Italy’s success in the fight against terrorism can be attributed to its extensive record in fighting internal violence and organized crime. Rome had to take measures to keep the lid on terrorism inside it as well as on left-wing and right-wing extremists for decades. This happened especially between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. This was why this period was given the name “Years of Lead”.
Dr Nermine Mohamed Tawfiq
Some European states, especially those with adept security agencies, had been subject to a series of strong terrorist attacks, which raised eyebrows in other countries. Germany; France; Belgium, and even the UK, one of the most secure countries in the Europe, had come under attack. Daesh managed to infiltrate these countries and stage what came to be known as “lone-wolf attacks” in them. In staging those attacks, Daesh depended on its agents inside these countries. Some of these agents used vehicles to plow into crowds of pedestrians, killing large numbers of them. Some of the affiliates of the terrorist organization also succeeded in planting bombs in and entering important institutions while wearing explosive devices. This happened at the Bataclan theatre in French capital Paris. The attack on the theatre coincided with another on a football stadium in Paris as well during a football match between the French and the Argentinian national teams. The French president Francios Hollande was at the stadium at the time, watching the match.
The terrorists could not copy the same attacks in Italy which, against all odds, succeeded in immunizing itself against terrorism. Italy stands at the receiving end of the largest number of immigrants, compared with other European states. Daesh agents can easily enter this country from the sea, given its proximity to North African states, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya, which in recent years turned into transit points for immigrants on the road to Europe.
The following factors helped Italy protect itself against terrorism:
First, geographical location and influx of immigrants
Italy is located in close proximity to war and conflict-torn countries in the Middle East and in North Africa. It is also a transit point on the road to Europe for immigrants, escaping war and bloodshed in their countries. This turned Italy into a fertile soil for the growth of extremists and also their export to neighboring states (1).
Italy is at the same time an important country when it comes to logistics. Daesh affiliates cross the country on the way to other European states. This is especially so because of open borders between Italy and its European neighbors. This is one reason why terrorists avoid staging attacks in Italy.
Strong terrorist attacks in Italy, if they happen, will precipitate strong security measures and public anger, said Giampiero Venturi, a political analyst who works for the Italian military news site, Difesa Online.
The attacks, he added, will encourage Italian institutions to tighten control on incoming immigrants, which will harm the interests of the terrorists.
He said the same measures will make it difficult for terrorists to keep flowing into Europe and moving between its different countries.
The terrorists are keen to have presence in Italy and keep the country as a transit point to other European states, Venturi said. This is the reason why they are very keen not to carry out any terrorist activities that turn them into targets for Italian security agencies (2).
Second, strict counterterrorism laws
Italy started its fight against terrorism very early on. It started this fight soon after the 2001 developments. Rome took the following measures which went hand in hand with legal measures approved by the European Union:
- Founding the Financial Security Committee at the Ministry of Economy and Finance in the light of Law no. 431/2001. The committee is made up of 11 members and contains representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Central Bank, the National Corporations Committee, the Stock Exchange, the Italian Exchanges Association, Italian police, financial police and the National Anti-Mafia Administration. The committee works to prevent terrorist organizations from using the Italian financial system in carrying out their operations. It is mandated to freeze the bank accounts of individuals and organizations. It also works to oversee the implementation of the regulations of the European Union in this regard. Assets frozen by Italian administrative authorities until December 2006 were valued at 500,000 Euros. The authorities also confiscated funds and properties, whose value reached 4 million Euros at the request of the courts (3).
- Introduction of an article in the Italian Penal Code on conspirators and those who seek to form international terrorism cells. Measures were also taken to prevent international terrorist cells from carrying out operations in the light of article no. 438 for the year 2001.
- Introduction of new rules to the communications and information database in 2005. The new rules open the door for the repatriation of foreigners in cases connected with terrorism. They also allowed the creation of what is known as the “secret service” a new unit for supervising telephone lines to prevent terrorist attacks (4). The same rules allow the punishment of those who prove to have encouraged, formed, organized, managed or financed terrorist groups that plan attacks inside Italy. The rules also criminalized international terrorism and include measures against groups operating in Italy to encourage violence against other countries or against international organizations (5).
