En terrorcelle som vervet folk til selvmordsaksjoner i Irak og Afghanistan, ble sprengt av italiensk politi tirsdag. Cellens tyngdepunkt lå i Lombardia, men hadde forgreninger over hele Europa. 20 ble arrestert. De fleste var tunisiere.

Politiet sier det bekrefter at området rundt Milano og andre steder i Nord-Italia er et senter for ekstrem-islam. Aktiviteten har pågått i mange år.

«Once more, the central role of Milan and Lombardy in the panorama of Islamic militants has been confirmed,» the Carabinieri said in a statement.

The group’s members had been indoctrinated in militancy in mosques since at least 1998, according to police transcripts, and appeared to take serious precautions.

In one intercepted call, a suspected cell member said that «things are being done with extreme calm, haste does not bring the desired results.»

Eleven were arrested in the northern Italian cities of Milan, Reggio Emilia, Imperia and Bergamo. Nine others were arrested on warrants issued in France, Britain and Portugal, Italian news agencies reported.

Authorities in Britain, France and Portugal confirmed arrests.

The Lombardy cell had ties with a group in neighboring Emilia Romagna whose aim is to establish an Islamic state extending from Morocco to China, Italian investigators said. Intercepted phone calls made clear the aim of sending jihadist fighters to Iraq via Syria, including specific instructions on shaving off beards before departure to give the impression of making a «peaceful trip.»

Det ble funnet Al-Qaida-håndbøker. Cellen hjalp også en tunisier som hadde mislykkes med en bombeaksjon i Bologna med å flykte til Frankrike.

Italy breaks up European terror cell