This article originally appeared in
Italy disrupts plot against U.S. Embassy
02/20/2002 - Updated 11:30 PM ET
By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY
ROME — Italian police arrested four Moroccan men Wednesday who are suspected of planning to
poison the water supply that feeds the U.S. Embassy in Rome.
The arrests increased concern that Italy may be a base for terror-related activities.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, echoing a statement released by the Embassy,
praised Italy's police force. "Italian authorities have repeatedly thwarted planned terrorist attacks
against American and other targets inside Italy," he said. "The latest incident shows the continuing
danger posed by terrorists and the need to remain at a high level of vigilance."
Embassy security, already heightened since a threat 13 months ago and the attacks Sept. 11 in the
United States, was increased further after the arrests Wednesday.
Italian law enforcement officials differed on whether the suspects had 9 pounds of pure cyanide,
which can be lethal, or potassium ferrocyanide, a relatively benign compound that contains traces
of cyanide. The men, ages 30 to 40, also had about 100 counterfeit residency permits and detailed
maps of Rome that highlighted the water-supply network near the U.S. Embassy, officials said.
A member of the special carabiniere paramilitary police unit that raided the Moroccans' apartment on the outskirts of Rome told USA
TODAY it was clear the men were working on a criminal plan. Pending further investigations, the men had been charged with
possession of an illegal compound and false documents, he said.
The arrests came a week after three other Moroccans were apprehended on terror-related charges. Seven Tunisians arrested last
year for alleged activities linked to the funding of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network went on trial this week in Milan. There
were reports that at least one of the Moroccans arrested Wednesday was linked to the Tunisians.
Chief Prosecutor Salvatore Vecchione reportedly was outraged that news of the raid had leaked, saying it may damage an ongoing
Earlier Wednesday, Interior Ministry Undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano used state-controlled media to urge residents to report
activities that could indicate terror-related plans.
"Italian officials are certainly acting as if these (recent arrests) are not isolated," said Giuseppe Melandri, a security consultant and
former Italian army officer. "But even if they gear up for a long-term battle, these sorts of activities are very hard to detect."
If the powdered compound found at the suspects' apartment proves to be high-grade cyanide, the quantity would have been enough
to infect the water supply in a 2-square-mile area, say chemical weapons experts. An analysis of the compound should yield results
today or Friday.
Copyright 2002 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
By Claudia Gazzini, AP
Italian police officers patrol historic
Trevi fountain in Rome after four
potential terrorists were nabbed.