- Applying the segregation policy to those linked to terrorism. In 2015, Italy took a number of precautionary measures to keep terrorism, which was prevalent in Europe at the time, away from its territories. It repatriated ten people, most of them from Morocco. In 2014, Italian authorities deported 13 people (6). Italian authorities also closed down a number of mosques, because they were not licensed. This, however, triggered protests by the members of the Muslim community in Italy. They challenged the decision by planning a prayer on the streets and at a church in the Vatican (7). Then interior minister Angelino Alfano said the Italian government would ban unlicensed mosques as part of national anti-terrorism measures. Alfano referred to the presence of mosques and more than 800 Islamic centers in his country. He said his government would close down unlicensed centers to force them to hold Islamic rituals at authorized places (8).
- Creation of the counterterrorism Strategic Analysis Committee. The committee members collect information about suspects on a regular basis and then send this information to Italian police and the Italian intelligence. The committee members also hold regular meetings to assess the danger these suspects pose to Italian security. Suspects can be deported if they prove to pose real dangers. The Italian daily La Stampa reported earlier that a large number of suspects were close to deportation. These people, the newspaper said, included some preachers who kept moving between mosques in Italy. It added that these people also included some of those who “brain washed” Italian citizens with the aim of recruiting them in terrorist organizations and then sending them to the battlefields in countries like Syria. The newspaper said the same people move between a number of western states and do not operate in Italy alone (9).
- Italy has strict citizenship laws. This is one reason why few immigrants succeeded in getting Italian citizenship. This contributed to reducing risks.
All these measures helped Italy keep the lid on terrorism, compared with other states in Europe. Nevertheless, there are fears among the country’s government officials that Italy can be subject to attacks, especially in the light of a 2017 report by the Interior Ministry. The report referred to 129 people who left Italy and joined radical organizations in Syria, Iraq and other restive Middle East points. The report expresses fears against the return of these people to Italy (10).
Third, extensive record in the fight against the mafia
Italy’s success in the fight against terrorism can be attributed to its extensive record in fighting internal violence and organized crime. Rome had to take measures to keep the lid on terrorism inside it as well as on left-wing and right-wing extremists for decades. This happened especially between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. This was why this period was given the name “Years of Lead” (11).
Italy also had ethnic problems in the South Tyrol region where most of the population has been speaking German since the 1960s. There was also unrest at the beginning of this century. The left-wing terrorist organization, Red Brigades, was seen as the most dangerous extremist group in Italy after World War II. It was the most outstanding terrorist organization in the European continent as a whole.
Italy also has a long record in the fight against organized crime. It battled the criminal syndicate in Sicily, which was known by the name “Cosa Nostra”, for years. This was one of the most dangerous mafias in the world (13). Italy also fought against the organized crime group, Ndrangheta, in Calabria. All these experiences helped Italy develop its abilities in countering threats (14).
The Italian mafia apparently coordinates with the terrorists. The arrival of immigrants at the shelters brings money to the mafia. The arrival of the immigrants at the shelters also serves the cause of the terrorists. This is why the mafia is able to convince the terrorists not to stage any attacks inside Italy (15).
Fourth, Vatican factor
The presence of the Vatican as a symbol of western Catholic Christianity in Italy made it necessary for Italian authorities to take special security measures. The Vatican is known to be the smallest state in the world. It is located at the heart of the Italian capital. Its presence turned Rome into a principal spiritual center for the western civilization. Catholic Christians will consider any attack by Daesh on the Vatican as one against them all. Daesh had previously threatened to target the Vatican. In December 2017, the terrorist organization said it would stage attacks against the state of the Vatican. This coincided with Christmas celebrations when Daesh published a poster, featuring two of its fighters carrying arms and looking at the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican. This was not the first time Daesh threatened to target the Vatican, European states and the US on Christmas. On November 15, 2017, Daesh said it would stage major attacks against the Vatican on Christmas. In August 2017, it threatened to kill Pope Francis I and published a video that was shot in the Philippines showing organization fighters tearing up a photo of the Vatican pontiff, breaking the cross to pieces and destroying a status of Virgin Mary (16).
