Police broke up a suspected terror cell Saturday and arrested five North Africans, including the alleged leader, who Italian officials said recruited Islamic extremists for attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Authorities also suspect the cell sent tens of thousands of dollars to groups in Bosnia that offer training and logistical support to Iraqi and Afghan terror organizations, said Claudio Galzerano, head of the Italian police force's international terrorism division.
Police arrested the five suspects — four Tunisians and one Moroccan — in Bologna and the nearby towns of Faenza and Imola, Galzerano said. They were accused of international terrorism, but have yet to be formally charged, he said. A sixth suspect was still being sought.
Galzerano said those arrested include alleged Tunisian ringleader Khalil Jarraya, a veteran of Bosnia's 1992-95 war, and four others he allegedly recruited for suicide attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Galzerano said Jarraya, who also has received Bosnian citizenship, may have recruited others already sent abroad.
The arrests followed a three-year investigation based on wiretaps and on training material found in previous searches of the suspects' homes.
"In the telephone intercepts they always were extremely satisfied when someone blew himself up," Galzerano told The Associated Press by telephone from Bologna. "These are people who were radicalized in the West and declared themselves ready to become 'martyrs' for jihad."
Galzerano said the cell sent tens of thousands of dollars to Bosnian groups linked to terrorist organizations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the money came from the legitimate work of the group's members as well as from insurance scams, for which a charge of fraud was added to the arrest warrants.
The cell was not part of any specific terrorist organization, but saw itself as close to al-Qaida, Galzerano said.
Investigators have long considered Italy a logistical base where terror groups seek recruits and financing. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the country introduced the charge of international terrorism, which can carry a sentence of up to 15 years jail.