A Pakistani man accused of organising a bomb attack on a Peshawar market that killed 134 people including women and children has been arrested in Rome. He is thought to have been part of a group planning a similar attack in the Italian capital. The man is a legal resident of Italy.
Siyar Khan, 36, was arrested by Italian police as he stepped off a flight from Islamabad to Rome late on Thursday night. In a statement, police said they believed he had had an “executive role” in the Peshawar bombing, one of the worst attacks in Pakistani history, AFP has reported. He is also believed to be part of group planning suicide attacks on Rome, or possibly the Vatican, using bombers imported from Pakistan.
His detention comes two months after police in Sardinia issued warrants for the arrest of 18 men wanted by the authorities in connection with the bombing of the Meena Bazaar in 2009. Only nine were arrested at the time, the rest presumed to have fled to Pakistan ahead of time.
The men were described by police as forming an Islamic terror cell, led by two former bodyguards of Osama bin Laden, operating out of a Olbia, a small Sardinian town with a long-standing Pakistani community.
Their arrests were the culmination of a six year probe which began with an investigation into an illegal immigration racket allegedly being run from Sardinia. According to police, the group are accused of smuggling Pakistani and Afghan nationals into Europe through Italy via visa and asylum scams. Funds raised from this activity were allegedly sent back to radical groups in Pakistan, including Al-Qaeda offshoots and the local Taliban.
In addition to their people smuggling activities, the cell is also believed to have been plotting a suicide attack or attacks on Italian targets, possibly even the Vatican. Khan is accused of sheltering one would-be bomber, who entered Italy in March 2010 and whose whereabouts is currently unknown.
Mario Carta, one of the police involved in the investigation told AFP: “We have not been able to establish the identity of the kamikaze [bomber]… but we believe he is still at large in Italy, most probably in the region of Olbia, which had become a nerve centre of jihadist activity.”
Carta added that Khan was believed to be the right hand man of Sultan Wali Khan, an Olbia shopkeeper and one of the nine arrested in April, who is accused of planning and financing the Peshawar attack.
Among the others arrested in April was Zulkifal Hafiz Mohammed, an imam who worked in Brescia and Bergamo in northern Italy and allegedly raised funds for radical groups. A further two are believed to have been part of bin Laden’s security detail before his death, while others were still in contact with his relatives.
His arrest comes as a wave of Islamist attacks played out across the world, including in France, where one man was beheaded, and Tunisia, where 27 tourists including British, Belgian and German nationals were killed, prompting fears of sleeper cells across the continent and beyond.
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