Pope Francis expressed fear from these repeated threats. Terrorist groups like Daesh, he said, could be hiding among the thousands of refugees who enter Europe. He said Rome could be a possible target for the terrorists. Rome, the Vatican pontiff added, cannot be totally secure against threats, but the authorities need to take all precautionary measures (17).
Fifth, fascism and the rise of the extremist right
Italy is amongst European states with the highest levels of Islamophobia, according to a survey conducted by the US-based Pew research center in 2016 (18). This reflects the negative view most Italians have about Muslim immigrants. Some aspects of fascism continue to manifest themselves in Italy, even as the Italian constitution bans this. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who was the federal secretary of the Northern League, gives priority to Italian citizens. The league is an extremist political party that won the latest parliamentary elections in Italy. The party opposes the freedom of Muslims to practice their rituals. He encouraged the authorities in northern Italy in February 2015 to ban mosques in the region. Italy’s politicians did not object to the decision. Then Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni only called for not linking Islam to terrorism (19).
Nonetheless, racist attacks took place against Muslims in Italy. In February 2018, an Italian man opened his gunfire on immigrants in the central Italian city of Macerata. The same man said he did this because he wanted to avenge the killing of an 18-year-old Italian girl who was killed by suspected Nigerian immigrants (20).
These attacks show that the Italians were prepared to tighten the noose around immigrants and consequently the terrorists. This contributed to helping Italy protect itself against terrorist attacks, even as racism is used by the terrorists to justify their own crimes.
Italian authorities are afraid that Daesh can infiltrate their country, especially after the defeat of the terrorist organization in both Syria and Iraq, even as huge security measures are taken to prevent this. Former Italian interior minister Marco Minniti warned against attacks on European states by Daesh fighters escaping Syria and Iraq. He said these fighters can use North Africa as a launch pad for attacks against Europe. These fighters, he added, can find a safe refuge in North Africa and turn the area into a springboard for attacks against Europe and Italy.
Some of the foreign fighters fighting in Syria and Iraq, he said, died and others will return to their home countries secretly.
Minniti said thousands of fighters can cross North Africa and into Europe on the way back home (21).
Such statements reflect worries in Italy about turning into a target for the terrorists. This was why Italian authorities beefed up security everywhere in the country and initiated security coordination with other countries, including the US which moved parts of its air force from an airbase in the UK to Italy.
Nonetheless, Italy has not formulated an organized counterterrorism strategy. This strategy is necessary to strengthen the national response to terrorist threats. Rome also needs to bolster its security cooperation with other European capitals. Italian government officials need to understand that their country is not totally immune from terrorist attacks.
Security measures taken by the Italian authorities also cause harm to peaceful refugees who have nothing to do with terrorism. The victory of the extremist right-wing coalition in the March 2018 parliamentary elections (23) will make these refugees a prime target for Italian authorities in case any terrorist attacks happen in Italy. The same attacks will increase racist crimes against these refugees.
Italy may formulate more strict anti-terrorism laws in the future, especially after the Italian parliament approved the formation of the new cabinet in June 2018 (24). The new cabinet contains members of the Northern League Party and the Five Star Movement Party. Both parties oppose the presence of immigrants in Italy in general.
