Bin Laden al­lies sus­pected of Vat­i­can plot ar­rested

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY AN­GUS MACKIN­NON

Ital­ian po­lice said Fri­day they had dis­man­tled an Is­lamist net­work they have linked to Osama bin Laden, one of Pak­istan’s dead­li­est at­tacks and, more loosely, a pos­si­ble plot to bomb the Vat­i­can.

A to­tal of 18 peo­ple were or­dered ar­rested fol­low­ing a sixyear in­ves­ti­ga­tion that be­gan with a probe into an il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion racket al­legedly run from the is­land of Sar­dinia. Only nine of the sus­pects had been de­tained by Fri­day af­ter­noon.

Pros­e­cu­tor Mauro Mura told a press con­fer­ence in Cagliari, Sar­dinia that mem­bers of the net­work had been in con­tact with two po­ten­tial sui­cide bombers who came to Italy in 2010 and dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of at­tack­ing the Vat­i­can.

The men left Italy when they be­came aware they were un­der sur- veil­lance and the ar­rested sus­pects are not be­ing in­ves­ti­gated fur­ther on that score, Mura said.

Mario Carta, an of­fi­cer in the DI­GOS anti- ter­ror­ism unit that car­ried out the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, ac­knowl­edged there was no firm ev­i­dence of a con­spir­acy to kill the pope, only “strong sus­pi­cions” based on wire­tapped con­ver­sa­tions in which the sus­pects had spo­ken “in ironic terms” about the leader of the world’s Catholics.

Vat­i­can spokesman Fed­erico Lom­bardi played down the sig­nif­i­cance of the in­ci­dent. “This con­cerns a 2010 sce­nario that didn’t ma­te­ri­al­ize. It has no rel­e­vance to­day and there is no rea­son for par­tic­u­lar con­cern,” he told re­porters.

Shop­keeper, Imam Held

The al­leged key fig­ures in the net­work were Khan Sul­tan Wali, a shop­keeper and long-term res­i­dent of Ol­bia, Sar­dinia and Zulk­i­fal hafiz Mo­hammed, an imam who car­ried out mis­sion­ary work in Bres­cia and Berg­amo in north­ern Italy, ac­cord­ing to sketchy de­tails pro­vided by pros­e­cu­tors at a press con­fer­ence.

The ar­rest war­rants ac­cuse the sus­pects of be­long­ing to “an or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to transna­tional crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties in­spired by alQaida and other rad­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions pur­su­ing armed strug­gle against the West and in­sur­rec­tion against the cur­rent gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan.”

In­te­rior Min­is­ter An­gelino Al­fano praised “an ex­tra­or­di­nary op­er­a­tion” that demon­strated the ef­fi­ciency of the se­cu­rity ser­vices.

“With one sole in­ves­ti­ga­tion that started in 2009 we have suc­ceeded in not only dis­man­tling a net­work of peo­ple traf­fick­ers but also (detaining) sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als ac­cused of con­spir­ing with ter­ror­ist aims and oth­ers of in­volve­ment in at­tacks,” Al­fano said.

Wire­tap record­ings sug­gest two mem­bers of the net­work were part of bin Laden’s se­cu­rity de­tail be­fore his slay­ing by U.S. spe­cial forces in Pak­istan in May 2011, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice state­ment. Oth­ers re­mained in con­tact with the late al-Qaida leader’s rel­a­tives af­ter his death.

Some of the men ar­rested or be­ing sought are sus­pected of in­volve­ment in the Oc­to­ber 2009 bomb­ing of the Meena Bazaar in Pe­shawar, which left more than 100 dead and over 200 peo­ple in­jured.

Carta said there was ev­i­dence that the attack was sub­stan­tially planned and fi­nanced from Ol­bia and that Italy-based mil­i­tants had taken part in it.

Many of the vic­tims of the attack were women and chil­dren. At the time, the au­thor­i­ties blamed the Tal­iban for car­ry­ing out the attack in reprisal for an­timil­i­tant ac­tions by gov­ern­ment forces. The Tal­iban de­nied be­ing in­volved.

Khan Sul­tan Wali is one of the lead­ers of the small Is­lamic com­mu­nity on Sar­dinia, a sleepy is­land that is a hol­i­day play­ground for celebri­ties and some of the world’s rich­est peo­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to po­lice, the al­leged rad­i­cal net­work was in­volved in smug­gling Pak­istani and Afghan na­tion­als into Europe through Italy, ei­ther by se­cur­ing tem­po­rary visas via con­tacts with cor­rupt busi­ness­men or help­ing ap­pli­cants fraud­u­lently present them­selves as vic­tims of eth­nic or re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion who should be granted asy­lum in Europe.

Funds raised from this ac­tiv­ity as well as char­ity col­lec­tions were al­legedly sent back to rad­i­cal groups in Pak­istan, in­clud­ing alQaida off­shoots and the lo­cal Tal­iban.

AP

A po­lice of­fi­cer pa­trols out­side St. Peter’s Square in Rome on Fri­day, April 24.

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