ROME – Police in southern Italy have arrested an Algerian man wanted by Belgian authorities for alleged involvement in a Belgium-based network that provided false IDs used by people implicated in the Paris and Brussels attacks, investigators said Sunday.
Djamal Eddine Ouali was arrested Saturday in the town of Bellizzi, outside of the port city of Salerno, said Luigi Amato, the head of Salerno police’s anti-terrorism squad. Ouali apparently “didn’t know he was wanted” by Belgian authorities and applied for a residency permit about 10 days ago in Italy, Amato said in a telephone interview.
Ouali, 40, was jailed while authorities expected extradition procedures to soon begin, the police official said.
Ouali had entered Italy sometime after late December, Amato said. His wife, also Algerian, is also in Italy.
A statement from police in Salerno noted that authorities’ interest in Ouali was triggered when they noticed he had the same name as a man sought by Belgium for alleged involvement in “a criminal network dedicated to false documents on a large scale” that emerged last year in Brussels.
Belgium issued a warrant in January, three months after a raid in the Brussels suburb of Saint-Gilles yielded some thousand digital images used for false documents.
That raid discovered “photos and of some aliases used by the three terrorists belonging to the group which planned and carried out the attacks in Paris” on Nov. 13, 2015, the Italian police statement said.
The Italian news agency ANSA said the aliases included Soufiane Kayal, the name used by Najim Laachraoui, one of the suicide bombers in last week’s Brussels airport attack, as well as one used by Mohamed Belkaid, who was killed during the hunt for Salah Abdeslam, as well as an alias, Yassine Baghli, used by Abdeslam, the suspected ringleader of the attacks.
Amato said Oauli declined to answer investigators’ questions. The official stressed he couldn’t elaborate on what links the documents’ falsification had to the suspects in the Paris and Brussels attacks. Italy’s investigation of Oauli’s activities on Italian territory is also continuing.
The Algerian held in Italy as part of a probe into fake ID documents used by the Paris and Brussels attackers was interrogated Sunday but refused to answer questions, a judicial source said.
Djamal Eddine Ouali, 40, was detained under a European arrest warrant near Salerno on Saturday, and questioned in prison by prosecutors, the judge in charge of the preliminary inquiry said.
Salerno police chief Alfredo Anzalone said he was confident Ouali’s extradition to Belgium would be approved. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Friday.
Ouali was held on Saturday evening at a bus stop in a joint swoop involving anti-terrorism officers and a police special operations unit in the town of Bellizzi, an area with a large population of transient seasonal workers, many from North Africa.
Belgium had issued a European arrest warrant for Ouali as it probes the false papers used by the Islamic State network that organized Tuesday’s Brussels attacks, which killed 28 people, and November’s assault on Paris that left 130 dead.
He is suspected of being part of a criminal network that produced fake documents for illegal immigration.
Suspicions were raised after local immigration officials checked Ouali’s residency permit. Police had been searching for a man with the same name and belonging to the same organization since Jan. 6.
Hundreds of digital photographs were then seized from a counterfeiter’s workshop, including three of those who planned the deadly attacks in Paris in November.
One of those photographed was Najim Laachraoui, one of the suicide bombers at Brussels airport, reports quoted police as saying.
Investigations are ongoing as to how Ouali came to be in Italy and into the networks of which he may have been a part.