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Why Does ISIS Spare Italy?

From Mafia to Terrorism

Salvatore Lucania, called Lucky Luciano (1897-1962), gangster of sicilian mafia (with handcuffs and cigaret) leaving the court in New York on june 18, 1936 (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

by Shadi Hamadi

“Italy is still at risk of terror attacks, but there are extensive prevention activities.” These are the words spoken by Franco Roberti, the head of Italy’s National Anti-Mafia Directorate, about the county’s counter-terrorism strategy. “We have something other countries do not which is the Committee for Strategic Anti-Terrorism Analysis (CASA), as part of which law enforcement forces and intelligence services meet every day to exchange information. Our strength lies in the timely exchange of information: we circulate everything without fear, we do not suffer from jealousy,” Roberti explained while interviewed by Sky TG24.

Indeed, Italy has been sparred mass Islamist terror attacks unlike other European countries who have suffered the death of hundreds of people. Could this mean that Italy’s counter-terrorism method gives the country an edge in preventing terror attacks?

“We learned a very harsh lesson during our terrorism years” Giampiero Massolo, the former director of the Italian intelligence said to the Guardian . “From that experience learned how important it is to maintain a constant dialogue at the operating level between intelligence and law enforcement. In fact, prevention is the key to being effective in counter-terrorism.”

Italy’s experience in combating terrorism and antimafia policing has led the country to develop the appropriate judicial and prevention instruments to effectively combat the global phenomenon. The establishment of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate, the circulation of information between security forces and the formation of ‘Pool’, where a group of magistrates work together on an investigation, are the product of the tragedies which took place during the Years of Lead (the term used for a period of political terrorism in Italy from the late 1960s until the early 1980s) and the years of the mafia massacres.

In the area of prevention, Italy has long experience in the use of informers particularly against mafia associations (mostly against Cosa Nostra and ‘Ndrangheta). Law enforcement forces and intelligence services have always worked to build a network of informants inside their communities with the aim of breaking bonds within the families to obtain information.

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN – NOVEMBER 15: Carabinieri (Italian special police) and a policeman patrol in front St. Peter’s Square on November 15, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Franco Roberti also explained why the phenomenon of global terrorism is related to the Mafia, and sometimes even directly linked by their common interests: “The Mafia often took advantage of cooperation with terrorism because the latter divert the attention of the state from crime syndicates, not to mention the fact that sometimes organized crime has indeed dealt with terrorists, as evidenced by what happened in Campania where many fake ID’s were produced for terrorists.”

The active role organized crime plays in supporting terrorism is exactly what made the Italian peninsula a key hub for fundamentalism, as evidenced by an Anti-Mafia and Terrorism Directorate report published in late June. This document also shows some good news, the number of foreign fighters who left for Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s caliphate has decreased.

Italian citizens that chose to join ISIS are not the only subjects of interest of the security body. “Citizens who went to Syria and joined other armed militias like the YPG (an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party PKK in Syria), of which there are more than a dozen, are also monitored,” a source close to Italian counter-terrorism unit explained to Majalla. “What concerns us is the possibility of the tensions in Syria and Iraq being reproduced in our country or in Europe. These Italian people have experienced war and this has a psychological influence, so their return to their homeland is closely monitored. There is also an open forum for dialogue between Italy and Germany which has opened the doors to many Syrians and Iraqis who have passed through the peninsula. Some of them served in Syrian opposition militias, Iraqi paramilitary units or in the army loyal to the Damascus government. Our concern is that these people may build networks right here in Europe that would receive instructions from their country of origin.”

Of course, the number of fighters who took off from Italy to join ISIS cannot be compared to the numbers in France or Germany. This is because Italy is new to Muslim immigration. Alessandro Boncio, a member of the European Expert Network on Terrorism Issues, wrote in a quantitative and analytical study of foreign fighters in Italy that “Italian jihadism may be considered as a smaller version (in quantity) of German jihadism.” According to the study, common characteristics of the 60 jihadists examined include: unemployment, low education level and criminal records.

Prisons and the internet are where the radicalization process happens most frequently. On 30th June, one Moroccan citizen and one Tunisian citizen were deported and sent back to their home countries as a preventive measure because the Italian intelligence services reported them to be at risk of radicalization. The Moroccan citizen had a criminal record and investigations revealed that he was a contact of a Libyan citizen suspected of bringing explosives into the United Kingdom with the intention of using them in terrorist attacks. In addition to these two cases of deportation signed by the Minister of Interior, the number of people deported since January 2015 has risen to 189. A recent report by the Italian Prison Services Bureau has shown that there are 646 convicts at risk of radicalization. 373 of them are still in prison and the remaining 272 are former convicts still under surveillance. Anis Amri, the Tunisian who attacked the Christmas market in Berlin last year and was later been killed by a police patrol, was likely radicalized during his detention in Sicily following a series of violent attacks. Combatting radicalization on the internet is more difficult, although the authorities have shut down more than 500 websites and have monitored about half a million.

In an effort to investigate the radicalization process, one year ago the Italian government created the “The commission of the study of radicalization and jihadist extremism,” comprised of journalists and academics. The group recently presented, in presence of the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Interior Minister Marco Minniti, a report in which they identified three areas in need of development to enhance the fight against terrorism. These are “A long-term strategy to prevent the radicalization processes, the identification of deradicalization paths and a counter-narrative policy to end ISIS’s terror propaganda.” The study emphasized the importance of working together with the Muslim community and civil society as a whole.

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