Did the Nov. 20 suicide bombings of British targets in Istanbul trigger a Europe-wide crackdown? Eleven terror suspects were taken into custody in Western Europe last week three in Italy, seven in Britain, and one in Germany as a top Italian antiterror official told time that terror groups "are trying to move closer to [striking in] European territory." Security agencies were on high alert; Italian officials even discussed closing the Rome and Milan metros in the final 48 hours of Ramadan.
But authorities say last week's arrests were the culmination of long investigations, not hasty responses to the Istanbul blasts. And some of them were meant to thwart a different threat: the export of suicide bombers from Europe, mainly to Iraq. Groups like Ansar al-Islam have reportedly stepped up recruitment on the Continent. "There has been a call from Ansar for kamikazes from Europe," says an Italian investigator. Authorities say they intercepted a satellite-phone conversation in which Mullah Fouad, a 32-year-old Iraqi, speaking from Syria, told a Hamburg operative: "I need Japanese guys here," presum- ably a reference to kamikaze-style bombers.
The Italians issued an arrest warrant for the man they believe to be that operative, an Algerian called Abderrazak Mahdjoub, who was arrested by German police on suspicion of recruiting Islamic militants to join the jihad in Iraq. Lawyers for Mahdjoub, 29, were unavailable for comment. Italian authorities said warrants had been issued for five of his associates, and that three two Tunisians and a Moroccan had been nabbed in Milan.
In Britain, police in Gloucester arrested Sajid Badat, a Briton of Pakistani origin whom unconfirmed reports linked to shoe bomber Richard Reid, serving a life sentence for trying to blow up a plane in 2001. Authorities believe Badat, 24, was connected to "the network of al-Qaeda groups," said Home Secretary David Blunkett. "We wouldn't have taken these steps if we didn't believe this individual posed a very real threat to life and liberty in this country."