An Afghan asylum seeker was arrested in Italy on international terrorism charges, while two members of a cell suspected of planning attacks in Europe are on the run, the authorities said Tuesday.
Carabinieri police in the southern city of Bari apprehended 23-year-old Hakim Nasiri, who was living in a migrant centre near the airport and had been granted international protection on May 6, according to the ANSA news agency.
Bari prosecutor Roberto Rossi said Nasiri was arrested after police found images of possible terrorist attacks targets in Bari, Rome, Paris and London on his mobile phone, as well as Islamist propaganda and a picture where he was holding an M16 machine gun.
"Under our laws, this is enough to say that there is a danger," Rossi said in a press conference, stressing that people can be arrested for belonging to a jihadist cell, regardless of whether or not they are planning attacks.
"This ... prevents us from stepping in only after an attack," he said. Nasiri and the others "had moved on from espousing [terrorist] ideas to preparing something; whether that something could have happened or not is juridically irrelevant," he added.
The fact that Nasiri was a refugee prompted fresh calls from the right-wing Northern League opposition party to tighten migration policies, ahead of an expected surge of migrant arrivals by sea to Italian shores.
"How many 'human bombs' are they letting into our home? The government is complicit. Do we have to wait for an attack (God forbid) to check our borders, limit admissions, increase expulsions?" Northern League leader Matteo Salvini wrote on Facebook.
For Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, the arrests proved that "Our anti-terrorism legislation works and the security of our citizens, at this particular moment in which no country is risk-free, is a government priority."
Rossi also said that Nasiri and his associates travelled across Europe, spending a lot of cash without any apparent sources of income. Investigations on them began in December when they were seen filming footage inside a Bari shopping mall.
Another Afghan refugee, 29-year-old Gulistan Ahmadzai, was arrested on charges of abetting illegal migration. He was accused of smuggling people into Italy from Afghanistan or Pakistan, and organizing their onward journeys to France and Britain.
Authorities said Ahmadzai was preparing to flee to Calais, a French port where migrants camp out while waiting to be smuggled into Britain.
A second man wanted for the same migration-related offences, 24-year-old Pakistani Zulfiqar Amjad, was arrested in Milan later Tuesday, ANSA reported.