The suspects belonged to two separate groups, one in Lombardy and the other in Sardinia, that are each suspected of supporting the Al-Nusra Front, a jihadist organization sometimes called Al-Qaeda in Syria.
They were arrested after an investigation uncovered evidence of money laundering and abusive payment practices inked to ten Syrians in Lombardy.
The investigation led police to another Syrian and three Moroccans in Sardinia who are also suspected of helping to fund the Al-Nusra Front, which claims to have carried out scores of suicide bombings, kidnappings and other attacks in Syria.
Sixteen other people are formally under investigation, including an Italian woman married to one of the suspects, who is accused of illegally couriering money from country to country.
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According to the Guardia di Finanza, Italy's police force specialized in financial crime, the gangs each operated an alternative system of international money transfers, hidden from the authorities, that allowed their contacts – chiefly other Syrians – to send money in cash across Europe and beyond.
Some €2 million is thought to have been transferred in this way, some of it between European countries but some of it into Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. At least part of the funds were intended to finance Al-Nusra's violence in the region, investigators said.
Meanwhile the gangs in Italy were skimming a percentage off each transfer, police said. The group in Sardinia is also believed to have been involved in trafficking migrants through the Balkans for profit.
Police detained the suspects in an operation that saw them carry out around 20 searches in Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Sardinia. They released this video of the arrests: