Police in the southeastern port city of Bari arrested 23-year-old Afghan Haim Nasiri on international terrorism charges and his compatriot Gulistan Ahmadzai on charges of aiding illegal immigration.
An unnamed Pakistani suspect was arrested in the northern city of Milan and arrest warrants were issued for two other Afghan asylum-seekers and a Pakistani, police said.
Three of the suspects are accused of international terrorism and two of aiding illegal immigration, according to the arrest warrants.
All five suspects allegedly belong to an IS-linked militant cell accused of planning attacks on Rome’s Colosseum as well as on other targets in the Italian capital and in Britain, France and Belgium, investigators said.
The cell had been established in Puglia “to carry out violent attacks with the purpose of international terrorism, in Italy and abroad”, the arrest warrant said. It also gave support to would-be suicide bombers and jihadis especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the warrant.
The cell’s attack plans focused on Rome and London but it was also active in France and Belgium, according to the arrest warrant.
Photos and videos of Bari, Rome and London were among material found in the mobile phones of one of the suspects detained in Tuesday’s anti-terrorism operation, officials said.
Rome’s ancient Colosseum and Circus Maximus sites featured in the material as well as footage of presumed targets including airports, ports, shopping centres and hotels.
Investigators also found recordings of prayers and images of weapons and mutilated US soldiers, as well as a caricature of US President Barack Obama on the suspects’ phones.
“They were getting ready,” Bari public prosecutor Roberto Rossi told journalists.
Nasiri, who was domiciled at the Bari-Palese centre for asylum seekers, had been granted “protection status”, which is similar to refugee status, earlier this month.
He was photographed with Bari’s Mayor Antonio Decaro during a march in September held in various Italian cities in support of integrating immigrants in the country.