Italians say suspect had links with Africans

 

Rome arrest: Italian authorities said at the weekend they had discovered a network of contacts linking the country's small community of immigrants from the Horn of Africa to an Ethiopian-born Briton suspected of preparing a bomb attack in London.

Osman Hussain (27), who also goes by the name of Hamdi Adus Issac, was arrested in Rome on Friday and is facing possible extradition to the UK. He is suspected of involvement in a botched attack on Shepherd's Bush Underground station in west London on July 21st.

According to the Italian authorities, he arrived in Rome after leaving London's Waterloo station last Tuesday on a Eurostar train to Paris and then passed through Milan. He was captured at the apartment of his brother, Remzi Issac, who is also under arrest. Another brother, Fati Issac, was arrested yesterday by police in the north Italian city of Brescia on suspicion of concealing or destroying documents relevant to their investigations.

"It has been possible to identify a dense network of people belonging to the Eritrean and Ethiopian communities in Italy who are believed to have helped the fugitive cover his tracks," Giuseppe Pisanu, Italy's interior minister, told parliament on Saturday, referring to Mr Hussain.

Eritrea and part of Somalia are former Italian colonies that were brought together in a brief-lived east African federation with Ethiopia by Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, when his armies occupied the country in 1936.

According to official data, 5,700 Eritreans, 4,600 Ethiopians and 4,900 Somalis were living in Italy in 2003.

Mr Pisanu said Italian investigators were investigating Mr Hussain's east African contacts in Milan and Brescia. "He came into contact with people originating from the Horn of Africa who are resident in the provinces of Milan and Brescia, the city where the Ethiopian father of Hussain's fiancee lives," Mr Pisanu said.

Mr Hussain was initially identified as a Somali-born naturalised Briton but Italian authorities now suspect that documents purporting to show his Somali origins were forged. Mr Pisanu said Italy had been keeping the Horn of Africa under close watch because it believed al-Qaeda terrorists were using it as a base for operations.

Somalia is of particular concern because it has been mired in violence and lawlessness since 1991. An Italian naval vessel is patrolling waters off the Horn of Africa, where pirates last month hijacked a UN World Food Programme-chartered ship carrying food aid for survivors of last December's Indian Ocean tsunamis.

In Italy, investigators carried out at least 15 raids over the weekend around the country. But according to his court-appointed lawyer, Mr Hussain has denied any involvement with terrorism.

Unconfirmed Italian media reports have quoted him as saying his group did not intend to kill anyone and that the blasts were planned as a show of force. In the reported comments, Hussain also denied any connection to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda militant network.

"We wanted revenge, to make them pay for what they were doing to Muslims after July 7, for the treatment the English dished out to our people," Sunday's edition of La Stampa newspaper quoted Mr Hussain as saying. "We did not want to kill. It was only a demonstrative action."- (Financial Times service)

Mr Hussein is likely to fight any attempts to have him extradited to the UK from Italy, his lawyer said yesterday. But he will find his attempt to delay proceedings less easy because last Thursday Italy signed up to the Extradition Act 2003.