British Seek Return of Bombing Suspect from Italy
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We're going now to Rome where Italian magistrates are considering a British request for the extradition of that suspect. He was arrested in Rome Friday after an international manhunt. And NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has been covering this story.
He's been interrogated, this man, Sylvia. What's emerged?
SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:
Well, his court-appointed lawyer, Antonetta Sonnessa, has said he admits taking part in the July 21st attacks, but didn't want to blow anything up. He claims they wanted to scare the British people, not kill them. And she quoted him as saying, "I am not a terrorist." And that he said he has no connection with the July 7th attackers or with al-Qaeda.
Now unconfirmed Italian media reports say the suspect told investigators the July 21st attackers wanted revenge for the suffering inflicted on Iraqis by British and American troops.
INSKEEP: Now what more is known about this man?
POGGIOLI: Well, British authorities, as we heard, identify him as 27-year-old, Somali-born Osman Hussain. He was tracked down through his cell phone calls to several Italian numbers and he was arrested in his brother's apartment in Rome. He apparently traveled from London with an expired Ethiopian passport, identifying him as Hamdi Isaac. He had lived and gone to school in Italy under that name in the '90s.
A woman, who identifies herself as an old girlfriend, described him to the newspaper La Repubblica today as a typical Western-style teen-ager with a passion for hip-hop who drank beer and chased girls. She said he left for London saying it would be easier to get asylum there and Italian authorities believe he obtained it with a false Somali passport.
Now if the former girlfriend's description of the suspect is correct, Osman Hussain, also known as Hamdi Isaac, fits what's emerging as one of the patterns of the radicalization of Europe's Muslim youth. These are kids who grow up in Western societies, but who suddenly don't identify with their values and embrace what's being called global Islam. This certainly seems to have been the case with the perpetrators of the Madrid bombings last year and the deadly July 7th London bombings.
INSKEEP: Now you mentioned fitting the pattern of Islamic extremism. Authorities believe this man got help in the operation from an Islamic network in Italy. What's come of that part of the investigation?
POGGIOLI: Well, Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said the investigation has uncovered a network of Eritrean and Ethiopian immigrants believed to have helped the fugitive cover his tracks. Now Italy has long been known as a logistics base for international terrorists, for providing hideouts and false identity documents. Another Interior Ministry official, Alfredo Mantovano, said we have to determine whether these Islamic cells are preparing a quantum leap from logistics to full-fledged attacks in Italy.
The new development has been the Ethiopian/Eritrean/Somali connection. The three countries in the Horn of Africa used to be Italian colonies during the fascist regime and had a long, privileged relationship with Rome. But Interior Minister Pisanu said, `Italy has been closely monitoring the Horn of Africa because it believes al-Qaeda terrorists see it as an operational base.' He said, `Stateless and lawless Somalia is of particular concern.' In fact, an Italian ship is patrolling the waters off the Horn of Africa where last month pirates hijacked a United Nations' World Food Program chartered ship carrying food aid for the December tsunami victims.
INSKEEP: OK. So we mentioned that Italian magistrates are considering this British request for extradition. Is there any question, any doubt about whether Osman Hussain will be sent back to Britain to face criminal charges?
POGGIOLI: Well, this is the first time Italy will be dealing with a European arrest warrant which Parliament approved only in April, so we still don't know the timetable. First of all, the suspect's lawyer said he wants to stay in Italy, which could delay the extradition process. Secondly, Italian authorities may want to keep him as long as they think is necessary to determine whether he was involved or has knowledge of any planned terrorist attacks in Italy. Police have already arrested two of his brothers, Ramzi Isaac in Rome and Fati Isaac in the northern city of Brescia. They're accused of possession of false documents and destroying and hiding documents.
INSKEEP: Sylvia, thanks very much.
That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Florence, Italy.
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