Terror attacks in western Europe have seen a huge surge over the past two years, since 2015, there have been 53 attacks way up from just two in 2014. Horrific tragedies in France, Britain and Belgium come to mind. But one country, to date, has been largely spared. Our Scott Thuman traveled to Italy and found some remarkable reasons why.
Rome. One of the oldest cities in Europe, called the Eternal City and has survived the rise and fall of empires. But in this current global war on terror, it has remained unscathed. So why so safe, so far?
Scott Thuman: How much of it, would you say is good work and intelligence, and how much of it is good luck?
Giampiero Massolo: Well you know in life, you always need luck so it’s an inevitable combination, actually.
Giampiero Massolo was Italy’s Director of Intelligence from 2012 to 2016. He says the way current terrorist organizations operate is similar in some respects to another group they’ve been fighting for decades, the Mafia. And that experience is paying off.
Italy monitors suspects closely, has constant and open communication with police at the local level and, a key tool, wire and phone taps, can be approved at lightning speed.
Giampiero Massolo: All the process is fairly quick and this is something that we learned exactly from domestic terrorists and from Mafia we developed these kinds of things
And without some of the strictures of other European nations, like Germany or Belgium, highly sensitive to people’s privacy and often reluctant to surveil or tap citizens.
After they find potential targets, or threats, the Italians employ another fast tactic: deportation.
Giampiero Massolo: We conduct a very severe policy of expulsions. That is, we kick off people from this country in a very early stage, we don’t wait. Better sooner than later.
Scott Thuman: And when you decide to deport someone, to kick them out, you can do it pretty quickly, can’t you?
Giampiero Massolo: Yes, yeah.
Italy, and specifically the Vatican, has long been a target of ISIS. In fact, just last year the terror group renamed its on-line magazine, Rumiyah. Translation: Rome.
The police and military presence in Rome seems overwhelming, from the Coliseum to the Trevi Fountain, tourists are blatantly reminded of the threat, and would-be attackers, reminded of the forces they would face, between serious-minded soldiers and a serious array of security cameras. And ironically, there is another mafia factor at play, Nicola Pedde of the Institute for Global Studies says, that is protecting the country.
Niola Pedde: For example, Italy has very strict regulation, uhh, with effect to firearms. And, uh, so, if you don’t have a legal capacity to, to buy and to hold firearms, the only chance is, to, resort to the organized criminality
Scott Thuman: So, if a Jihadist or a sympathizer, someone radicalized, wanted to get their hands on weapons illegally, they might have to go to organized crime families or the Mafia to get them, and that family may say ‘no.’
Nicola Pedde: Yes. Ninety percent, they will have to refer to them.
The Muslim community as a whole, also, has a peculiar position in italy. Despite more than a million followers living here, Islam is not recognized as an official religion, which makes opening schools or community centers more difficult. The minaret at the Grand Mosque is the only symbol of Muslim faith you’ll see in the Roman skyline. But one of its leaders says that’s all the more reason for Muslims to be peaceful, and eventually, with hopes of winning over government skeptics.
Scott Thuman: So to be a good Muslim, you said, is to be a good Italian?
Imam Salah Ramadan Elsayed: Yes, according to the Koran!
Imam Salah Ramadan Elsayed says efforts to maintain a peaceful reputation for Muslims in Italy is critical work. And sometimes that work takes him behind bars, where radicalization can occur.
Imam Salah Ramadan Elsayed: it’s very important for the Imam to visit prisoners, to reach them. You are eating here and you are drinking the water of Italy so you must be loyal to Italy!
Scott Thuman: So you’re saying, by going to prisons, by speaking to people and teaching them not only to love Islam but to love Italy
Imam Salah Ramadan Elsayed: Yeah to be integrated
Scott Thuman: prevents radicalization and prevents attacks?
Imam Salah Ramadan Elsayed: Yeah, it helps very much to prevent attacks to prevent the formation of bad mentality, to make open mentality.
The lack of attacks may also be partially due to Italy’s reduced combat role in the anti- Islamic State coalition. And, maybe, by avoiding the accusations and labels, that might make them a target.
Scott Thuman: Are you, are you saying that Italy doesn’t make as many enemies?
Nicola Pedde: If you look, for example, the case of, uh, Italy with respect to groups like Hezbollah. Hezbollah is not recognized as a terrorist entity in Italy, or the Muslim Brotherhood. So our position is, is quite different from most of the others.
Scott Thuman: Are you surprised, that you’ve been so successful so far?
Nicola Pedde: Ha, you know we live day by day and so we are sober enough to think that sooner or later, but until now it didn’t happen.