Compared to France, Germany, or Britain, Italy’s problem with domestic jihadism is relatively modest, yet it is growing fast, thanks to the wars in Syria and Iraq. A new report in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s paper of record, based on current intelligence from Italian secret services, paints a disturbing picture of rising radicalism.
At present, according to the latest intelligence in Rome, some fifty Italians are fighting with the Islamic State (IS — get my assessment of that dangerous group here), of whom a shocking eighty percent are converts, not immigrants or born Muslims. Many go abroad to wage holy war after a surprisingly brief period of conversion and radicalization. They are very young and come mostly from northern Italy. The Salafi jihadist scene in Italy is fragmented regionally and a key role is played by what Italian intelligence terms “liaison officers,” the individuals who facilitate the recruitment of new holy warriors and get them to the war zone. Over 200 of these “liaison officers” are currently being monitored by the security services. They play a critical role, and here the Italian experience is different from most European countries, as Corriere della Sera explains:
Our intelligence considers them to be very dangerous because they have returned to our country after a period of training in secret bases, mostly in Afghanistan. They are a totally new phenomenon, going against the trend by comparison with other European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Belgium. In those countries most of the jihadists recruited — and they are far more numerous than Italy’s jihadists — go directly to fight as volunteers in the theaters of conflict. In Italy the opposite occurs. Most of them stay behind to offer logistical, organizational, and recruitment support on our soil, which is considered a nerve center. This, among other reasons, because migrant integration and intake policies are making it increasingly difficult to identify, among the poor wretches who land on our shores, those individuals who are returning from Syria or from Libya with leading roles and who are capable of acting as a focal point for new recruits.
Those recruits are very young, mostly between eighteen and twenty-five years of age, and so far exclusively male. To date, ten Italian jihadists have been killed in Syria. Nearly all have been recruited via the internet:
Indoctrination takes place with pervasive and rapid techniques which prompt these kids to take the crucial step of departing for war theaters in a very short time. These powerfully manipulative psychological techniques have been tried and tested in the training camps for young suicide bombers in Pakistan. When the IS’s recruits are ready, they can rely on liaison officers to organize their transportation, which is often a one-way journey only.
Although some jihadists come from Rome and Naples, most are from the north, with high extremist activity being noted by Italian intelligence in the Brescia area, along with the cities of Turin and Milan, as well as Ravenna and Bologna, the Padua area, and the Valcamonica region, while Cremona is a particular hotspot for would-be jihadists, because the Bosnian extremist Bilal Bosnić, who heads IS recruitment in his country (see my analysis here) has spent time there and is very popular due to his fiery sermons urging holy war against the West and “infidels.”
Neither can the jihadist problem in Italy be separated from the migration crisis that is facing the country, as intelligence reports conclude than many of the 200 “liaison officers” working in the country have arrived illegally, mixed in with the economic migrants who are flooding southern Italy. For the secret services, detecting the criminals in the mix has been nearly impossible so far.