PERUGIA, Italy — A jihadist cell allegedly related to al-Qaida was broken up Saturday morning in the mosque of Ponte Felcino, a small town eight kilometers outside of Perugia, central Italy. Three Moroccans, including the local Imam, were arrested, accused of using the mosque as an international terrorism training camp. On Monday, the Imam of another mosque, in the nearby town of Pierantonio, was put under investigation.
In the house of the first Imam, police found 60 “highly toxic” chemical substances that could be used for bomb-making, some of which appeared to have been stolen from the laboratories of Perugia’s University.
According to a police report, the small mosque was used to train jihadists on how to use explosives, pilot a Boeing 747, safely reach conflict zones, and to write encrypted messages. Fighting techniques were also taught, while propaganda videos were shown to children attending the mosque.
Plants of the local waterworks, maps of Italian cities, and seven photographs of Rome’s Fiumicino airport were also found during inspections.
Carlo de Stefano, antiterrorism head of the Italian police, revealed that the cell had links to the March 2004 Madrid bombers. Giuliano Amato, Italy’s interior minister, congratulated the police for having thwarted “very concrete risks.” The Imam of Perugia’s mosque, in an interview with newspaper Il Messaggero, stressed “the need to distinguish between people who associate themselves with these violent episodes, and those that go to the mosque only to pray.”
Two of the Imam’s collaborators arrested on Saturday were living illegally in the country, and resided inside the mosque. Both the Ponte Felcino and Pierantonio Imams had been living in the country for 21 and 18 years respectively.