- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 1, 2015

ROME (AP) - Italian anti-terrorism police on Wednesday arrested several family members of a married couple who traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State group and were allegedly trying to persuade their relatives to join them, officials said.

Police and prosecutors said Italian Maria Giulia Sergio converted to Islam some time ago, became radicalized, and in September married Aldo Kobuzi, an Albanian who trained in Iraq for jihad.

According to telephone wiretaps between Sergio, 28, and her relatives, the young Italian was living in Syria and was seeking to persuade her family to join her. They were apparently ready to go: Police said they traced the family’s movements, down to buying suitcases, selling off their belongings, applying for a passport and collecting severance payments to fund their trip.

“The determination by Sergio and other people who are in the territory of the Islamic State (to recruit others) is very, very strong,” Milan prosecutor Maurizio Romanelli told a news conference.

Sergio’s parents and sister were arrested in Milan, while Kobuzi’s uncle was arrested in Albania and an aunt in Grosetto. Arrest warrants were issued for the couple, Kobuzi’s mother who was also in Syria and other relatives, as well as for a Canadian citizen in a third country who was key to recruiting Sergio and persuading her and her sister to convert to Islam, Romanelli said.

Officials said, based on the wiretaps, that recruiters promised an effective welfare state to anyone who joined the Islamic State group, with cars available at rock-bottom prices and health care and other services provided.

Romanelli said Kobuzi’s family had already provided the Islamic State group with several foreign fighters, including one who was killed in battle.

Italy has said a few dozen Italian residents or citizens are fighting within the ranks of the Islamic State group in northern Iraq and Syria, and that it has been keeping its eye on possible recruits in Italy. Italy has also expelled several Islamic militants in the past year.

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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This story has been corrected to show that the family members, not the couple, had made preparations to go to Syria.

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