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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Italy Arrests 28 Al-Qaida Suspects

NAPLES, Italy -- Italian police have arrested 28 Pakistanis suspected of links to al-Qaida in one of the biggest anti-terrorism operations Italy has seen since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Military police burst into an apartment in central Naples on Wednesday night as part of a routine sweep against illegal immigration and ended up discovering enough explosives to blow up a three-story building, officials said Friday.

They arrested all 28 men staying in the apartment after finding 800 grams of explosives, 70 meters of fuse and various electronic detonators crammed behind a false wall. Islamic religious texts, photos of jihad martyrs, piles of false documents, maps of the Naples area, addresses of global contacts and more than 100 mobile telephones were also found in the run-down lodgings, police said.

A judicial source said the maps had various targets marked on them including the headquarters of NATO's southern European command on the city's outskirts, the U.S. consulate in Naples and a U.S. Navy air base at Capodichino, outside the city.

Lieutenant Colonel Pat Barnes, a spokesman for U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said protection levels at all U.S. naval facilities in Italy were raised one notch Thursday night as a result of the arrests.

In a statement, the police said they believed the men, aged 20 to 48, were members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

"The men have been arrested and charged with association with international terrorism, illegal possession of explosive material, falsification of documents and receiving stolen goods," the statement from Naples police headquarters said.

Police said the explosive material was sufficient to make a bomb capable of blowing up a three-story building and that some of the fuse was laced with highly flammable nitroglycerine.

As well as the religious texts written in Pakistan's main language, Urdu, cuttings of Pakistani newspapers and manuscripts repeating the phrase "God is great" were found.

In nearly 18 months since the Sept. 11 attacks, more than 100 people have been arrested in Italy on suspicion of links to terror organizations. Seventeen have been convicted, but most have been released for lack of evidence.