“Modello Italia,” how to respond to the increasing terrorist threat in Italy

The terroristic threat is undergoing an evolution since the peak reached in 2015, after the Paris terrorist attack, considered as a change in the modality of the assault (from light weapons and explosive belts to knives and lorries against the crowd), the technology used and the targets, such as exclusively civil population and soft targets, due to major strategic advantages.[1]

As per today, Italy has not yet been involved in a terroristic attack; nevertheless, the threat posed by DAESH to the Country is present and incumbent. In particular, Rome is considered the final objective, as shown by the continuous threats present on Rumiyah, the magazine of DAESH.[2]

Looking back at the recent attacks in Europe, from the lorry against the Christmas market in Berlin, to the multiples attacks in London in March, May, and June, or the most recent in Barcelona, the response adopted by Italy proved to be efficient enough. Even when events as the Jubilee closed in November 2016, put Italy under the focus of terrorism, Italy remained intact, but as many experts highlighted, it’s just a matter of time.

At a national level, the measures adopted by Italy on its territory have been implemented recently, also thanks to the policy adopted by the newly appointed Minister of Interior, Marco Minniti. When he stepped in at the Ministry of Interior in December 2016, the first action put in place was the maintenance of the measures adopted during the Jubilee. It worked. But why?

Experts, and Minniti itself, always refer to an “Italian way” (Modello Italia) to fight terrorism. The truth can be found looking back at the Italian history: the measures adopted today by Italian institutions rely on the counter-terrorism policies established during the 1970s and the 1990s, while Italy suffered major attacks on its territory, due to national political issues and the strong activities of Cosa Nostra, especially between the 1980s and the 1990s. In addition to this, Italy does not have a fully radicalized population of immigrants of second-generation  and the measures adopted in the suburbs, especially in northern Italy, proved to be highly inclusive in comparison with the French banlieue.[3]

Italy has been able to combat the threat of terrorism focusing on local policies developing legal, financial and political tools,adaptable to the real threats existent, starting from the assumption that today no-one has a risk zero. It is just a matter of being prepared and prevention.

An important source of information to understand the commitment of Italy in fighting terrorism and ensuring the protection of its territory and population is the Relation presented annually by the Ministry of Interior to the Parliament. The Relation of 2016 reconfirms the existence of terrorist and cyber threats. An important role in assuring the right protection is played by the intelligence, as reformed in 2007, whose the activities are then backed and jointly directed with the CASA (Committee of Strategic Analysis of Counter-Terrorism), the armed forces and the interested Ministries (Defence, Interior and Finance), in line with the position adopted by the Government. Looking more into details, it is important to consider this commitment between political forces and the agencies of intelligence, since it is proving to be highly necessary to guarantee the smooth adoption of measures in full respect of the Italian political and legal system, in order to reach national strategic objectives.

In addition to this, the existence of a possible hybrid conflict and of a follow-up of terroristic activities, intended to identify strengths and weaknesses, exposes the Country to major risks. For these reasons, the Italian government is trying to consolidate Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), in order to enhance the cultural knowledge around intelligence and its involvement and integration into international cooperation scenarios with new competencies.

Always according to Relation of 2016 it also emerged that the activities of propaganda online, aiming to recruit new terrorists and to press for new attacks against the kafir (unfaithful) increased, while the power and the dominance of DAESH in the area of Siraq decreased. Due to this trend, the Italian activity of monitoring the web became more pressing and focused on the activity of silent cells or self-indoctrinated or self-trained subjects.

Another aspect under the lens of Italian analysts is the number of foreign fighters ready to leave Europe to move to Syria or Iraq. This data is relevant to better assess the potential threats. The trends analysed show that the less foreign fighters are willing to move to the war scenarios, but on the contrary the number of returns is increasing. At this regard, the Italian police service in the frame of the operation “Terre vaste,” during April 2016, issue six orders of custody for the crime of participation in terroristic activities including international terrorism.[4]

An eye is also kept on the flux of migrants due to the previous events of infiltrations. The Italian police forces recognize the existence of a contamination between criminal activities at local level and terroristic groups, especially for ID and financial support. In this regard, after many arrests of groups based on the Italian territory, guilty of trafficking false documents to allow suspect terrorists to move freely in the Schengen area after their arrival on the Italian coasts, measures have been taken to also stop the financing of terrorist activities. On February 2016 the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), of which Italy is member, released the “Consolidated FATF Strategy on combating Terrorist Financing”[5]; the document shed a light on suspect financial activities as part of the anti-terror measures. After the publication of this document, the Unità di Informazione Finanziaria per l’Italia[6] (Italian Financial Information Unit – UIF) absorbed the directives of the Strategy, boosting an international cooperation, based on the  exchange of information between financial authorities and the intelligence services, and a national cooperation, strengthening the relationship both with the CASA and the Direzione Investigativa Anti-mafia (DIA – Anti-mafia Investigation Directorate), setting up a financial intelligence at domestic level, has demonstrated by previous investigation in 2015/2016.[7]

As can be seen, a lot of efforts are put in the preventive measures at domestic level: after the terroristic attack of December 2016 in Berlin and the killing in Milan of Anis Amri, responsible for the attack,  by hand of two Italian policemen, the Minister of Interior, Marco Minniti, set up a new doctrine called “collaborative prevention.”[8] This new packet of measures asked for the involvement of local administrations, especially mayors, and the local police task forces together with police commissioners and prefects. According to Minniti, these local actors should be able to implement a strategy focused on an active vigilance and passive defense of the urban areas, in order to prevent lone wolves attacks.

