MILAN, Italy – Seven foreigners were arrested for allegedly supplying fake passports and documents to members of Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, Milan anti-terrorism police said Friday.
An eighth suspected eluded capture and is being sought, said Massimo Mazza, head of Milan's anti-terrorist squad.
The arrests occurred Thursday night in Milan and its suburbs, a police statement said. Police seized false passports, stolen identity cards and blank documents that could be used to issue papers giving foreigners permission to live in Italy.
Police said the suspects — six Moroccans, a Tunisian and a Romanian — were part of "vast trafficking in false documents." All were accused of criminal association and counterfeiting documents.
The suspects include two Moroccan brothers — Mohammed Kazdari and his younger brother, Said — who allegedly supplied documents to Essid Sami Ben Khemais, bin Laden's alleged European logistics chief, Mazza said. The brothers were described as the operation's ringleaders.
"There were sure links between the Kazdari brothers and Ben Khemais," Mazza said. "But at the moment we can't confirm which documents were given to Ben Khemais and used by Ben Khemais."
Ben Khemais was convicted earlier this year in Milan of helping Al Qaeda recruits and now is in prison.
The Moroccan brothers were released from prison in August after being convicted of dealing in false documents.
Mazza said "for now there is no confirmation" the documents were used to organize the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, which are blamed on Al Qaeda.
No U.S. documents were found in the raids, he said. The documents were for use in European and north African countries, he said.
U.S. authorities have described Milan as being an important logistical base for Al Qaeda.
In Venice, security was stepped up in the Jewish Ghetto district, with police boats checking for explosives in neighborhood canals and police officers guarding entrances to the narrow alleys leading into the district.
Italian police have not elaborated on what prompted the measures, but security was stepped up in Venice earlier this year after the tourist destination was named a possible terrorist target.