Italy's anti-terrorism police and Europol on Tuesday arrested Pakistanis with suspected links to the man who attacked France's Charlie Hebdo magazine in 2020. The total number of arrestees remains unknown.
Arab News reported that the sting led to "arrests in Italy and abroad of Pakistani citizens with direct ties" to Zaheer Hassan Mahmood, a Pakistani man who had attacked two people with a meat cleaver, weeks after the magazine republished controversial cartoons of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), Italian police said. It did not say how many were arrested.
Europol's European Counter Terrorism Centre coordinated the operation along with anti-terrorism police in France and Spain, according to police in Genoa in north-west Italy, where a judge signed 14 arrest warrants concerning offences related to "international terrorism".
Genoa's local Il Secolo XIX daily said at least eight of the arrest warrants had been carried out in Italy against people belonging to "a network of Islamic extremists... who were plotting attacks". The probe began in Genoa because one of the suspects lives in the area, but months of "wiretaps, stake-outs, tailing suspects and comparing numerous data with police in other countries" revealed other members of the gang in other parts of Italy, France and Spain, it said.
The investigation continues into others with alleged ties to those targeted by Tuesday's sting, it added. Mahmood injured two people during the 2020 attack, which came five years after 12 members of staff at the satirical weekly were gunned down for publishing the cartoons, which are considered blasphemous by many Muslims.