A view from Italy: how to deal with jihadists returning from Syria? / News / News agency Inforos
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A view from Italy: how to deal with jihadists returning from Syria?

Italy has very efficient intelligence services, but too little investment in security

A view from Italy: how to deal with jihadists returning from Syria?

The San Donato terrorist attack in a bus staged by its Senegalese driver, which could have claimed the lives of 51 children, has once again actualized several problems of the Italian political discourse: migration, terrorism by radical fundamentalists and the crime prevention system, which still does not work in Italy. In this regard, we talked to Luca Guglielminetti, an expert with the RAN (Radicalization Awareness Network) Center of Excellence and the chief research officer of a pan-European FAIR project aimed to prevent the violent radicalization of prisoners and promote their reintegration into society.

- The prevented massacre of children in Milan, as well as efforts to control the flow of mercenaries who fought, in particular, in Syria, and the work of social services with fundamentalists in prisons, raise the following question: wouldn't it be easier to focus on prevention, to avert radicalization?

- In 2011, the European Union organized structures in its member states, which through the help of experts in the field of education and mental health, the prison system, computer specialists and the media developed action plans to prevent radicalization that should be applied in each of the EU countries. Unfortunately, in this regard Italy lags behind in comparison with Northern Europe, where the state invests in social security in order to prevent the involvement of socially vulnerable citizens in criminal actions: in our country such cases are simply blocked by the police.

- And what caused this very mode of operation by the Italian law enforcement agencies?

- Let's start with the fact that in Italy, the number of crimes by Islamic terrorists is quite low, currently we only have two terrorist attacks committed by jihadists, both failed. There were a little more than one hundred Italian "foreign mercenaries" fighting in Syria and Iraq, and those who returned to Italy from the conflict zones accounted for just six people. The number of people under supervision in Italian prisons as potential terrorists is about 500, 242 of whom are classified as posing the highest level of risk, 150 as posing the medium level of risk and 114 as posing the low level of  risk. Under strict supervision there are only 44 prisoners serving their sentences for crimes classified as international terrorism. It turns out that these very figures, combined with the broadly recognized effectiveness of Italian intelligence services, have become an obstacle for an increased funding to prevent the radicalization of Italian prisoners and the released. An attempt was made to overcome this trend by means of Manciulli-D'ambruoso's draft bill on radicalization submitted to the parliament of the previous convocation but never endorsed.

- According to the latest data, more than 5,000 EU citizens are ready to join terrorist organizations in the Middle East and North Africa. Does it turn out that Italy needs to change its traditional approaches to this problem at the end of the day?

- Surely. To date, Italy's investments account for zero euros, so it is very simple to do a lot more. At the same time, the EU is now very active in this matter, stimulating the member states both by appeals and financially: ranging from preventive measures, that is integration policy, training courses necessary to obtain citizenship and renouncing intercultural and interreligious hostility, to strengthening control over risk groups and actions aimed at fencing people off from radical communities before they commit any seditious acts.

There are also cases when young Italian women simply married in Syria and had children from terrorists, that is they did not commit crimes as such, but this is nevertheless considered unacceptable. Such people should also be on special record and aided to reintegrate into society upon their return to Italy. This is what the pan-European FAIR project is aimed at, being deployed in nine EU countries, including Italy, and having trained 170 employees who are currently working in prisons with about 50 people in the custody.

- In recent months, the issue of monitoring the return of foreign mercenaries to their homeland, as well as the repatriation of our fellow citizens from countries where armed conflicts have ceased, is becoming increasingly acute. How is it possible to track this category of returnees? Some experts argue that the mercenaries are not going to be charged because this will require the judgments from international tribunals. What is your opinion on the issue?

- I believe that the intervention of an international tribunal is very unlikely here. A definition of terrorism would have to be developed and adopted at the level of international law, and for the time being such a definition does not exist. Mutual recognition of a definition of terrorism on the part of the belligerents requires political will above all, which is not the case at the present moment, when we are almost solely faced with low-intensity conflicts that have been started without a real declaration of war. However, we realize that in order to deprive terrorism of its roots, it is necessary to recognize its existence as a fact of life, as it happened in Italy at the end of the "Years of Lead" (Ed. note: in Italy, the development of right-wing and left-wing extremism took place almost in parallel with each other. By the early 1970s this resulted in mass terrorism. In the 1970s, Italy was the "hottest" spot in Europe with the level of terrorism significantly exceeding that of other Western countries by every measure).

- Can the number of people who are running a potential risk of being involved in terrorism (radicalization) be increased in Italy? Is it possible that the mosques turn out to be recruiting centers?

- Of course, their number may increase, but slightly, because Italy has always maintained a low level of involvement in the pressing problems of the Middle East. Moreover, there are no real ethnic neighborhoods in our major cities, like in the French suburbs. Some mosques have once been centers to recruit new radicals, but now they are not even engaged in the process of preliminary selection, and our FAIR project rather effectively attracts Italian imams to participate in integration projects for the religious. About fifty imams from all over Italy voluntarily agreed to take part in our "day of dialogue between two cultures", because they realized their own fundamental role in this new era. However, we should always remember that, as the recent bloody terrorist attack in New Zealand and other racial clashes in Italy have shown, Islamism and islamophobia are the two sides of the same coin.

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