in Italy, dealing a second blow to anti-terror prosecutors this week.

The verdict in the high-security courtroom in the capital was handed down after about two hours of deliberations.

The three suspects had been arrested in October 2002, and have been in detainment since then.

At the time of their arrest, a search of their apartment in the port town of Anzio, south of Rome, turned up more than four pounds of TNT, a belt that could be packed with explosives, a handgun and a map indicating the American cemetery in nearby Nettuno, with two of its entrances marked.

Earlier this week, prosecutors in Rome suffered a setback in a separate case when nine Moroccans accused of planning an attack on the U.S. Embassy in the capital were acquitted, along with three other suspects.

The three Egyptians had been charged with illegal possession of weapons and “subversive association aimed at international terrorism” — a charge introduced after the Sept. 11 attacks as part of Italy’s efforts to crack down on suspected Islamic terrorists.

Prosecutor Erminio Amelio had asked for a prison terms of 12 years apiece, and for a $1,200 fine from each of the three suspects.

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