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Italian Migration Security Update: Anarchist Plots, Weapons Smuggling and a Controversial Extradition

June 12, 2016

By Elisa Sguaitamatti

Concerns have risen in recent days in major Italian cities, regarding several explosive devices found next to Italian Post Office facilities. Investigations are now underway in Turin, Genoa, Bologna and Parma. Initial police results indicate that the placement of these devices was likely to have been coordinated and carried out by a network of anarchic groups who are against the repatriation of migrants.

If correct, this would represent a new development in left-wing violence centered on the migration issue. In December 2015, Balkanalysis.com pointed out the growing convergence of activist and anarchist groups in Europe (and especially in Greece) due to the migrant crisis.

At the same time, the much-heralded extradition of an alleged Eritrean human smuggler from Sudan to Italy has caused problems, as doubts have been raised over whether the police in fact got the right man or not.

Explosive Devices in Turin and Genoa: Anarchist Traces Confirmed

Turin: A 5 litre oil tank, a timer and wires were discovered on 9 June next to a Post Office automatic teller machine in downtown Turin, near the famous tower of the Mole Antonelliana.

When the post office employees sounded the alarm, bomb disposal experts cordoned off the area and conducted a controlled explosion of a rudimentary device. Although it could have caused a serious  conflagration, due to technical problems it did not explode.

According to police, the placement of the IED represented a terrorist act organized by anarchic-insurrectionary groups involved in direct actions against the Italian Post Office, and affiliated companies used for contributing to the management of the Identification Expulsion Centres for migrants. A week earlier, a washing machine and a security system firm had been targeted because they were believed to be supportive of the Post Office Group (Gruppo Poste Italiane), which has been playing an important role in cooperation with the Italian Minister of Interior in the expulsions of hundreds of undocumented migrants living in Italy.

Genoa: Similar explosive devices were found in Genoa the evening before, on June 8, next to the local post office. A tank containing a dangerous mix of oil, alcohol, bleach, battery, wires and a ticking time bomb was ready to be detonated at the Post Office facility.

Two block of flats nearby were evacuated as the explosion of the bomb could have caused serious damage, mainly due to the presence of bleach, making it very risky for passers-by. After studying the video surveillance recordings of the area, Digos (General Investigation and Special Operations Division of the Italian Police) has no more doubts regarding the revival of the anarchic campaign against the Identification Expulsion Centres.

Asked to clarify the current events, a policeman stated: “this is a clear revival of a long-running campaign by the anarchists and Turin is one of the main epicentres. That’s why we strongly believe there’s a connection between the bomb in Turin and the one in Genoa”.

The Genoan newspaper Il Secolo XIX wrote that “the subtle boundary betweean n intimidating act and attack is no longer true for the Geoan episode. This was an effective powerful bomb which didn’t go off because one of the wires had not been connected, but the most probable case scenario is that it accidentally disconnected”.

The Italian investigators believe that the bomb in Genoa was put by a Piedmont-native anarchist who had some local connections in Genoa. The confirmation of these suspects came directly from the website of an anarchic movement, in the section “direct actions” where it was uncovered that they were the authors of the“raids reported by the Italian mass media”. Genoa’s prosecution is proceeding against the attack for terrorism.

‘Solidarity’ over Migrant Deportations as Triggers for Anarchist ‘Direct Action’

Terrorist actions by anarchic movements are not something new. Over the last months several activists have been targeting the Post Office institutions and its air company, Mistral. In the leaflets they handed out a month ago in Genoa, anarchists accused Mistral Air Company of organising a flight with the largest amount of migrants yet deported, on 12 May.

This referred to an event in which more than 200 African immigrants were spotted in the Ligurian city of Ventimiglia at the French-Italian border and then deported to their countries of origin on that date. This was not the first time that anarchic movements had acted at different levels to draw attention to the immigration issue. As an illustration, sabotage to the automatic machines of the Post Offices both in Genoa and Turin were executed last month.

On those occasions one of the documents that anonymous anarchists left outside the PO venue was claiming responsibility for the attacks and said: “Italian Post Office Group together with the air company Mistral Air is deporting migrants, taking them away from the streets to get to new hot spots structures or to return them to their home countries. Our solidarity and thoughts go out to all those who are imprisoned, to the migrants that at the moment are being deported from Ventimiglia”.

Other Recent Acts of Intimidation in the Emilia Romagna Region

Bologna: An oil tank with some wires was found lying on the floor next to the Post Office in via di Saliceto in downtown Bologna. However, there was no ticking time bomb and no claim of responsibility for its appearance.

The intimidating action was possibly the work of anarchists protesting against the repatriation of hundreds of migrants. The Italian Carabinieri, in collaboration with firefighters, bomb disposal experts and the Special Unit of Digos intervened.

The device was supposedly a warning act against the Italian Post Office for its leading role in the repatriations. Last month an analogous episode occurred, when Post Office automatic teller machines were put out of order and door locks were closed by using glue. In that case, anarchists claimed responsibility, and left a banner which stated: “very few people know that by means of its own air company Mistral the Italian Post Office Group has been working closely with the Ministry of the Interior over the last 5 years to transfer undocumented immigrants from Identification Expulsion Centres still opened to either new hot spots or back to their country of origin”.

Parma: The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), located in Parma, received a parcel with explosive material on June 7. Based on the first ackowledgments of the investigations, the envelope contained powdered explosive material and wires which could have caused serious damage had it been opened.When the suspicious, book-sized package arrived at the box office of EFSA – addressed to a former employee of the European institution – it immediately came under scrutiny and was checked like the rest of postal packages, under a metal detector and x-rays.

