Why Italy's migrant problem has not led to terrorism

With huge numbers of undocumented migrants from hot spot Muslim countries one might have thought Italy would have a major terrorism problem. It doesn't, and that is because it just does its intelligence, policing, and community management better, and unshackled from political correctness

Migrants in Rome, but no connection to terrorism
Tim Hedges
On 29 June 2017 06:46

We are all familiar with the tragic pictures of migrants arriving on the shores of Italy’s southern islands. Thousands, of course, have drowned on the passage.

To confound the tragedy the Schengen Agreement has broken down and countries are closing their borders to prevent migrants leaving their first port of call.

Italian welfare groups have been handling huge numbers of displaced folk, many of whom are beginning to rebel against what they see as prison camps. Many try escaping. It is a disaster forever getting worse. But there is one strange aspect to it.

Commentators are now beginning to ask why Italy’s migration issue, concerning almost entirely Muslims and the large majority of them young males, has not produced any terrorist outrage, of the type that has been seen recently in France, Germany and Britain.

Not, at least, at the time of writing. Italy certainly offers some high visibility targets, from the Ghetto to the Vatican in Rome, and the crowded tourist sites in Florence and Venice. So how do the Italians do it?

It may of course be luck, but an investigation conducted by the Espresso Group and Guardian newspapers has turned up some possible reasons.

Italian counter terrorist measures were developed during the Anni di Piombo, the years of lead, which ran from the late ‘60s until the early ‘80s. During this time there were terror outrages from both left and right, and often, such as in the Piazza Fontana bombing in 1969, no one knew which side had done it. The police had to be smart.

The Italian authorities’ technique has been to maintain excellent communication between intelligence and police, such that there is a seamless flow of information. They suggest that in other countries the intelligence services maintain an unhelpful aloofness.

Italy is fortunate that its cities are fairly small. There is no room for, and they actively prevent, any build-up of regional ghettos such as the Paris banlieue or the strictly demarcated sections of Belfast.

Italy also has very few second and third generation immigrants. Until recently it was a country of emigration and few foreigners wanted to come except for tourism. This absence of Italians who might be radicalised means the police can concentrate on foreigners, who can be deported (as 135 have been this year).

From a human rights perspective, Italy deplores the low level blanket surveillance of the populace carried out in the UK and America, but does permit phone taps. These are easily authorised and, unlike in Britain, count as evidence in any subsequent trial.

Part of the policy often involves the breaking up of closely associated, often family groups. In this the Italians have experience from the anti-mafia years. There is an active supergrass programme, offering rewards such as residency.

In particular, the policy involves not holding them in prison, where they quickly radicalise.

But the biggest difference, perhaps, is the openness with which they go about handling suspects. Italy’s counter terrorism chief Franco Gabrielli gives the example of Youssef Zaghba, one of the three attackers on London Bridge.

Zaghba, a Moroccan born Italian, was known to the police in Bologna. Whenever he arrived here the police would see him at the airport and then visit him two or three times a day. They would chat, asking him what he was up to, where he had been.

Zaghba knew he was under surveillance, reducing the need for twenty covert officers on the job. His family knew he was under surveillance, his friends knew it.

The Italian police say they reported to Scotland Yard that he was under open surveillance here and it may be that this was somewhat lost in the translation, Scotland Yard thinking that he wasn’t up to much. In any case they stated that he was not on the British radar.

Who knows whether this system would work in the UK with its huge number of second and third generation Muslims and vast swathes of its smaller cities being purely Muslim areas. The Italian method has the flavour of community policing and perhaps our professionals would laugh at it.

It seems to have worked, though.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here 

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