Italian Carabinieri have detained an asylum seeker from Afghanistan on suspicion of plotting attacks in Europe. Two more alleged members of his jihadist cell are on the run, officials said.
The 23-year old Hakim Nasiri was arrested after police found images of possible terror targets on his phone, Bari prosecutor Roberto Rossi said on Tuesday. Nasiri also saved a picture of himself holding an M16 rifle (shown above).
Italian officials first started the investigation in December when four Afghans were spotted taking videos in a Bari mall. The police than searched their phones and found recordings from the city's airport and port, as well as locations in Rome, Paris and London.
"It was clear these were not tourist images. They appear to have been scouting sensitive sites," Rossi told the press conference.
The suspects also took expensive trips across Europe, paying in cash despite not having an apparent source of income, the prosecutor said.
Preparing for 'martyrdom'
While searching the phones, the police also discovered pictures of military vehicles and weapons, as well as Taliban propaganda videos and "a series of chants traditionally sung in preparation for martyrdom," according to Rossi.
One of the suspects had links on his smartphone that are only "only accessible to those with connections to the international jihadist network," Rossi added.
The suspected jihadist cell had used the internet to "spread violent ideology of holy war and combat techniques," authorities claim.
Fear of 'human bombs'
The arrested asylum seeker Nasiri has been living in a migrant center near Bari airport. According to ANSA news agency, he had been granted international protection on May 6.
Police also arrested another Afghan refugee - whom Italy had granted a humanitarian residence permit in 2011 - on charges of human trafficking, officials said. Two more people suspected of terrorism and one person suspected of people smuggling were still on the run.
Rossi suggested it was "likely" the wanted men had returned to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but could also still be in Europe.
After police announced the arrests and the suspected terror plot, right-wing Northern League opposition party urged Rome to tighten migrant policies.
"How many 'human bombs' are they letting into our home? Do we have to wait for an attack (God forbid) to check our borders, limit admissions, increase expulsions?" party leader Matteo Salvini wrote on Facebook.
At the same time, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said that the arrests proved that "anti-terrorism legislation works" and that security of citizens is a "government priority."
dj/kms (dpa, AFP)