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28 Pakistanis held in Italy

Naples, Jan. 31 (Reuters): Twenty-eight Pakistanis suspected of links to al Qaida were charged with terrorist offences after Italian police discovered enough explosives in their apartment to blow up a three-storey building, officials said today.

Police burst into the apartment in central Naples on Wednesday night during a sweep for illegal immigrants and seized the men after finding 800 grams of explosives, 70 metres of fuse and several electronic detonators crammed behind a false wall.

Islamic religious texts, photos of “jihad” martyrs, piles of false documents, maps of the Naples area, addresses of contacts around the world and more than one hundred mobile telephones were also found in the apartment, police said.

Italy’s Ansa news agency said the maps had various targets identified including a Nato base, the US consulate in Naples and a US naval base at a nearby airport. The information could not be independently confirmed. Naples is the headquarters of Nato’s southern European command.

In a statement, the police said they believed the men, aged between 20 and 48, were members of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network, which the US blames for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

“The men have been arrested and charged with association with international terrorism, illegal possession of explosive material, falsification of documents and receiving stolen goods,” the statement from Naples police headquarters said.

Police said the explosive material was sufficient to make a bomb capable of blowing up a three-storey building and that some of the fuse was laced with highly flammable nitroglycerine. As well as the religious texts written in Urdu, cuttings of Pakistani newspapers and manuscripts repeating the phrase “God is great” were found.

In nearly 18 months since the September 11 attacks, more than 100 people have been arrested in Italy on suspicion of links to terror organisations. Seventeen have been convicted, but most have been released.

Police have grown increasingly wary of announcing what appear to be breakthroughs in the fight against terrorism, and sources said magistrates were irritated today that news of the latest arrests had got out.

At the same time, the evidence police say they have collected seems much greater than in previous similar busts.

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