UK: Two arrested in dawn raids on suspicion of recruiting for jihad as part of Europe-wide swoop

Two suspected jihadi recruiters were arrested in dawn raids yesterday over their alleged involvement in a Europe-wide network enlisting young men to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ali Ben Zidane Chehidi, 34, and Mohamed Salah Ben Hamadi Khemiri, 53, both Tunisians, were detained at their homes in London and Manchester. The swoop was part of a coordinated operation led by Italian antiterrorist police aimed at breaking up a sophisticated recruitment organisation. Some 20 suspects, mostly of North African origin, were picked up in further raids in Italy, France and Portugal.

Mr Chehidi was arrested in Purley, South London, by officers from Scotland Yard’s extradition unit assisted by Counter Terrorism Command. Another team from the extradition squad, backed up by antiterrorist officers from Greater Manchester Police, detained Mr Khemiri in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “The two men were arrested on behalf of the Italian authorities under an extradition warrant in relation to allegations that between 2003 and 2005 they forged documents to facilitate the illegal entry into Italy of recruited volunteers to fight jihad in Iraq and Afganistan.” The two men face proceedings to extradite them to Italy, where the authorities said the raids were the culmination of a four-year investigation.

“The cells were not planning attacks in Italy but were indoctrinating and recruiting people to send to places where terrorist attacks are an everyday activity,” said Giampaolo Ganzer, of the Milan antiterrorism police.

Raids were staged in Milan, Bergamo, Varese and Reggio Emilia. Mario Parente, the deputy commander of the carabinieri special forces unit, told CNN that 11 people of those detained were held in Italy. He said that police found al-Qaeda manuals including information about explosives, poisons and guerrilla-style war operations during raids. An Italian intelligence report published in August told of a growing number of Islamic terrorist cells in Italy set up by “men of North African origin” with contacts in the Balkans, the Middle East and Central Asia.

The report said that they used “legitimate” Islamic meeting places such as mosques and cultural centres as cover. “There has been a rise in Islamic meeting places which, even if they are primarily organised and frequented by law-abiding people, remain potentially exposed to infiltration by radicals,” the report said.

Two months ago an Iraqi named as Hussein Saber Fadhil was arrested at Venice airport on suspicion of planning kidnappings and attacks in Iraq.

In July, three Moroccans were arrested in Perugia on suspicion of belonging to a jihadist cell close to al-Qaeda and “engaging in training to commit terrorist attacks”.

Materials seized in that raid included instructions on how to fly a Boeing 747 as well as handling poisons and explosives.


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