By Giovanni Giacalone, Analyst KEDISA
Italy has become a hub for Tunisian jihadists. Coasts and borders must be further safeguarded.
Five Tunisians with arrest warrents who cannot be arrested: this is the ungoldy situation that is taking place in Turin, Italy. The five individuals, who are all accused of international terrorism, had reached Italy back in 2014, obtaining a residence permit by presenting false university enrollment certificates. After moving to the city of Pisa, they set up a base for drug dealing.
Now further elements have emerged indicating that the Tunisians are also involved in the creation of a pro-Isis terrorist cell that goes far beyond the ideological phase, as some of their “brothers” had left for the Levant while another was ready to organize a terror act in European territory.
However, due to a burocracy that has its own mechanisms, especially in Italy, the jihadists will have ten days to file an appeal on the order and if the Court will accept the appeal then the decision-deadline will be further extended. At the moment none of the five are in prison as three of them are on house arrest and the other two are free on the street (one of them had already been expelled in 2016).
This is just the latest episode that points out how in Italy there is a serious problem with the infiltration of Tunisian jihadists, several of which have arrived on board boats of illegals.
Despite all this, boats full of illegals continued to depart from the ports of Libya and Tunisia, reaching the coasts of Sicily and Sardinia. Once there, some of the immigrants remained on Italian soil while others carried on towards other EU countries, when able to avoid being rejected at the borders. Many of these boats were rescued by various NGO boats, by the Italian Coast Guard and escorted to Italian ports with full authorization by the Italian authorities.
The situation soon went out of control, with temporary identification and detention centers unable to keep up with the continuous flow of immigrants and with many illegals disappearing throughout the country.
The most famous example is Anis Amri, the Berlin attacker who was shot and killed by Italian police on December 23rd 2016 near Milan. Amri had reached Sicily on a boat and had been detained in different detention centers on the Island before being released.
Just last week another Tunisian extremist, Abdelhak Ben Makhlouf Aouini, was arrested by Italian authorities after receiving an alert by the Mukhabarat in Tunis. Auoini was found in possesion of false ID and was probably well aware of being blacklisted, but that did not keep him from taking selfies in front of the Duomo cathedral in Milan and from posting the photos on Facebook.
Auoini did not seem to worry, just like Anis Amri didn’t back in December 2016 when he wondered around some unsavory areas of Milan in the middle of the night and with a handgun inside his bag. One month earlier in piazzale Loreto a Dominican had been murdered during a drug deal and the security in the area had been further increased. Maybe Amri was not aware of that, but he certainly knew Milan and especially the problematic northern side, where he was headed.
However the list of Tunisian jihadists who went through Italy is far longer and it includes individuals such as Nourredine Chouchane, one of the Bardo attackers, who was killed by a US airtrike in Libya in February 2016. Chouchane had lived in Genoa, Novara and Ancona, where he had some relatives.
Another Tunisian citizen was arrested in April 2015 while organizing a terror attack at Milan’s Expo event.
In August 2016 another Tunisian was arrested in Sudan but this time it was no ordinary terrorist, but rather a senior figure of Ansar al-Sharia, with a past in the Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) and known as “Abu Nassim” Moez Fezzani.
Ansar al-Sharia, GSPC and other Tunisian groups linked to al-Qaeda did use Italy not only as a transit point but also as a hub. An example is the “Takfiri” group that back in the late 90’s stationed near one of the Islamic Centers of Bologna, creating several problems to the worshippers. The group was directly in touch with Abu Qatada in the UK.
In conclusion, Italy is seeing Tunisian jihadists on Italian soil who cannot be arrested due to burocratic technicalities, others who did not seem too worried about eventually being caught despite their background and further more reaching Italian coasts on board boats full of illegals. This is obviously a very serious problem, not only for Italy but for the whole EU and even though Italy, since January 2017, did expell around thirty Tunisians who were considered a public threat it still does not seem enough.
It is important not only to recall that Tunisia has the highest number of foreign fighters (around 6000) in relation to its population and that the Tunisian government has recently pardoned hundreds of convicts including several who were serving time for extremism; in fact a heavy flow of foreign fighters from the Levant to the greater Maghreb has also been detected and that’s an area that will most likely become the next target of the jihadists. It’s not a case that two weeks ago the Italian police confiscated a ship in the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro with a load of Captagon, the drug used by Isis fighters in battle. The load was bound for Libya.
Italy is the “bridge” between continental Europe and north Africa and it cannot afford to leave its borders unguarded and to let thousands of illegals in because the security and the stability not only of Italy but of the whole EU is at stake.