Italian authorities on Tuesday charged two French nationals of being key figures in al Qaeda’s European operations, involved in militant communications and planning terrorist attacks.
The two men - Bassam Ayachi and Raphael Gendron - were arrested in the southern Italian city of Bari in November for links to trafficking in illegal immigrants.
Subsequent investigations revealed more serious plots to conduct attacks in Western Europe, according to Italian prosecutors.
Reporting from Rome, FRANCE 24’s Alexis Masciarelli said that following the November arrests, Italian police found incriminating documents stored on CDs and USB sticks linking the suspects to al Qaeda.
The documents included the will of a would-be suicide attacker, detailing the compensation to his family after his death, according to Italian police.
Al Qaeda’s Internet operations
Ayachi, a 63-year-old Syrian-born imam, and Gendron, an electronics engineer who converted to Islam, have since been served with arrest warrants for planning “organized terrorist attacks and guerrilla actions."
One of the targets included Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, according to Italian prosecutors.
Prosecutors say Ayachi ran an Islamist center in Belgium, and Gendron is believed to be an IT communications expert.
Both men were known for their Islamist activities in Belgium, where they lived before moving to Italy.
In January, the European Court in Brussels found Ayachi’s son and Gendron guilty of inciting hatred and violence against Jews. The two men ran an Islamist site based in Belgium.
The Internet serves as a critical propaganda and recruitment tool for al Qaeda operations worldwide.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s number two, has frequently issued taped video and audio messages - including invitations to post online questions to top al Qaeda brass - that are posted on jihadist sites. Over the past two years, Zawahiri has repeatedly warned of attacks on French soil.
France, like Britain and Italy, has soldiers serving in the NATO-led military operations in Afghanistan.