Italian police said they arrested 18 suspected Islamic extremists, including two who once had links to Osama Bin Laden, in a “vast” counterterrorism raid across the country.
Those arrested had al-Qaeda ties and planned “insurrection against the current government of Pakistan,” police said Friday in e-mailed statements detailing the operation. The suspects may also have been planning an attack against the Vatican, Ansa reported, citing investigators.
“It was an active, operational cell” involved in “numerous bloody acts of terrorism” Pasquale Errico, police chief for the city of Sassari in Sardinia, near where some of the arrests took place, said in an interview on SkyTg24. The cell “also financed terrorist movements in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” according to police.
Some of the those arrested are responsible for past terror attacks in Pakistan including the 2009 Mina Bazar attack in Peshawar that killed more than 100 people, according to the police statements. The group’s aim was to push Pakistan to give up the fight against the Taliban and weaken support for the U.S. in Afghanistan, police said.
Members are also under investigation for financing terrorist movements in Pakistan and Afghanistan by collecting funds in Italy. Most of the money was transferred through an ancient banking practice known as “hawala,” which involves movements of money through a trust-based network of brokers, police said.