Italian judicial officials today issued arrest warrants against a group of 14 alleged Arab terrorists, including Palestinian leader Abu Nidal, in connection with a string of attacks in Italy last year, including the post-Christmas assault on Rome's Leonardo da Vinci international airport, according to judicial sources here.
The arrest warrants, signed by prosecutor Domenico Sica and investigating magistrate Rosario Priore, two of Italy's top antiterrorist investigators, charged all 14 with participation in "an armed band" -- a blanket charge used frequently in Italy against terrorist groups.
This law makes participation in an illegal group as much a crime as the acts allegedly committed.
In a telephone interview, Sica confirmed that the warrants had been issued but refused to say who was named in them. Priore is expected to hold a press conference Wednesday to reveal more details.
Judicial sources, however, said the list was believed to include only Palestinians and Lebanese, some of whom are already in custody in Italy for alleged roles in terrorist attacks,including a grenade attack on Rome's Cafe de Paris last year and bomb attacks on the offices of British Airways and Jordan's Royal Alia airline.
These sources said they believed there were no Syrians named in the warrants.
Recent reports have alleged that the judicial investigation into the Rome airport attack had unearthed evidence of Syrian involvement.
The judicial sources who revealed the existence of the warrants tonight indicated that the lack of Syrian names confirmed previous indications by judicial magistrates and senior government officials that there was no evidence to link the Syrian government directly with terrorist actions in Italy.
The sources indicated there was no direct link even if Syria's tolerance of terrorist groups acting in Syria and areas of Lebanon under Syrian Army control could constitute indirect responsibility.
The warrants issued tonight, Italian sources said, stem from the apparent confessions of Mohammed Sarham, a 20-year-old Palestinian and the only survivor in the Arab commando group that attacked the TWA and El Al ticket counters at da Vinci airport two days after Christmas.
Nineteen persons, including five Americans and three of the four Palestinian assailants, died in the attack.
Sarham, who was seriously wounded, recently has begun cooperating with his interrogators, giving western antiterrorist experts a look into the organization and modus operandi of the Palestinian group headed by Sabri Banna, also known as Abu Nidal.
Sarham has confirmed to investigators that he belonged to Abu Nidal's group, as did two surviving terrorists of a simultaneous terrorist attack Dec. 27 on Vienna's international airport in which three persons, including one terrorist, died.
Today's was the second warrant issued by Italian officials against Abu Nidal. Several months ago he was charged with mass murder in connection with the airport attack.
The charge of belonging to an armed band is often used by investigators when it would be easier to convict a suspect by establishing membership in a terrorist group than by trying to get a conviction on specific charges.