ROME (Reuters) - Six Algerians have been arrested as part of a Europe-wide counterfeit ring that stole the identities of Algerian footballers and is believed to have funded terrorism, Italy’s interior minister said on Thursday.
Italian police said a judge in Milan has issued a total of 17 arrest warrants for suspects in Algeria, Austria, Britain, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain but could not confirm whether all the suspects outside Italy had been apprehended.
At least one of the accused featured on a United Nations anti-terrorism blacklist, police said.
The investigation, started in 2007, showed the ring had a turnover of 1 million euros over three years and had counterfeited identity documents of Algerian professional footballers playing in Europe.
“We have proceeded with the arrest of six people in Italy and 17 in total,” Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told a news conference.
“We have dismantled an Algerian terrorist cell which collected funds to finance terrorist activity outside Italy.”
Prior to Thursday’s operation, six people had already been arrested during the investigation on charges of counterfeiting and illegal immigration.
Italian authorities have periodically launched round-ups of North Africans accused of links to terrorist groups but so far the Mediterranean country has avoided any major attacks.
Maroni said, however, the problem had reached “significant dimensions” in the area around the northern city of Milan.
Last month, a 35-year-old Libyan man tried unsuccessfully to bomb a Milan army barracks, losing an arm and both eyes and slightly wounding an Italian army corporal who prevented him from approaching the building.
The man, who wanted Italian to pull out of Afghanistan, had accomplices and belonged to a group that had more explosives ready, police said.