italy police.jpg
Photograph: Photo by Jorge Brazil, used under CC BY

Italian authorities reported Wednesday the arrest of two men charged with spreading propaganda for the Islamic State terrorist group, and the expulsion of a Muslim cleric accused of preaching violence.

All suspects were said to be Moroccans.

The imam was put on a flight home late on Tuesday and banned from re-entering Italy for 15 years, the ANSA news agency reported. He had recently moved from the outskirts of Reggio Emilia to the province of Vicenza. Both locations are in northern Italy.

Quoting police sources, ANSA said the imam's increasingly radical and anti-Western sermons had been reported to authorities by other Muslim religious leaders.

In a separate operation in the province of Savona, a town on Italy's north-western coast near the border with France, Italy's Polizia di Stato said in a statement it arrested two people and reported a third to judicial authorities.

The suspects, aged between 27 and 44, have been living in Italy for several years and have criminal records related to drug dealing, assault and fraud, the police force said.

Investigations against them started after a woman told police she received a WhatsApp message on her mobile phone from an unknown Moroccan number which had a machine-gun-wielding woman in its profile picture.

Officers found out that the woman had previously lent her phone to a Moroccan refugee, and discovered of "a thick web of communications" pointing to "possible activism by the three subjects in the field of proselytizing for the self-proclaimed Islamic State."

Cocaine, 5,000 euros (5,500 dollars) in cash, and about a dozen Italian identity papers were found in the suspects' homes, police said, adding that they were checking if the documents were being held as collateral for drug debts, or to be used for other purposes.

Police said they were constantly monitoring terrorist propaganda on the internet and had closed down more than 6,600 websites in the past year.

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