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Terror arrest

nda/ncy/dpa/AFP/ReutersMay 12, 2009

Italian anti-terrorism officials say two French citizens jailed in southern Italy since last year are important point-men in Europe for al Qaeda and might have been planning attacks abroad.

Man wearing hood carrying weapon
The arrest could prove a heavy blow to al Qaeda in EuropeImage: AP Graphics

Anti-terrorism police official Claudio Galzerano said subsequent checks allowed officers to identify "two leading men for the communication of al Qaeda in Europe," and that the two men, including an ethnic Syrian, were being served warrants on Tuesday accusing them of being suspected terrorists.

Information on the two men, identified by police as Bassam Ayachi and Raphael Gendron, both long-time residents of Belgium, was passed on to Italian authorities by Belgian intelligence who suspected the men of preparing an attack on France's main international airport, ANSA news agency reported.

The pair, who have spent the last six months in a prison in Bari after being arrested as part of an investigation into illegal immigration trafficking, had identified Paris' Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport as one of their targets and they had also planned an attack in Britain, the agency reported.

Dossier lists alleged terror attacks and guerrilla actions

A soldier stands atop a light armored vehicle in front an Air France plane bound for New York, at Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris
Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris was an alleged targetImage: AP

A file on the suspects drawn up by investigating magistrates Roberto Rossi and Francesca Romana stated that the two men had "planned and organized terrorist attacks and guerrilla actions."

Equipped with arms and explosives, the two men had also set up a recruitment and training network for militants ready to commit suicide attacks or to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, the dossier alleged.

France, Britain and Italy all have soldiers serving in a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

The two men were arrested by Italian police in November 2008 on suspicion of trying to smuggle five illegal immigrants into Italy from Greece.

Documents found in their possession mentioned attacks in France and Britain, "but as a mere possibility, without anything concrete or any immediate threat," Claudio Galzerano of Ucigos, a special police anti-terrorism unit, told Reuters.