Italian police have broken up an alleged jihadist cell in Venice that was reportedly planning to blow up the city’s famous Rialto Bridge in the hope of killing hundreds of tourists.
In a series of overnight raids, anti-terrorism police arrested three suspects, all of them Kosovars who were living in Italy. A fourth person, a minor also originally from Kosovo, was detained.
In wire-tapped telephone conversations, the suspects were recorded celebrating last week’s terrorism attack in London, in which Muslim convert Khalid Masood, 52, drove a car into crowds walking across Westminster Bridge, killing three people, and then fatally stabbed a policeman, Keith Palmer, outside Parliament.
“They were all attached to the ideology of Isis and interested in recent attacks, above all the one in London, which they praised,” said Adelchi D’Ippolito, a prosecutor.
Police conducted a dozen raids in Venice’s historic centre, the nearby industrial town of Mestre on the mainland and the city of Treviso. Police had reportedly had the alleged cell under surveillance for months. All had residency permits and were living in Italy legally.
Detectives wire-tapped phones and overheard the alleged members of the group enthusing about the Westminster attack. They had allegedly downloaded from the internet information from extremist sites about how to carry out terrorist attacks. It was not clear whether an attack was imminent.
Two of the men worked as waiters in Venice, according to a local newspaper, La Nuova Venezia. One of the suspects was arrested in an apartment close to La Fenice, Venice’s historic opera house.
Around 300 Kosovars are believed to have gone to fight with Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq, according to Italy’s Institute for International Political Studies.
“Compliments to the forces of law and order for having carried out this important operation,” said Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice. “In the name of the city and of all citizens, I can only express sincere thanks for what they are doing to ensure our safety.”