Even if predictability is not possible at the moment, what makes Italy a good point of reference for anti-terror measures and to allow us to talk about “Modello Italia,” is the adoption of security measures not limitative for the population or the waves of tourists, such as the presence of security forces on the territory and the setup of measures, close to the one adopted during the Mafia era, regarding the intercepted phone calls that can be used as evidence in court. In addition to this, Italy put in place a cyber policy to shut down propaganda pages on the internet. All of these surveillance measures are not intended to violate the liberty of the citizens, and this plays in favour of Italian Institutions and their collaboration with the population.

Italy is dealing with terrorism, as it did with Mafia. This is the added value of the Italian example. As has been repeated often by Minniti, the Italian model should be adopted also by other European countries. Nevertheless, Italy’s alert level is Alfa-2. The zero-risk does not exist today and maybe will be also in the future, since the threat is evolving as well as the technology used and the subjects involved in the propaganda. For this reason, in order to reinforce more the security of its citizens and the infrastructures and the interests of the Country, Italy continues in pursuing the tool of the expulsions for security reasons: this method has proven to be effective, as the numbers demonstrated, in 2017 there have been 82 expulsions and 214 since January 2015.[9] The tool of expulsions allows the force of police to intervene before the radicalization process switches to the operational phase.

Always at the local level, due to previous cases of radicalisation during detention periods in Sicily and Calabria, it is important to set up programmes to guarantee the avoidance of such radicalisation in the particular context of detention, both for women and men, even the underage.

An eye must be kept to the maritime borders with Libya and with the Balkans. The presence of an Islamic population quite radical in the area, represent a threat to Italian security, since the area works as a hub for the recruitment of foreign fighters and as a safe haven for the foreign fighters, returning from Siraq; moreover, the Balkans are a fertile environment for radical Islamists for historical reasons.

The key-word for the “Modello Italiano” of anti-terror prevention is decentralization of the passive and active measures for counter-terror activities. Keeping the decentralization as the core of the anti-terror strategy, as well as the coordination with police forces and intelligence, the protection of the population as well as the protection of the borders is assured, even if the risks are still high.



Notes and references

[1] E. Cesca, “Come muta la minaccia terroristica.” Treccani Magazine, July 26th 2016. Retrieved: http://www.treccani.it/magazine/atlante/geopolitica/Come_muta_la_minaccia_terroristica.html

[2] To keep in mind that probably the idea of attacking Rome as final objective is to attack not only the city itself but the meaning behind the city, as symbol of Christianity.

[3] S. Kirchgaessner, and Lorenzo Tondo, “Why has Italy been spared mass terror attacks in recent years?.” The Guardian, June 23rd 2017. Retrieved: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/23/why-has-italy-been-spared-mass-terror-attacks-in-recent-years

[4] Relazione sulla politica dell’informazione per la sicurezza. Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri, February 2017. Retrieved: https://www.sicurezzanazionale.gov.it/sisr.nsf/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/relazione-2016.epub

[5] “Consolidated FATF Strategy on combatting Terrorist Financing,” Financial Action Task Force, January 2016. Retrieved: http://www.fatf-gafi.org/media/fatf/documents/reports/FATF-Terrorist-Financing-Strategy.pdf

[6] The UIF has been established in 2008 as organ of the Italian Bank. The Unity operates in autonomy and independence, and has a relevant role in the prevention of terrorism financing with regards to the mechanisms based on the lists of the “designated” subjects and the “freezing” measures in line with the anti-recycling measures and the collaboration between private actors and public institutions.

[7] C. Clemente, “Prevenzione e Contrasto ai canali di finanziamento del terrorismo.” Banca d’Italia, February 2nd 2017. Retrieved: https://uif.bancaditalia.it/pubblicazioni/interventi/documenti/Terrorismo_02022017.pdf

[8] C. Bonini, “Terrorismo, il nuovo schema di Minniti: “Sindaci e polizia locale ci aiuteranno a fermare i lupi solitari.” La Repubblica, December 22nd 2016. Retrieved: http://www.repubblica.it/politica/2016/12/22/news/terrorismo_difesa-154629389/

[9] Data available on October 5th 2017. Dossier Viminale, August 15th 2017. Retrieved: http://www.interno.gov.it/sites/default/files/modulistica/dossier_15_agosto.pdf

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