ROME – Three North African men were arrested in Italy and Germany as part of efforts to smash a network seeking to recruit Islamic militants for suicide attacks against coalition forces in Iraq, officials said Friday.
Two others -- an Iraqi man and a Tunisian woman -- remained at large, the Interior Ministry in Rome said.
"We're expecting further developments within the next few days and further significant results may well be achieved," said Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu (search), speaking in Brussels.
All five are charged with association with the aim of international terrorism -- a charge that was introduced in Italy after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Also Friday, British authorities said they arrested a 33-year-old man on suspicion of involvement in terrorism and were searching three homes and businesses in Birmingham, England, for weapons and explosives. London's Metropolitan Police did not release any other details.
That arrest came a day after British police said they detained 24-year-old Sajid Badat after finding explosive material at his home in Gloucester, western England. A 39-year-old Manchester man was also arrested Thursday on suspicion of terrorism but later released.
In the cases of the North African arrests, the main suspect is an Algerian believed to be the group's ringleader and a senior operative with links to Al Qaeda (search), Usama bin Laden's terror network.
Abderrazak Mahdjoub, 29, was apprehended Friday in Hamburg, Germany, on an arrest warrant issued in Milan, German police said. He had been arrested in the German city in July on suspicion of plotting a bomb attack in Spain, but he was released a few months later for lack of evidence.
Mahdjoub, who is married to a German woman and has children, has lived in Hamburg since 1991, a high-ranking police official in Hamburg said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Heino Vahldieck, head of the Hamburg state agency that monitors extremism, said Mahdjoub tried to travel to Iraq at the start of this year, but was arrested in Syria in May and returned to Germany.
Authorities said Mahdjoub's name emerged in wiretapped conversations during a separate inquiry. Investigators said he had contacts with some of the inquiry's suspects, believed to be connected to Ansar al-Islam, an extremist Islamic group based in northern Iraq that U.S. officials believe has links to Al Qaeda.
The two other suspects were arrested in Milan, the Interior Ministry said. They were identified as Housni Jamal, 20, of Morocco, and Bouyahia Maher Ben Abdelaziz, 33, of Tunisia.
The Iraqi suspect is believed to have fled to Syria (search) while the Tunisian woman sought by authorities has most likely gone back to her home country, the ministry said.
A sixth suspect in the North African cases, a Tunisian man, was arrested Saturday for allegedly providing logistical support to the alleged cell.
Italy's Interior Ministry said 71 people have been arrested this year for alleged links to Islamic terrorism -- up from 64 last year and 33 in 2001.