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Madrid bomb suspects held in Italy

By Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman and Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci

Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed
Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed charged with belonging to an international terrorism organization.
Madrid (Spain)
Acts of terror

(CNN) -- Authorities in Italy have arrested two people and detained another in connection with the Madrid train bombings, including the man they believe was the mastermind and was planning more attacks in Europe.

The arrests in Milan and 15 more in Belgium were all part of a three-month probe in the case that investigators said could lead to even more arrests.

In Luxembourg, the European Union's high representative for foreign policy, Javier Solana, speaking at a meeting of EU interior ministers, praised the arrests as a sign of stepped-up cooperation between European police forces in the fight against terrorism.

Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said one of those detained in Milan was "probably one of the main craftsmen of the Madrid massacre and was preparing other attacks."

Pisanu said the people who were arrested were involved with a group that had connections to al Qaeda.

The detentions followed a three-month probe involving police in four countries and are part of a sweep that is expected to nab terrorism suspects in other European countries Tuesday, said Armando Spataro, the deputy prosecutor in Milan.

Rabei Osman el Sayed Ahmed -- a 32-year-old Egyptian known to investigators as "Mohamed the Egyptian" -- is charged in Italy with belonging to an international terrorism organization.

A Spanish interior ministry spokesman said he was an "important" figure and believed to be "a mastermind" in the March 11 attacks that killed 190 people. Before the Italian arrests, 20 people -- most of them Moroccan -- had been charged in connection with the attacks.

Spanish authorities have already asked for Sayed Ahmed's extradition from Italy, but acknowledge that could take several months.

An Italian interior ministry official said investigators believed Sayed Ahmed "was preparing one or more attacks in Europe but not in Italy."

"One or more attacks in Europe have been foiled as a result of this operation," the official said on the condition of anonymity. He refused to say how close to carrying out his plan the suspect is believed to have been.

Officials in Italy said they were not yet aware of an international arrest warrant issued for the suspects Monday by Spanish National Court Judge Juan del Olmo, who has led the investigation into the train bombings. The arrests were made on an Italian warrant.

The other person arrested was Sayed Ahmed's roommate in Milan, Spataro said. The third man was detained for further questioning, Italian authorities said.

A Spanish interior ministry spokesman said investigators there have linked Sayed Ahmed to Sarhane Ben Abdelmajid Fakhet, a Tunisian who they say was a ringleader in the attacks. Fakhet was among the suspected terrorists who blew themselves up April 3 as Spanish police closed in on their hideout in a Madrid suburb.

Spanish investigators said Sayed Ahmed had been in Spain and under police surveillance earlier this year because of his connections to Fakhet.

Spanish police, however, could not gather enough evidence to arrest him, nor could police in France, where he went from Spain.

The Italian interior ministry spokesman also said Sayed Ahmed was linked to Amer El Azizi, a Moroccan wanted in the attacks and still at large.

Spanish authorities have asked for international arrest warrants for more than 10 people for alleged links to the bombings.

They also maintain a separate list of others being sought, although international arrest warrants have not necessarily been asked for those people.

Spataro said other arrests are expected Tuesday elsewhere in Europe.

In Brussels, Belgium, police announced the arrest of 15 people in a series of raids carried out by a federal prosecutor dealing with terrorism cases. (Full story)

The prosecutor, Johan Delmulle, said the suspects have "links with persons who are related to the attacks in Madrid."

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