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Police in Sicily have announced that they have arrested 15 Pakistanis on charges of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism.
Officials believe they may be members of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
The Pakistanis were taken into custody last month from a cargo ship intercepted by Italian police and coastguards off the southern coast of Sicily.
The operation was launched after a tip-off from Italian security services.
The Pakistanis - all travelling with false passports - aroused suspicion during questioning and were found in possession of coded messages, the police said.
They were arrested in Caltanissetta, in central Sicily. They said they arrived in Italian waters after boarding the ship in Morocco for a journey to Libya.
Santi Giuffre, chief police officer of Caltanissetta province, told the Reuters news agency: "We have found interesting documents that would prove the accusations.
"According to the documents, the link with al-Qaeda exists."
The Pakistanis will be appearing before an Italian judge in the Sicilian port city of Gela where they were originally brought ashore, during the next few days.
The cargo vessel, with a mainly Romanian crew, belongs to a Greek ship-owner who lives in Romania.
The vessel had changed names five times during the past two years and flew a flag of convenience of the Pacific island of Tonga.
It is believed that Italy was used as a logistical base by al-Qaeda, blamed for the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington last year.
Since the attacks, Italian police have arrested more 30 people with alleged links to al-Qaeda.