ROME — A Genoa magistrate issued arrest warrants Tuesday for 20 Arabs who, court sources said, are suspected of belonging to a previously unknown international terrorist group with links to major incidents, including the West Berlin nightclub bombing that provoked the U.S. air raid on Libya in April.
Magistrate Luigi Carli, who prosecuted the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, charged the 20 in the arrest warrants with "belonging to an armed terrorist band," a serious crime in Italy sometimes used by the courts as a catch-all to seize and hold suspects.
A source close to the court said that 11 of the 20 suspected terrorists already were in custody or were arrested Tuesday--seven in Italy, three in West Berlin and one in London.
'A Complex Group'
"It is a complex and large group that has links to international terrorism," Carli said in issuing the warrants.
He acknowledged that one of the men in custody is Awni Hindawi, 25, the cousin of two brothers who are, separately, the chief suspects in an attempt to blow up an El Al Israel Airlines jetliner in London and the bombing of the West Berlin discotheque.
Hindawi was arrested June 19 in Genoa on the charge of belonging to an armed terrorist band and has been under interrogation supervised by Carli for 40 days.
He was identified by court sources as the cousin of Nezar Hindawi, who has been accused by London police of attempting to put his pregnant Irish girlfriend on an El Al flight April 17 with a bomb in her suitcase. An El Al security agent found the bomb in the woman's baggage.
Linked to Disco Bombing
Nezar Hindawi was identified as the brother of Ahmed Nawaf Mansour Hasi, who was arrested in West Berlin for complicity in the April 5 bombing of the La Belle disco after London police found his name in Nezar Hindawi's address book. The blast took the lives of two U.S. servicemen.
Evidence that linked Libyan diplomats in East Berlin to the terror bombing was used by President Reagan to justify the April 15 air raid on the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.
Carli did not publicly identify the 20 people sought in the arrest warrants, and it was not known whether the brothers in custody in London and Berlin were included among them. Awni Hindawi and the two brothers were identified by Genoa court sources as Palestinians reared in Jordan.
Sources close to the Genoa court said that the previously unknown network was believed to have been used as a support arm by the Abu Nidal group, a renegade Palestinian organization, and may have been a "gun-for-hire" organization that provided services to other terrorist groups as well.
Arab Living in London
Italy's RAI-2 television news, without naming a source, reported Tuesday that the head of the group was an Arab living in London.
Awni Hindawi was described as quiet and somewhat withdrawn during his five years as a student in Genoa, according to court sources. They said people who knew him told authorities that Hindawi sometimes put up young Arabs at an apartment he shared with an Italian girlfriend and that he also maintained a residence at a Genoa University dormitory. They said his Jordanian passport showed that he had made numerous trips during the five years to Jordan and Syria.
Genoa sources said Hindawi had documents in his possession at the time of his arrest that support the charge that he was involved in terrorist activities.