Four arrested for suspected plot to poison Rome’s water

Italian police have been investigating whether the US Embassy in Rome was the object of a plot to poison the city’s water, a scheme uncovered with the arrest of four Moroccans in possession of large quantities of cyanide, and who are suspected of working for al Qaeda.

Media reports said that the suspects, aged 30 to 40, had been followed by police for days, and were found with around 10 pounds of cyanide, maps of Rome highlighting the city’s water supply and of the US Embassy building, and about 100 counterfeit resident permits. At least two of the men were also illegal immigrants.

However, it has since been revealed that the substance found on the men was not actually cyanide, but a form of potassium ferrocyanide, which is used in gardening, and which, if it had been put into the city’s water system, “would not have been capable of causing any damage whatsoever,” said a government official in Rome.

Police said they suspected that the men, arrested in an outlying suburb as part of a covert operation, could have been plotting to poison the city’s water or attack the embassy. They were also probing possible links to Osama bin Laden. However, the Moroccan’s are now being held on suspicion of receiving stolen property.

“The embassy of the United States of America compliments the Italian police and security forces for their excellent work concerning the most recent security threat,” said a statement from US officials.

Reuters news service also reported that Italy entered the international spotlight in the fight against bin Laden after US investigators said they believed Milan’s Islamic cultural centre was al Qaeda’s main European logistics base. Muslim leaders in Italy have denied the charge.

The US embassy, prominently located on Rome’s famed Via Veneto, has been a suspected target for attack on several occasions in recent months. Even before the 11 September terrorist attacks, the embassy was forced to shut for three days after an intelligence warning of a possible bombing.

Seven Tunisians are on trial in Milan as part of a crackdown on groups suspected of having ties to bin Laden and his al Qaeda network. They are also suspected of plotting an attack on the U.S. embassy in January 2001, according to the newspaper report.

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