By Federico Maccioni
MILAN (Reuters) -Italy on Tuesday arrested an Egyptian and an Italian citizen of Egyptian origin on suspicion of terrorism offences and being members of the Islamic State (IS) militant group, the Milan prosecutors’ office said.
Prosecutors said the two were arrested in the early hours in their homes on Milan’s northern outskirts after a two-year investigation that was not related to deadly Islamist militant attacks in France and Belgium since Friday.
The two were involved in propaganda activities, tried to recruit potential Islamic State sympathisers online and were financing support initiatives for the ultra-radical group, the Milan prosecutors’ office said in a statement.
There is no known “concrete and immediate risk” of a terrorist attack in Italy, Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi told parliament on Tuesday.
However, Italy has stepped up surveillance, especially in crowded areas, and increased protection for sites that might be targets for attacks, Piantedosi said, in light of the war between Hamas militants and Israel.
Italy has more than 28,000 such locations, including 205 linked to Israel, Piantedosi said.
The investigation that led to the Milan arrests began in August 2021, when both suspects were identified as members of WhatsApp group chats attributable to IS, the statement said.
The first suspect, 49, arrived in Italy in 2008 and holds a long-term residence permit. The other man, 43, entered the country in 2001 and then obtained Italian citizenship.
“The accusation concerns a large proselytising activity almost entirely on the web,” Milan prosecutor Marcello Viola told reporters on the sidelines of a news conference.
WhatsApp and Telegram chats seen by investigators featured a reference to the availability of weapons or the skills needed to use them, as well as an oath of membership and loyalty to IS.
Police showed slides of what they said was evidence of suspected transfers of a total of 4,000 euros ($4,220) to various locations including the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, where it was intended to support the widow of a militant.
Italy has seen several alleged Islamist attackers or suspects pass through its territory in recent years.
In 2016, the Tunisian Anis Amri was killed by Italian police in Milan a few days after he carried out a deadly truck attack at the Christmas market in the German capital Berlin.
Five years later, Italian police arrested an Algerian man suspected of helping the perpetrators of a coordinated jihadist attack that killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015.
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(Additional reporting by Angelo Amante, Emilio Parodi and Alvise Armellini; editing by Keith Weir and Mark Heinrich)