MILAN (Reuters) - Police arrested three men on Wednesday for allegedly setting up a network in Italy to recruit Islamist fighters to be sent to Syria and Iraq, the Italian authorities said.
One of the men was a 20-year-old Italian of Moroccan origin, who faces charges of encouraging terrorism via the Internet, a police statement said.
The other two were Albanians -- one of whom lives in the small Balkan country while the second, his nephew, lives near the northern Italian city of Turin. They are accused of actively seeking recruits.
The Italian man is believed to be the author of a 64-page document in Italian promoting the Islamic State (IS) militant movement that was widely distributed on social media networks.
Italian prosecutors said the trio had also put together videos, distributed via the Internet, that were aimed at Italian-speaking Muslims promoting the Islamic State cause and describing a typical day of training for young recruits.
The group had recruited at least one man, a youth born in Italy to Tunisian parents, who had not yet departed for the war zone, Brescia magistrate Tommaso Buonanno told reporters.
The young man has been put under special surveillance and has had his travel documents confiscated.
Prosecutors described the network as a “Balkan backbone” of Islamic State recruiters in Europe.
Like other European countries, Italy has stepped up surveillance of individuals suspected of supporting militants in Syria and Iraq after indications that a number of Italians had traveled to the region to fight.
Prosecutors said the operation had begun after intelligence services opened an investigation into an Italian of Moroccan origin, who was included in a list of Italian foreign fighters and suspected of leaving Italy in September 2013 to join IS.
Investigators believe the man traveled to Albania on his way to Syria and met one of the men arrested on Wednesday.
Police also conducted searches in Lombardy, Piedmont and Tuscany, focusing on suspected sympathizers of IS in touch with those arrested. Albanian police were also working on the case and had detained one of the suspects near the capital, Tirana.
In January, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said 59 Islamist fighters with some connection to Italy had been identified. Western countries fear radicalized nationals will return to launch attacks at home.
Reporting by James Mackenzie and Roberto Landucci and Steve Scherer; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Crispian Balmer