- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2005

From combined dispatches

ROME — Italian police searched 15 sites yesterday with rising concern that Muslim terror cells were poised to strike Italy — and attack again in Britain.

Police in both nations quizzed suspects in connection with the failed July 21 attempt to bomb three London subway trains and a bus.

Citing security sources, the Sunday Times of London said a cell with access to explosives had planned a “third wave” of attacks in Britain.

The intelligence prompted a security sweep Thursday, when 6,000 police officers patrolled London. The newspaper cited senior police officials as saying an attack was planned for that day.

One suspect held in Italy admitted involvement in the July 21 attacks.

Osman Hussain, who hid in London for five days before he fled to Rome, where he was captured Friday, told police he was carrying a small amount of explosives and did not intend to hurt anyone, according to Italian news reports.

British police have said that Mr. Hussain and three other suspects, who are in police custody in Britain, were carrying powerful explosives that failed to detonate.

“We are facing a grave threat, which must be dealt with [by] all means of prevention and crackdown that we have,” Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu told the Chamber of Deputies, which met to tighten anti-terrorism laws.

“Important investigations” were under way in Venice, Salerno and other cities from north to south, he said. Paramilitary police in Milan raided a place that produces false documents for illegal immigrants, and authorities are examining papers seized there, he said.

Mr. Pisanu yesterday offered the first details about the fugitive’s flight from England to Italy after the botched July 21 attacks. He said that Mr. Hussain took a train July 26 from Waterloo station, the main London terminal for Eurostar, which carries passengers from Britain to several destinations in mainland Europe via the Channel Tunnel.

Mr. Pisanu did not say where Mr. Hussain headed from Waterloo, but Italian news reports have said the suspect’s next stop was Paris.

Mr. Hussain, a Briton with Ethiopian citizenship, was arrested after investigators traced his cell phone calls across Europe. He is accused of trying to attack the Shepherd’s Bush subway station in west London. He turned 27 on July 23, two days after the failed attacks.

Britain wants to extradite the suspect, a process that usually takes a week in Italy before a judge issues a final ruling.

Mr. Hussain was answering investigators’ questions and will be interrogated further at Rome’s Regina Coeli prison, security officials said.

News reports in London said Mr. Hussain admitted participating in the London bombings but only to frighten people. He reportedly claimed that he was not carrying enough explosives to hurt anyone.

Police were conducting more than a dozen searches in several provinces, based on his contacts, Mr. Pisanu said.

Italian Sky TG 24 television reported that Mr. Hussain used fake Somali documents to claim political asylum in Britain and obtain British citizenship. The British Home Office declined to comment on the report.

Investigators were eager to learn whether the suspect simply was fleeing when he turned up on Rome’s outskirts at an apartment reportedly belonging to his brother or whether he planned attacks on Italian cities.

Police with bomb-sniffing dogs searched the apartment for hours Friday night. The Milan daily newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that two maps of the Paris metro system were found in the apartment, but it was not clear how the suspect might have used them.

Newspapers said investigators suspected Mr. Hussain’s real name is Hamdi Isaac. His brother in Rome is Remzi Isaac.

Corriere della Sera said investigators are almost certain the suspect traveled entirely by train after he fled London. Reports said his use of a relative’s cell phone throughout his flight allowed police to track him down. Cell phones linked to a regular account can be traced easily.

Italy was closely watching the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

“We are following the evolution of the overall situation in the Horn of Africa where, in stateless lands, al Qaeda has arrived, has settled, and from where it tends, in various ways, to dispatch its followers into Europe and the rest of the world,” Mr. Pisanu said.

London police on Friday arrested two other suspects in the July 21 attacks. A fourth bombing suspect was arrested Wednesday in Birmingham, England.

The upper chamber of Italy’s parliament, the Senate, approved tough anti-terrorism measures Friday, shortly before the arrest was announced. After the news, some lawmakers demanded the law be stiffened further.

Meeting yesterday, the Chamber of Deputies backed the package, with 385 deputies voting for it and 20 Communist and Green members opposing it.

The measures include penalties for those who cover their faces with veils, full motorcycle helmets or other headgear that hinder identification in public. Investigators are authorized to take saliva samples from suspects to check DNA.

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