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Friday, August 29, 2008

Northern Italian town identified as hotbed
of Al Qaida activity

LONDON — Al Qaida-aligned suicide strikes in Morocco were believed to have been directed from several southern European countries.

In August 2008, a senior facilitator of the Al Qaida strikes was arrested in Italy. The facilitator was identified as Abdul Majid Zergout, a 43-year-old imam in a mosque in the northern Italian city of Varese.

The sources said Zergout, who fled Morocco in the late 1990s, was believed to be working for the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, deemed responsible for multiple suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003. They said Zergout would be extradited by Italy to Morocco, where he was declared a fugitive.

Law enforcement sources said Varese has become a hotbed of Al Qaida-inspired activity. They said this included financing, training and recruiting of North Africans for Islamic insurgency operations.

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European law enforcement sources said investigations in such countries as Belgium, Italy and Spain have pointed to guidance and financing for Al Qaida operations in Morocco over the last year. The sources said the failed suicide operations in Morocco in 2007 marked an effort to revive the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.

"The facilitators for the attacks were Moroccans in several southern European countries who provided both financing and instruction to organize and conduct the terrorist attacks," a European source said.

Italian authorities have been tracking Zergout for several years. In 2007, a Milan court acquitted Zergout of security offenses amid a determination by the European Court of Human Rights that he and other Moroccan fugitives could undergo torture in their North African homeland.

But on Aug. 16, Italian police arrested Zergout and renewed extradition proceedings. Italy could decide to extradite Zergout by October 2008.

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