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Police: 2 Tunisians linked in plot against U.S. targets in Europe

By Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Two Tunisian men arrested in Belgium and Italy on suspicion of planning attacks against U.S. targets in Europe had earlier met with several of the six Algerians detained last week in Spain for presumed terrorist activity, police told CNN Thursday.

The connections described by Spanish police portray a much closer collaboration than previously known between the eight men, all now under arrest. Police told CNN they clearly link the six Algerians to suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Police disclosed to CNN that last August, only weeks before his arrest in Belgium, Nizar Trabelsi of Tunisia stayed at the home in northern Spain of Mohamed Belaziz, one of the six Algerians arrested September 26.

Trabelsi, a former professional Tunisian football player, was arrested September 13 in a Brussels suburb. French police suspect that Trabelsi was planning a suicide attack against the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

During the arrest of Trabelsi, Belgian police seized a machine gun and chemicals that could be used to make explosives.

Spanish police said Trabelsi "is considered a close collaborator of bin Laden," but did not provide further details.

The six Algerians were arraigned September 28 in Madrid on charges of belonging to an armed band and for possession of material to falsify documents for terrorist activities.

Police said the six formed an Algerian Islamic terrorist cell of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, one of the 27 terror-related entities whose assets were frozen recently by the Bush administration.

The connection between the other Tunisian under detention and the six Algerians occurred earlier this year.

Spanish police told CNN that Essid Sami Ben Khemais of Tunisia, suspected of planning an attack against U.S. interests in Italy, had been in Spain last March, and had met three times with some of the six Algerians detained last week. All three meetings included Mohamed Boualem Khouni, the suspected leader of the six Algerians.

Essid Sami Ben Khemais, police said, also was linked to Mohamed Bensakhria, an Algerian arrested in Spain last June. Bensakhria had escaped a police roundup in Germany months earlier and Spanish police said he was an aide to bin Laden who had been sent from Afghanistan to attack U.S. interests in Europe.

Spain soon after delivered Bensakhria to French police, where he was suspected of preparing terrorist attack in France.

In Washington, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said he was "grateful for the cooperation" of law enforcement overseas since the September 11 terrorist attacks in Washington and New York, but he did not talk about specific cases.

Due to this cooperation, he said individuals have been arrested and detained "who could be relevant, not only to these particular events of September 11th, but to our overall objective of the disruption of the network of terrorism."


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