Italy Steps up Anti-Terrorist Security
28 Sep 2002 02:17 UTC
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than 30 alleged members of the al-Qaida terror organization have been
arrested in Italy since the September 11 attacks last year in the United
States. Italian authorities were not always this aggressive in pursuing
the attacks in the United States, Italian investigators have made serious
efforts to identify and arrest anyone believed to be an operative or
supporter of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. This, analysts say, is
not the way Italy used to behave.
director of the Rome-based Global Security research center, Giorgio
Prinzi, says, in the past, international terrorists found it relatively
easy to carry out their business in Italy. For them, he says, it was a
tranquil base for operations, where they enjoyed a certain level of
freedom of movement and action.
Prinzi says Islamic extremism, which has always been seen as Middle
Eastern terrorism, enjoyed a certain degree of what he called complicity
with the authorities. He adds there were tacit accords between the
Italian authorities and radical groups, the police would ignore the
terrorists, as long as the terrorists did nothing against Italian
territory or interests.
officials deny that any such accords existed. Luigi Ramponi is chairman
of the defense committee of Italy's lower house of parliament. Far from
ignoring the terrorists, Italian investigators fully cooperated with
their counterparts in the Middle East and North Africa to ensure
stability and security in the Mediterranean, says Luigi Ramponi, chairman
of the defense committee of Italy's lower house of parliament.
Mr. Prinzi insists there was no real political will to arrest extremists,
although the authorities knew who they were. He says, this situation
could no longer continue after the September 11 attacks. Italians began
to think they could also be vulnerable. From then on, he says, the
authorities went from watching the terrorists to hunting them down.
Prinzi says, over the years, the groups had let down their guard, and the
police were able to put to good use the time they had spent quietly
Rome-based political analyst, Vittorfranco Pisano, a former consultant to
the U.S. Senate's subcommittee on security and terrorism, says Italy's
geographically strategic position, as a Mediterranean country in Europe
and between Africa and Asia, induced extremists to conduct support
activities on its territory.
Pisano explains that "The activity that goes on in Italy consists
primarily in personnel-oriented operations and logistical support
operations, rather than terrorist attacks as such."
to Colonel Pisano, the extremist elements operating on Italian territory
originate mainly from North Africa, although some come from Iraq and
Pakistan. He adds they set up activities such as clothing stores or
butcher's shops, which appear to be legitimate on the surface, but are
often a cover for illegal activities.
are various locations in Italy, which constitute a base for unlawful
activity, all within the support sphere: The acquisition or forgery of
identification or travel documents, the collection and recycling of funds
through businesses and charities, the procurement and dispatching of
weapons, explosives and chemical agents to other areas of the world,
obviously, for terrorist activities," explains Colonel Pisano.
"Then we can also add facilitating clandestine entry into Italy, as
well as recruitment of Muslims from the local Islamic community for
training in other countries, or for direct involvement in Europe or
Tunisians were convicted earlier this year in a Milan court of helping
al-Qaida recruits get fake documents. It was the first al-Qaida-related
guilty verdict since the attacks.
authorities had named Milan's Islamic center as a logistical aid station
for al-Qaida operatives.
addition to the arrests they have made in recent months, Italian
authorities have managed to thwart an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Rome
and on the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, which has a fresco
depicting the prophet Mohammed burning in hell. Italian police have also
stepped up security at airports, train stations and sensitive targets
across the country.
Italy's aggressive attitude toward al-Qaida and similar organizations,
Colonel Pisano believes such precautions are now necessary. "If, at
a certain point, certain groups come to the conclusion that Italy is no
longer useful as a bridge or a corridor, that it can no longer be
exploited in logistical and recruitment terms, then they might decide
because of its closeness to the areas from which these extremists
originate, then it might be worthwhile to attack targets on Italian
territory," he points out.
colonel says the purpose of the attacks would be to intimidate the
Italian people and to secure the release of those arrested. And, he adds,
another concern for Italian authorities is that some terrorist groups may
decide to act independently.
have been held in check by the fact that, until now, there was some
degree of central control on the part of the terrorist organizations
themselves," he adds. "But as these terrorist organizations
begin to suffer setbacks, then you may be seeing far more freelancing
than we have been seeing until now."
Prinzi of the Global Security research center agrees that Italy is wise
to step up its security measures. After years as a bystander in the fight
against terrorism, Mr. Prinzi says, the Italian government is now playing
a far more active role. Italy's new attitude has won it new friends, but
also gained it new enemies, many of whom live in Italy.
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