Italian police said Monday they had arrested a 36-year-old Algerian on suspicion of belonging to the Islamic State group and helping the authors of the November 2015 Paris attacks.
The man, identified by La Repubblica newspaper as Athmane Touami, is alleged to have "guaranteed the availability of forged documents" to the Paris attackers, police said.
"The investigations have made it possible to ascertain... the proximity of the suspect to radical jihadist environments, as well as his direct support to the authors of the terrorist attacks at the Bataclan theatre," police in the southern city of Bari said in a statement.
Some 130 people were killed and 350 wounded in a night of carnage on November 13, 2015, when Islamist suicide bombers and gunmen attacked various sites in Paris crowded with people, including the Bataclan concert hall, the Stade de France and the Le Carillon bar.
Touami is suspected of being part of an Islamic State cell operating in France and Belgium with his two brothers, according to La Repubblica.
He is alleged to have been in contact with Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud, an IS extremist and mastermind of the Paris attacks, as well as Khalid Zerkani, the jihadist preacher in Brussels who recruited scores of young Muslims as jihadist fighters to Syria, it added.
A source close to the French investigation, however, played down Touami's importance, telling AFP: "The link with the perpetrators of the attacks of November 13 is tenuous."
- 'Forger' role -
Touami was serving a two-year term in Bari for possession of fake documents and was due to be released in June, police said.
The role of Touami and his brothers Medhi and Lyes was as "forgers at the service of terrorist organisations", able to provide logistical support and other help, according to the detention order cited by La Repubblica.
French investigating magistrates have established that the perpetrators of the Paris attacks were in possession of 14 fake Belgian identity documents from the same manufacturer.
The forgeries enabled them, according to the French judges, "to carry out preparations for the attacks and in particular to rent flats, to travel around Europe to set up the terrorist cell, to withdraw money."
Living with his brothers in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, Touami had contact with Zerkani, now in prison, whom Belgian investigators have described as the country's "biggest recruiter" of jihadist fighters.
The detention order, according to Repubblica, states that Touami also had contact with Abaaoud, considered the coordinator of the Paris attacks who shot indiscriminately at cafe patrons that night, and his accomplice Chakib Akrouh.
Abaaoud and Akrouh were killed in a police raid five days after the attacks.
The order claims that since 2010, Touami and his brothers also had contact with Amedy Coulibaly and Cherif Kouachi, two of the extremists in the earlier Paris attacks of January 2015, who attacked a Jewish supermarket and the Charlie Hebdo newsroom, respectively.
In a press conference in Bari, Prosecutor Federico Perrone Capano said Touami's brother Medhi was serving a 16-year prison sentence in Belgium for association with terrorists, while Lyes was killed in Syria.
"It's impressive how the family of Athmane Touami... was in contact with subjects most of whom have been sentenced in Germany, France and Belgium for terrorist crimes," Capano said, as quoted by La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno newspaper.