1 – Jumana Manasra: Jihadist Extremism and Terrorism in Italy – Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center – Dubai – April 9, 2018 (https://www.almesbar.net/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%B7%D8%B1%D9%81-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%8A-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B1%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7/)
2 – Why did not terrorist attacks take place in Italy so far? – European Center for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies – October 26, 2017 (https://www.europarabct.com/%D9%84%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B0%D8%A7-%D9%84%D9%85-%D8%AA%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%B6-%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D9%84%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%8D-%D8%A5%D8%B1%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%A8%D9%8A)
3 – European Counterterrorism Strategy: Common goal and the privacy of each state – Deutsche Welle – April 27, 2007 (https://www.dw.com/ar/%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%8A%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%85%D9%83%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%AD%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B1%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%80-%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%81-%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%83-%D9%88%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%A9-%D9%84%D8%AE%D8%B5%D9%88%D8%B5%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%83%D9%84-%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9/a-2458690)
4 – Previous reference
5 – Counterterrorism measures in Italy – Site of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – May 3, 2007 (https://www.esteri.it/mae/ar/politica_estera/temi_globali/lotta_terrorismo)
6 – Italy fights terrorism by deporting 12 preachers – Dotmsr – January 2015 (http://www.dotmsr.com/news/199/182750/%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B1%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D8%A8%D8%B7%D8%B1%D8%AF-12-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D9%8A%D8%A9)
7 – Italy’s Muslims: We will pray at the Vatican – Russia Today site – November 11, 2016
8 – Italy may close down unlicensed mosques – Kataeb.org – November 28, 2015 (http://dev1.kataeb.org/%D8%A7%D9%8A%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D9%82%D8%AF-%D8%AA%D8%BA%D9%84%D9%82-%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%AF-%D8%BA%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%AE%D8%B5%D8%A9/2015/11/28/%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA/%D8%A3%D8%AE%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1)
9 – Previous reference
10 – Jumana Manasra – Previous reference
11 – Terrorism of Years of Lead Continues to Make Italy Wary – Ahram newspaper site – October 5, 2015 (http://gate.ahram.org.eg/News/645273.aspx)
12 – A radical left-wing organization that was founded 1970
13 – What do you know about the mafia? Skynews site – September 29, 2015 (https://www.skynewsarabia.com/varieties/778618-%D8%B9%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%A7–%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%B1%D9%81-%D8%B9%D9%86%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%9F)
14 – Francesco Marone: Jihadist Radicalization and Terrorism in Italy: A Happy Exception? – March 16, 2018 (https://eeradicalization.com/jihadist-radicalization-and-terrorism-in-italy-a-happy-exception/)
15 – European Center for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies – Previous reference
16 – Daesh threatens the Vatican – Aman site – December 30, 2017 (http://www.aman-dostor.org/3884)
17 – Vatican Pope warns against infiltration of refugees – CNN – September 15, 2015 (https://arabic.cnn.com/world/2015/09/15/pope-comments-isis-threat)
18 – Negative views of minorities, refugees common in EU – Pew Research Center – July 11, 2016 (http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/07/11/negative-views-of-minorities-refugees-common-in-eu/)
19 – Italy between the hammer of extremists and the anvil of populists – France 24 site – March 3, 2018 (http://www.france24.com/ar/20180302-%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B9%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AA%D8%B7%D8%B1%D9%81-%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B7%D8%A9-%D8%AE%D9%85%D8%B3-%D9%86%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%85-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%83%D9%88%D9%86%D9%8A)
20 – ‘Italians First’ … Hatred of foreigners fuels electoral battle in Italy – Hespress site – February 8, 2018 (https://www.hespress.com/international/380535.html)
21 – Italy: Escaping Daesh fighters may stage attacks from North Africa – el-Watan site – November 28, 2017 (http://www.3ajeel.com/article/1917730-%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D9%85%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%84%D9%88-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%82%D8%AF-%D9%8A%D8%B4%D9%86%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%87%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%B4%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%A5%D9%81%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%82%D9%8A%D8%A7)
22 – US moves military units to Italy to help it in counterterrorism operations – Dostor site – June 2, 2018 (https://www.dostor.org/2194657)
23 – State of political uncertainty in Italy after elections – Haberler.com – March 6, 2018 (https://ar.haberler.com/arabic-news-1176473)
24 – Italy: Giuseppe Conte takes up office after parliament’s approval – France 24 – June 7, 2018 (http://www.france24.com/ar/20180606-%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B7%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AB%D9%82%D8%A9-%D8%AD%D9%83%D9%88%D9%85%D8%A9-%D9%83%D9%88%D9%86%D8%AA%D9%8A-%D9%85%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%B3-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%A8-%D8%AA%D8%B5%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%AA)