A worker in the Authority’s mail room alerted the local police. When the authorities arrived, two floors of the building (the canteen and the basement floor) were evacuated, while the bomb was neutralised in the courtyard. La Repubblica confirmed the account. When asked about the incident, a police spokeswoman declared that “the parcel contained enough explosive material to maim”.

Once again, the first hypothesis is that it was allegedly a gesture of an anarchic-insurrectionary matrix, according to the Bologna Prosecutor; this especially because lately attacks and criticism have been frequent from the multifaced galaxy of anarchic groups.

Apparently on this occasion their efforts manifested against policies related to the current approval of GMOs and of an herbicide which has been considered unsafe and carcinogenic. (Similar protests on this theme have also recently occurred elsewhere in Europe).

The Parma Prosecutor, Antonio Salvatore Rustico, underlined that the act had been referred to the Bologna District Attorney Office, which is tasked with all investigations related to attacks of a terrorist nature.

Finally, the Adjunt Prosecutor, Valter Giovannini talked to journalists, stating that “a dossier would be opened due to the usage of explosive material in public places with the aggravating factor of terrorism. It will be a complex and difficult investigation”. The Italian Minister of Agricultural Policy expressed his solidarity with the European institution EFSA, to its CEO, Bernhard Url and all the workers. Further, he commented: “I thank all the investigators who prevented serious consequences and worked for our security. I would like to firmy state that the Food Safety Agency is essential to Italy and that we are honored to have the EFSA right here in our country”.

Intelligence and Migrant Smuggling of migrants: the Controversial Arrest of Mered Medhanie Yehdego

The anarchists (and other critics) may have a new cause celebre in addition: the arrest and extradition to Italy of an alleged Eritrean migrant smuggling kingpin, who may be the victim of mistaken identity. If so, this would constitute a major embarrassment for British-Italian intelligence cooperation, as a major press release had been made glorifying this cooperation and the operation in general.

The refugee crisis has become an increasingly prominent issue on the Italian agenda. Italy is struggling to tackle the flows of migrants coming from Central Africa and Libya as well as from the the Balkans to Europe. Tensions have mounted over the many cases of human traffickers involved in the smuggling of migrants, and pressure is increasing on security authorities across Europe to make big arrests of such people.

During the same days when Post Offices were becoming an easy target for anarchists to criticise the repatriation of undocumented migrants, allegedly one of the most dangerous human traffickers operating between Central Africa and Libya was extradicted to Italy after being arrested in Khartoum. The 35-years-old Eritrean smuggler, reportedly also known as “The General”, was said to be the kingpin of a wide criminal organisation of people smugglers.

The man claimed to be Yehdego was accused of having sent at least 13,000 people to Europe, organising gangs of traffickers. He was recorded by intelligence services laughing about the fatal overloading of smuggling ships sent acrss the Mediterranean Sea towards Italian shores. He also was said to bear some responsibility for the 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck, in which 359 people died after their small boat sank off the Italian coast.

The arrest operation was carried out byBritain’s National Crime Agency (with SIGINT support from GCHQ) and its Task force specially focused on fighting illegal immigration, Europol and the Italian Police also cooperated with the British and the Sudanese government. The extradition was coordinated by the Palermo Chief Prosecutor, Francesco Lo Voi.

Soon after, Britain’s National Crime Agency claimed that the arrested man is “one of the world’s most wanted people-smugglers”. However, shadows have been cast by the BBC and The Guardian; drawing on testimony of the man’s family and friends, as well as a journalist, Meron Estefanos, who interviewed the smuggler a year ago, they reported that all agreed the wrong person was caught.

Those close to the extradited man claim that his name is Medhanie Mered Tesfamariam Berhe, 29, an innocent refugee who the authorities mistook for Mered Medhanie Yehdego. The Italian authorities are now investigating whether they are detaining the wrong person following the inquiries of Operation Glauco.

The pressure on both Italian and British law inforcement is now rising as more claims are coming from Mered’s former victims- who did not recognize the man from the images broadcast at his arrival in Rome. Palermo Chief Prosecutor Lo Voi, speaking from Sicily, where the inquiries began, added: “we are leading the appropriate investigations about this unusual situation. All we can say is that the report of the extradicted person, his arrest and his extradition in Italy were disclosed in an official document from the National Crime Agency, Interpol and the Sudanese authorities. We’ll have more details in the next few weeks”.

Weapons Smuggling: Dangerous New Linkages between North African Criminal Networks and Italian Organized Crime

On 7 June, the Italian Carabinieri, in strict cooperation with Europol, were able to arrest Carmelo Piacente and his companion Simona Puccia, two leaders of a mafia clan very close to the criminal group Cosa Nostra. They were arrested for international smuggling of weapons.

The Local District of Antimafia Directorate started investigating a year ago after intecepting a parcel containing firearms and some ammunition. The suspects had purchased more than 160 inactive firearms from a company located in Slovakia called Afg Security, for nearly 45,000 euro.

All the firearms had their barrels perforated by a pin. Therefore they were temporarily inactive and not ready to be sold elsewhere. However, the smuggling network was up and running all the time and the firearms were normally sent to Malta by international courier service TNT, so that they could be reactivated and ready to be used before getting to the final destination in North Africa.

Italian investigators disclosed that there were clear and consolidated links between the two mafia suspects and certain Egyptian criminal networks. This shows a strong link between African criminals and Italian organized crime leaders, which have always been considered two seemingly distant worlds in their activities. However, as Egypt becomes a bigger migrant exporter, it is likely that this synergy will grow. Balkanalysis.com has consistently warned of the likely widening threat of a second wave of migrant smuggling, and the Egyptian and Libyan smugglers trying to reach Greece and Italy will thus also likely deepen their cooperation with organized crime on the weapons front as well in the months to come.

 

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