Country Reports on Terrorism 2008 - Italy

Italy aggressively investigated and prosecuted terrorism suspects, dismantled terrorist-related cells within its borders, and maintained high-level professional cooperation with its international partners. Italy's law enforcement and judicial authorities had several noteworthy cases in 2008.

In May, authorities arrested 19 foreigners (mostly Tunisians) in Milan and Pisa and filed new charges against four others already in jail for alleged drug trafficking and terrorism offenses. Prosecutors believe that the suspects may have used the proceeds from drug sales to support terrorist activity abroad and terrorist recruitment in Italy. One of the suspects is Maher Bouyahia, who was sentenced to six years imprisonment in 2007 for recruiting extremists.

In June and July, authorities arrested around three dozen suspected Tamil Tiger members (all of Sri Lankan origin), including 28 in Naples, in operations to dismantle groups allegedly dedicated to financing the Sri Lankan terrorist group. Related arrests were also made in Palermo, Bologna, Genoa, Rome, and other cities.

In August, authorities arrested five alleged Islamic fundamentalists in and near Bologna who were accused of raising funds and preparing to send individuals to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to reports. The five North Africans, four Tunisians, and one Moroccan, were under investigation for three years. They have been accused of international terrorism but have not yet been formally charged. Officials alleged the cell sent tens of thousands of dollars to Bosnian groups linked to terrorist organizations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also in August, police again arrested Abdelmajid Zergout, a Moroccan imam in the northern city of Varese, in response to a provisional arrest warrant from Morocco for his extradition. Zergout had already been arrested in 2005 and was tried for having raised funds and recruited for the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, but he was acquitted by a Milan court in 2007.

In November, police searched the homes and cultural meeting places of members and sympathizers of Morocco's banned Islamist group al Adl Wal Ihassan (Justice and Charity) in several regions of northern Italy and Tuscany, which resulted in eleven persons formally under investigation on terrorism and international terrorism charges.

Also in November, the Milan court of appeals confirmed the prison term of three years and eight months for Abu Imad, Egyptian Imam of a mosque in Milan, on charges of organizing and funding terrorism attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the other ten defendants in the same trial, from Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria, the court confirmed six sentences and reduced four.

In December, Italian authorities arrested two Moroccan nationals outside Milan on terrorism charges for their plans to attack targets in and around Milan. According to press reports, the alleged terrorists were planning attacks against the main cathedral in Milan, a Carabinieri station, an immigration office, and Standa department stores. The reports also indicated that they were AQ sympathizers angry about Italy's role in Afghanistan.

Domestic anarchist-inspired and extreme-left terrorist groups presented a continued (albeit small-scale) threat despite Italian authorities' continued efforts to dismantle their organizations. In April, Italian police caught domestic terrorist Roberto Sandalo attempting to set fire to a mosque near Milan. Sandalo is thought to be the leader of the Christian Combatant Front, which was linked to two 2007 attacks in February and April against Muslim institutions. In November, Sandalo was sentenced to a prison term of nine years and nine months. During the 1970s, Sandalo was the leader of the Front Line, a small anti-western, leftist terrorist group similar in ideology and tactics to the Red Brigades. It was known for robbing banks to finance terrorist attacks. It is unclear how large the Christian Combatant Front is and how many of the ten attacks on Muslim institutions in the past year were their responsibility.

The Italian government continued to make use of reinforced counterterrorism legislation enacted in 2005, which facilitated the detention of suspects, mandated arrest for crimes involving terrorism, and expedited procedures for the deportation of persons who may be involved in terrorist activities.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is reviewing the Italian government's policy of expulsions and deportations without judicial review. On February 28, the ECHR ruled against an expulsion order signed by former Minister of the Interior Giuliano Amato regarding Tunisian national Nassim Saadi, 34. The order called for Saadi to be returned to Tunisia, his country of origin. Saadi was convicted on charges of international terrorism in both Italy and Tunisia, where he was previously sentenced to 20 years in prison. According to the ECHR, deporting Saadi would violate article three of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture and inhumane or degrading treatment even in cases of serious threat to the community. Amato's expulsion decree was based on a July 2005 law authorizing measures to combat international terrorism. In June, Italian authorities expelled Sami Ben Khemais Essid to Tunisia. Following this act, the ECHR sent the Italian government a letter reminding it of its obligation to allow the court prior to deportation to examine Ben Khemais's claim that he faced the risk of torture or prohibited ill-treatment upon return to Tunisia.

Italian authorities have stated publicly that many radical Islamist groups in Italy are inspired by or connected to al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other extremist groups and use Italy as a logistical and financial base. Organizations affiliated with the Kurdish nationalist group Kurdistan Workers' Party did not have a major presence in Italy but were thought to have links with charitable organizations that maintained Italian branches.

With respect to financial aspects of fighting terrorism, Italy aggressively identified and blocked financial resources destined for suspected terrorist individuals and groups. Italy worked closely with the United States on money laundering matters and information sharing; and cooperated with other foreign governments as an active member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Egmont Group. As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Italy advocated multilateral cooperation in countering terrorism.

Italy was a leading financial contributor to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Counterterrorism Prevention Branch. Within the G8, Italy played an active role in the Rome-Lyon Group and the Counterterrorism Action Group (CTAG), within which Italy leads an initiative to enhance counterterrorism security measures in airports in the western Balkans.

Italy is an important partner in the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Container Security Initiative. As a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), Italy continued to comply with requirements in the VWP law related to information sharing and other law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation. This cooperation was further enhanced by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. In May 2006, the U.S. and Italy signed a new treaty on extradition and mutual legal assistance, which will allow for joint investigative teams, easier asset freezing, and faster sharing of financial information. The U.S. Senate has already ratified the treaties. On the Italian side, the treaties were approved by the Council of Ministers in November 2008, but were pending a final vote of approval in Parliament at year's end.

Italy participated in NATO's Active Endeavour naval mission against terrorism in the Mediterranean, and contributed to international military missions in, Afghanistan, where it held Regional Command-West; and Iraq, where it played a lead role in the NATO Training Mission, among others.

Italy contributed training personnel to various regional counterterrorism training centers such as the South East Asia Regional Centre on Counterterrorism in Malaysia, the Joint Centre on Law Enforcement Cooperation in Indonesia, and the African Union's Antiterrorism Centre in Algeria.


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