Italian police arrest North Africa cell and five suspected Islamic State supporters

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 01, 2015 12:19 PM

By Ilaria Polleschi

MILAN, Italy (Reuters) - Italian police said on Wednesday they had arrested two people in Rome suspected of plotting attacks in Italy and North Africa, and five others in Italy and Albania who were planning to join hardline militant group Islamic State.

Like other European countries, Italy has stepped up surveillance of individuals suspected of supporting militants in Syria and Iraq after indications that a number of Italians have traveled to the region to fight.

Italy has also been monitoring suspect militants tied to North Africa, and police said they seized two people on Wednesday, with a third person connected to the case already in jail for alleged terror offences committed in Morocco.

At a press conference during a visit to Berlin, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the authorities had "destroyed an important cell" that was present in Italy but carrying out operations in North Africa.

In the other case, the five arrested in Italy and Albania were part of a group of 10 suspects comprising Italians, Albanians and one Canadian. The other five are believed to be in Syria, the police said.

Among them was an Italian woman, Maria Giulia Sergio, a Muslim convert who left Italy for Syria with her Albanian husband shortly after they married in 2014. The two are thought to have joined Islamic State.

Police said on Wednesday they had arrested Sergio's parents and sister as well as a member of her husband's family.

They are all suspected of preparing to go and fight with Islamic State, which controls large parts of Iraq and Syria.

A Canadian woman suspected of converting and radicalizing the young newlywed and her family is also being sought by police.

Prosecutor Maurizio Romanelli told reporters there was no evidence the group was planning any attacks in Italy.

In March, Italian police arrested three men for allegedly setting up a network in Italy to recruit Islamist fighters to be sent abroad.

(Additional reporting by Philip Pullella, Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Raissa Kasolowsky)