Watch CBSN Live

Italy Arrests 40 In Security Crackdown

Police said Friday they had arrested 40 people in cities across Italy in raids on Muslim gathering places in a security crackdown launched after Britain thwarted an alleged terror plot.

Italian anti-terrorism police also searched homes of Pakistani immigrants as part of a Belgian probe into Pakistanis suspected of financing a militant group with ties to al Qaeda, the Interior Ministry said Friday.

The arrests in Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence, Naples and other cities on Thursday and Friday "as part of an extraordinary operation that followed the British anti-terrorist operation," the ministry said in a statement.

Twenty-eight people were arrested for violating rules on residence permits and 12 were arrested for property crimes, the statement said, without giving details. The raids resulted in 114 expulsion orders and found numerous irregularities at call centers, the Internet cafes and the money transfer offices.

More than 4,100 people were stopped for identification checks, the ministry said.

The raids were made on "Islamic gathering places, including call centers, Internet points and money-transfer" offices, the ministry said.

In past years, Italian police have made similar sweeps of telephone call centers and money-transfer offices where many Muslims gather.

The raids of Friday and Thursday preceded by a few days a top-level meeting on security by intelligence experts in Italy. The meeting of intelligence and police chiefs had been originally scheduled for Aug. 15 but was moved up a day after the British developments.

On Friday morning, agents from Italy's DIGOS anti-terrorism police searched 15 homes in several Italian cities where foreign nationals, mostly Pakistanis live, as part of a Belgian police probe into suspected financing of terrorism, the ministry said.

That operation resulted in the seizure of documents that are being examined and three expulsion orders because the foreigners had irregular residence papers.

Italy stepped up security at airports and other sensitive sites, including British interests, on Thursday after the British developments, but did not raise its terror alert to the highest level.

Italian authorities said Belgian police are investigating "a group of Pakistanis suspected of financing the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba," the interior ministry said.

Lashkar, which in its early years focused largely on Kashmir, is widely believed to have ties with al Qaeda.

Exactly a year earlier, a similar security sweep in Italy at money transfer centers, Muslim butcher shops and similar places resulted in 141 arrests. Those raids came a few weeks after the London subway attacks.

Italy's Islamic Anti-Defamation League criticized the latest raids.

"More than 4,000 people were stopped and humiliated to allow police to arrest 12 chicken thieves and 28 clandestine" migrants, the league's spokeswoman Dacia Valent was quoted as saying by the Apcom news agency.