The latest charges were filed against Moroccan Nur al-Din Drissin and Tunisian Kamal Hamrui, by a court in the northern Italian city of Brescia on Tuesday.

 

Their case was transferred to Brescia after the Milan court which tried their alleged accomplices last week said it did not have jurisdisdiction to try them.

 

Brescia state prosecutor Roberto Spania filed charges on Tuesday accusing the men of "international terrorism" and assisting illegal immigration - precisely the charges thrown out by Milan judge Clementina Forleo in last week's trial.

 

Tunisian co-accused Ali Bin Sassi Tumi and Buyahla Mahir and Moroccan Muhammad Daki were convicted of the minor charges of assisting illegal immigration and dealing in false documents and sentenced to between one and three years in prison in last week's one-day trial.

 

Protest

 

The ruling caused a storm of protest in Italy, which has troops deployed in Iraq as part of the coalition force.

 

Prosecutors had asked the court to impose 10-year sentences, saying the men were recruiting human bombers in Italy for the war in Iraq.

 

Judge Forleo recognised that the defendants committed the crimes of which they were accused, recruiting men in Europe to join the uprising against US-led coalition forces in Iraq and favouring clandestine immigration.

 

Not terrorism 

 

"It has not been proven that such a paramilitary structure provided for concrete programmes with objectives exceeding guerrilla activity."

Judge Clementina Forleo

But she said the evidence against the men constituted the normal activities of guerrilla fighters in wartime and was not terrorism.

 

"Historically the activity of the cells in question coincided with the United States' attack on Iraq," she said.

 

The men "had as their principal aim the financing, and in a more general way, support for the paramilitary training structure ... presumably in the north of Iraq.

 

"But it has not been proven that such a paramilitary structure provided for concrete programmes with objectives exceeding guerrilla activity," she said.

 

All five, arrested in 2002 after extensive telephone intercepts, are accused of belonging to the outlawed Ansar-al-Islam, which is closely linked to Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida network.