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Archive for Saturday, December 1, 2001

Italy arrests Egyptian considered major European link to al-Qaida

December 1, 2001

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— Italian authorities have arrested an Egyptian man said to be a key member of a European Islamic network that helped militants reach Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida training camps, officials said Saturday.

Border police arrested Samir Kishk, 46, at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport on Friday evening as he was boarding a plane for Paris, where he lives, a statement from the Interior Ministry said. He had just arrived from Cairo.

Kishk had escaped arrest during an October sweep in Milan of people suspected of links with bin Laden's terror network. The Interior Ministry said he was accused of criminal association with the aim of trafficking in arms, explosives, dangerous chemicals, identity papers and facilitating illegal immigration.

The investigation showed Kishk, also known as Hammada, played a top role in bin Laden's European organization.

"In particular, the suspect represented the principal branch of the group in French territory, where he procured false documents and furnished logistical support to militants about to reach al-Qaida training camps or places of combat," the statement said.

Kishk was part of the same European network as Essid Sami Ben Khemais, a Tunisian who European officials believe was sent from Afghanistan to supervise bin Laden's terrorist operations in Europe. He was arrested in April.

Both Kishk and Ben Khemais traveled to France and Spain in March to contact militants, the statement said. Spanish police have said that on a four-day trip to Spain in March, Ben Khemais met with members of an Algerian cell and gave them orders to attack U.S. interests in Europe.

"The arrest of Kishk represents a tough strike inflicted on the complex terrorist structure that, from bases in northern Italy, circulated in many European countries directly referring to Osama bin Laden's organization," the statement said.

Interior Minister Claudio Scajola called the arrest by the border police a "brilliant operation."

The arrest came a day after police in Milan announced a sweep of Islamic centers and homes in northern Italy and the arrests of two more people accused of helping recruit al-Qaida fighters.

Two people in detention in Milan worked at the city's Islamic Cultural Center and mosque, a converted garage that the U.S. government has described as "the main al-Qaida station house in Europe."

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