An Italian court acquitted three north Africans of international terrorism charges linked to the alleged recruitment of suicide bombers to be sent to Iraq, ruling that the men were guerrillas, not terrorists.

Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini (search), who is also foreign minister, expressed "anger and incredulity" over what he said was a "distortion of the reality before the entire world."

The men had been accused of association with the aim of international terrorism, a charge introduced in Italy after Sept. 11, 2001, as part of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's (search) government's war against terrorism.

Judge Clementina Forleo convicted the men, Tunisians Ali Ben Sassi Toumi and Bouyahia Maher, and Moroccan Mohamed Daki, of assisting illegal immigration and dealing in false documents, Toumi's lawyer Sara Fardella said. The Tunisians were sentenced to three years in prison and the third defendant to 22 months.

RAI state TV showed portions of Forleo's written ruling, which said the defendants were guerrillas, not terrorists, and that there was no proof they were planning attacks.

The trial of two other defendants — Nourredine Drissi of Morocco, and Kamel Hamraoui of Tunisia — has been transferred to the northern Italian town of Brescia (search), Fardella said, because the two are suspected of being part of a terrorist cell located in the nearby town of Cremona. All five were arrested in 2003.

Prosecutors had sought sentences as long as 10 years, Fardella said.

Stefano Dambruoso (search), who until last year was Milan's leading anti-terrorism prosecutor, told state TV that the city's prosecutors had found evidence that the defendants were Islamic fundamentalists and had been seeking "recruits" from Syria for suicide attacks.

While saying he had "great respect" for the judge and was waiting to have more details on her ruling, Dambruoso said suicide attacks "should always be considered terrorism everywhere in the world."

Italy has arrested dozens of suspects on international terrorism charges since 2001, many of whom were later released or acquitted after trial.