Seventeen people were arrested in a sweep that targeted a terrorism group allegedly involved in raising funds to finance terrorist activity, Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told a news conference. He didn't provide details on the nature of the alleged operations.
Six of the arrests were made in Italy on charges of criminal association and falsifying documents, police said. Two other arrests were made in Austria in an operation coordinated between investigators in the U.K., France, Spain, Switzerland, Austria and Algeria, authorities said. None of the people arrested were charged with attempted terrorism.
"An important ring has been dismantled," Mr. Maroni said. The conservative government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been under heavy public pressure to crack down on foreign terrorism. Mr. Maroni said the arrests on Thursday "confirmed that surveillance and constant operations on the terrorism front in Milan are very relevant."
It wasn't immediately clear why the suspects were not charged with attempted terrorism.
Italy created tough laws aimed at combating international terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Charges of attempted terrorism, however, have proved difficult to prosecute in court. As a result, some anti-terror investigators have at times decided to arrest suspected terrorists on charges of criminal association, a charge traditionally used to combat the Mafia.
Italian police said the group raised about €1 million over a three-year period by carrying out muggings, burglaries and other thefts. The funds were sent to Algeria, police said, without disclosing details on how the money was used. The group also created fake identification documents that allowed members to travel between North Africa and Europe, police said.
Mr. Maroni said the group operated in cells that he described as "terrorist franchises," gathering funds for potential attacks outside of Italy. He didn't disclose the names of any people involved in the alleged terrorist ring.