Italy’s anti-terror police arrest ‘prison jihadist recruiter’

One person has been arrested in a series of raids carried out by Italy's anti-terror squad on Tuesday morning.

Italy's anti-terror police arrest 'prison jihadist recruiter'
File photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Tunisian national Saber Hmidi, 34, was formally arrested in connection with new charges while serving a three year, eight months sentence for possession of an illegal weapon and assaulting a police officer.

Police confirmed that the Tunisian is suspected of belonging to Libyan organization. Ansar Al-The group has links to Al Qaeda and police said in a press conference on Tuesday that it supports and fights with Isis. 

Tuesday's anti-terror operation, targeting individuals thought to belong to terrorist organizations based on investigations which began in 2014, took place across the region of Lazio, which contains the capital Rome. 

“His goal was to send fellow prisoners into conflict theatres once they were released,” said Augusto Zaccariello of the Italian rison police.

Wiretaps of Hmidi's phone conversations also suggested he planned to travel to Syria after his release, but that he was not plotting any terrorist attacks in Italy, the officer told a press conference.

The police video below shows some of the items seized in the raids, including a black flag and knives, displayed at an 11am press conference in Rome.

Police said that the man arrived in Italy in 2008 and was granted permission to stay after marrying an Italian woman, with whom he had a child. He lived in Ciampino, on the outskirts of Rome, did not work and had already spent time in prison in Italy for crimes unrelated to terrorism, including robberies and drug dealing. 

“This operation demonstrates how prison can be a place of spreading terrorist ideologies,” said one of the officers. 

Another officer added that the investigation confirmed that networks of extremists in Italy are “increasingly fragmented, less connected; micro-groups or single individuals”, which makes them “more dangerous” as it can be harder to track down those involved.

The other individuals targeted had links to the arrested man, police said, explaining there had been five further raids, but that the operation had been concluded and no further arrests were expected.

The arrest was made two weeks after it emerged that Berlin Christmas market attacker Anis Amri may have been radicalized in a Sicilian jail.

Amri spent four years in jail in Italy for arson, before travelling to Germany. After allegedly carrying out the attack on a market, he fled to Italy, where he was fatally shot by police on December 23rd.

Only a handful of Italian residents are known to have joined jihadist groups in the Middle East and the country is not seen as having a significant problem with homegrown Islamist militancy.

But Amri's case has focused attention on the possibility that some of Italy's prisons could be breeding grounds for jihadism.

In a separate police operation carried out by Italy's postal police on Tuesday, postal police arrested two for 'cyber-spying' on Italy's police and public institutions.

The two were living in London, England but were legally resident in Rome, Ansa reported, and had been illegally intercepting emails and phonecalls.




Italy’s president calls for ‘full truth’ on anniversary of Bologna bombing

President Sergio Mattarella said on Tuesday it was the state's duty to shed more light on the 1980 bombing of Bologna's train station, on the 42nd anniversary of the attack that killed 85 people and injured 200.

Italy's president calls for 'full truth' on anniversary of Bologna bombing

On August 2nd 1980, a bomb exploded in the railway station’s waiting room, causing devastation on an unprecedented scale.

Five members of terrorist groups were later convicted in relation to the bombing, the worst episode in Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’ period of political violence in the 1970s and 80s.

Most recently, in 2020, a former member of the far-right Armed Revolutionary Nucleus (NAR) was sentenced to life imprisonment for providing logistical support to those who carried out the attack.

But suspicions remain of cover-ups and the involvement of “deviant elements” within the nation’s security services, reported Italian news agency Ansa.

READ ALSO: Bologna massacre: 40 years on, questions remain over Italy’s deadliest postwar terror attack

“The bomb that killed people who happened to be at the station on that morning 42 years ago still reverberates with violence in the depths of the country’s conscience,” Mattarella said in a speech marking the anniversary on Tuesday.

“It was the act of cowardly men of unequalled inhumanity, one of the most terrible of the history of the Italian Republic.

A train compartment at Bologna station pictured following the 1980 bombing attributed to the neo-fascist terrorist organization Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari.

“It was a terrorist attack that sought to destabilise democratic institutions and sow fear, hitting ordinary citizens going about their everyday tasks.

“On the day of the anniversary our thoughts go, above all, to the relatives forced to suffer the greatest pain.

“The neo-fascist nature of the massacre has been established in court and further steps have been made to unveil the cover-ups and those who ordered the attack in order to comply with the Republic’s duty to seek the full truth”.

The bombing remains Western Europe’s fourth deadliest postwar terror attack, and one of the most devastating in Italy’s history.