Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001 - Italy

Italy stepped up its counterterrorism efforts following the September 11 attacks and has vigorously supported the United States diplomatically and politically. Taking a prominent role in the international Coalition against al-Qaida, Italy declared its support for the US-led war and offered to contribute military forces, including naval, air and ground units. Italy also enhanced its law-enforcement capabilities, recently passing a series of antiterrorism laws enumerating new criminal offenses for terrorist acts and providing new and expanded police powers.

In the weeks following the attacks, Italian law-enforcement officials intensified their efforts to track and arrest individuals they suspect have ties to al-Qaida and other extremist groups. On 10 October they arrested several extremists connected to Essid Sami Ben Khemais – the Tunisian Combatant Group leader arrested by the Italians in April for plotting to bomb the US Embassy in Rome. In mid- and late November, Italian officials raided the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan and arrested Islamic extremists having possible ties to al-Qaida (see case study following this section). Italy also cooperated in stemming the flow of finances linked to terrorism. The Financial Security Committee, comprising senior officials of various ministries, including Finance, Foreign Affairs, and Justice, and representatives from law-enforcement agencies, was created in October to identify and block the funding of terrorist activity.

During the year Italy also concentrated on dismantling not only indigenous terrorist groups that in the past attacked Italian and US interests, but also groups suspected of international terrorist affiliations operating within and outside Italy's borders. In April, the Revolutionary Proletarian Initiative Nuclei (NIPR) bombed the Institute of International Affairs in Rome. The Anti-Imperialist Territorial Nuclei (NTA) claimed to have attacked the tribunal courthouse building in Venice in August and the Central European Initiative (INCE) office in Trieste in September 2000. Both groups are leftist-anarchist entities that promote anti-US/anti-NATO rhetoric and espouse the ideals of the Red Brigades of the 1970s and 1980s.

Italy's vigorous leadership of the Group of Eight (G-8) Counterterrorism Expert's Group resulted in significant progress on a 25-point plan to guide the G-8's contribution to the global counterterrorism campaign. The Action Plan has fostered greater counterterrorism coordination among the foreign affairs and law-enforcement agencies of G-8 members. Italy's work with other European countries to combat terrorism as well as extensive cooperation among Italy, the United States, and several European countries – including Spain, France, Germany, Britain, and Belgium – led to the arrests on 10 October. Moreover, Rome worked with Madrid to improve bilateral efforts against terrorism, agreeing in early November at a summit in Granada to create a joint investigative team to fight terrorism and conduct joint patrols on long-distance trains to prevent illegal immigration.

Italy: A Terrorist Cell Wrapped Up

Italy has a long history of combating domestic and international terrorism. Through its exceptional law enforcement agencies and newly enhanced judiciary powers, Italy has dismantled numerous terrorist cells, identified and frozen assets belonging to terrorist groups, and thwarted several planned and potential attacks against Italian targets and other Western entities within its borders.

In January, Italian authorities worked with US officials to thwart an attack on the US Embassy in Rome. Italy's intelligence services launched an investigation that resulted in the US Embassies in Rome and the Vatican City, as well as the US Consulates in Naples and Milan, being closed to the public – the first such security closure of the Embassy in Rome since the Gulf war in 1991. Italy's prompt action, combined with heightened defenses put into place by police authorities, allowed the Embassy to reopen while the Italians pursued the investigation.

Information developed by Italian authorities helped to identify Tarek Maaroufi as a suspect, as well as two organizations already under investigation, the "Tunisian Combatant Group" and the "Salafist Group for Call and Combat " (GSPC). The Italian Government is seeking Maaroufi's extradition from Belgium.

Authorities learned that Sami Ben Khemais Essid, who spent two years in Afghanistan and trained as a recruiter for al-Qaida, directed the plot. They believe Ben Khemais headed al-Qaida operations in Italy. He owned a firm that was a front for his recruitment activity and terrorist-attack planning.

During surveillance of Ben Khemais Essid, police discovered he maintained connections to militant terrorist cells throughout Europe. According to investigators, the terrorists attended the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan-a location that was under surveillance months before September 11 by Italian authorities seeking evidence of arms, chemicals, and explosives. Others who frequented the Islamic Cultural Institute included terrorists associated with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, all of which were perpetrated by al-Qaida.

Ben Khemais was arrested, convicted, and recently sentenced to eight years in prison. By April, five North Africans with links to Usama Bin Ladin were in custody in connection with the terrorist plot against the US Embassy. In October, additional arrest warrants were issued following information obtained by police and judicial authorities confirming a "significant" link between al-Qaida and those arrested.

According to an Italian press report, authorities also obtained evidence to suggest that the terrorist cell was contemplating using poison gas. On 14 March 2001, Italian police recorded a conversation in which Ben Khemais said, "The product is better. It's more efficient because this liquid, as soon as you open it, it suffocates people."

Another potential plot was foiled when individuals reportedly associated with Bin Ladin terrorists allegedly plotted to assassinate President George W. Bush during the G-8 meeting in Genoa, Italy, in July. The threat was taken seriously, but with tightened security for the summit, the danger was averted.

Following the attacks of September, Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi emphasized his country's solidarity with the United States in the fight against terrorism. Similarly, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi emphasized that "Italy is today at the United States' side, it always will be, as it has been in the past." Acting on its own accord, the Italian Government accelerated the procedures necessary to allow for US forces to conduct Operation Enduring Freedom flights from the Sigonella Air Base in Sicily. Sigonella became the most active air base in Europe for US military flights in transit to southwest Asia.

"The measures that Italy adopted are an integral part of the same strategy that also must be followed at the international level," Italian Interior Minister Claudio Scajola said during a news conference with US Attorney General Ashcroft on 15 December . "We have also decided to further intensify our working relationship on security measures, by reactivating the US-Italy Bilateral Committee in order to ensure an even more effective exchange of information between our two countries."

Italy played a prominent role in Operation Enduring Freedom by deploying the fourth largest force, including the aircraft carrier Garibaldi, over 2,500 military personnel, eight Harrier jets, and six Tornado reconnaissance aircraft. Italy also supplied two frigates and a supply ship to the Gulf. Separately, approximately 350 Italian soldiers have been assigned to the International Afghan Security Force for Afghanistan-whose mission is to assist in the stabilization of Kabul.

On both the law enforcement and legislative fronts, Italy has established a sophisticated system to thwart acts of terrorism. Furthermore, in response to the September 11 attacks, Italian authorities responded quickly and aggressively to US Embassy-Rome's requests for additional support and protection. The Italian Government, in an evident display of its commitment to the war on terrorism, passed in October a decree providing additional powers to the police and judiciary to investigate and pursue suspected terrorists. The Parliament supported the Government's action and passed the decree into law in December. The law also has enabled the Italian Government to act quickly on freezing assets of terrorist groups.

On 7 November, the Italian Parliament approved sending ground troops, air units, and naval units to assist in the operations against international terrorism. According to Italian authorities, more than 90% of the Parliament supported these counterterrorism measures and, according to then-Foreign Minister Ruggiero, these actions confirmed Italy's "awareness that the stakes are high and proves the solidity of our national consensus in facing this challenge."

According to Italian Minister Claudio Scajola, "Italy has known of terrorism in ways that the United States has never experienced, and we need to learn as much as we can from experiences that each nation has had, that we can use as a basis for cooperation with each other."

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