Cells of Muslim militants, some willing to carry out suicide bombings, exist in several areas of Italy and may be planning an attack, according to anti-terrorist investigators.
Excerpts of a recent secret report by the ROS, the crack special section of the Carabinieri para-military police, were published by Rome newspaper La Repubblica Wednesday.
The 1,000-page document warned that at least 80 militants were clustered in cells dotted throughout Italy.
Many Italians fear they are next in line for a terror attack in the wake of last week’s Madrid bombings because of Rome’s forthright support of the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
In interviews with Italian dailies published Wednesday Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said no country was safe from al Qaeda and added that he feared Muslim militants could link up with European terror groups.
La Repubblica said the ROS report was based on wire taps and other forms of surveillance that showed that some of the militants had no visible form of employment but that they owned apartments, cars and mobile phones.
“Some, if called on, have declared that they are willing to blow themselves up for the cause,” the newspaper quoted the document as saying.
The ROS said some cell members were responsible for mobilizing so-called “sleepers” to participate in attacks and that the cells had links with groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Malaysia, Morocco and Algeria.
Italy says it has increased security at key sites following the Madrid carnage.
Security officials are particularly concerned that attacks may take place on March 20, the first anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, April 11, Easter Sunday, and the days around European elections on June 12-13.
“No city in the world can have defenses that make it invulnerable. This is especially true of democratic countries,” Pisanu told Corriere della Sera newspaper, adding that international and domestic militants might join forces.
“And this is what worries me. Because it would show for the first time that Islamic terrorism can find active accomplices in Europe, not only among the extremist fringes of Muslim immigrants but also in national terrorists movements,” he said.
Some experts believe the Vatican, where security has been recently beefed up, is a prime target for an attack because of its religious significance and because its open spaces are difficult to protect.
But others say Pope John Paul’s strong position against the Iraq war might serve to dissuade a strike.
In February, a report by the country’s secret services said Italy was no longer just a place where terror groups could find “logistical and financial support” but had become a “base of departure for aspiring members of Islamic Jihad and suicide bombers” for attacks in Iraq.