By Giancarlo Elia Valori*
Moez al-Fezzani, a Tunisian citizen popularly known by his initial nom de guerre Abu Nassim, was arrested with other Daesh-Isis members in Sirte, between Rigdaleen and Al Jimail, Libya, on August 18, 2016. Already taken to trial in Italy for terrorist recruitment, Abu Nassim was obviously acquitted in Milan – a city which, since the time of the Mosque in Viale Jenner, is “the main centre of Al Qaeda in Europe”, as stated in a CIA report of ten years ago.
The Islamic Cultural Institute (ICI) in Milan was created in 1988, upon the initiative of some members of the Egyptian movement Jamaa al Islamiya. It immediately became a center to gather, train and fund the Islamists going to fight in Bosnia.
A stupid Western war enabling Alja Izetbegovic – the leader of the Bosnian Republic of Sarajevo, as well as author of a book prophetically entitled “Islamic fundamentalism” – to create an Islamist area in the Balkans serving the interests of Afghanistan, Chechnya, Al Qaeda (at the time, Bin Laden was often in Sarajevo) and Kosovars.
At the time, the cells and training camps of ICI – which enjoyed strange, but large amounts of money – were in Gallarate, Como, Varese and Cremona.
Considering Pareto’s theory of the persistence of aggregates, it would be nice to keep on following these groups, even though it results that ICI was dismantled.
Hence, at first, we must note the strange persistence of terrorist networks.
In Catalonia there was the Algerian citizen Bellil Belgacem, working for a halal butcher of Vilanova i la Geltrù, who organized the attack on our base at Nasiriyah. Later Belgacem was also in Milan – Viale Jenner, of course – before finally arriving in Syria from where he perpetrated the attack on our base in Iraq, by killing 19 Italian soldiers.
The “foreign” jihadists are those who usually organize terrorist attacks, as it is likely that their cover in the attack area is known to the local intelligence services.
Nevertheless the great cover and motivation networks – another key factor for assessing the jihad – remain, assuming that there are no serious threats of infiltration or dismantling.
Belkacem was identified because – as always happens – the Italian intelligence services had sent biological material of the attacker also to the Spanish Guardia Civil that unexpectedly solved the problem.
The house where the terrorists who organized the attack in Barcelona lived is another factor of the persistence of networks, owned by Mohamed Mrabet Fahsi, the Head of the cell held responsible for the terrorist attack in the Atocha station, Madrid, on March 11, 2004.
The “journalists” who killed Shah Massoud, also known as the Lion of Panjshir, one day before the 9/11 attack, by asking him as first question – a second before killing him – “Why are you so upset with Osama Bin Laden?” came from Moleenbeek, the municipality in the Brussels-Capital Region which was to become even more notorious years later.
Hence the first factor is the persistence of networks, but only if the network is wide, reliable and capable of mobilizing a sufficiently large cover area, made up of Islamists who never mobilize for the “infidels” or of smart manipulators, as is often the case with the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who weaken and defuse the attacks and sometimes attribute them to “Islamophobia”.
But the history of jihadist threats to Italy is long and overlaps with the actions which have been carried out by Al Qaeda and Daesh-Isis in the rest of Europe for too many years.
The first major report in Italy’s recent history dates back to March 2014, when the Moroccan intelligence services alerted the Italian ones, thus avoiding three attacks by the skin of their teeth – in the Milan subway, in the Basilica of St. Anthony, Padua and in the Church of St. Petronius, Bologna.
The Church in Bologna is well-known for its fresco portraying Muhammad in Hell (Canto XXVIII of Dante’s Divine Comedy), as sower of discord, together with Ali, the first Shi’a Imam.
Another constant feature is the choice of highly symbolic or highly damaging targets for the “infidels” so as to spread the terror which blocks the opponents’ reactions and intimidates them.
The symbolism is for internal use and unites the jihadists in an apparently “high” purpose.
Then the jihad rank-and-file comes in to play down, hide and relativize.
Hence either mass – the maximum amount of victims – or symbol, namely the destruction of the true or alleged anti-Islamic image.
Moreover, in the Hell – Canto XXVIII, Muhammad tells Dante to warn the schismatic and heretic Frà Dolcino.
Hence should there be an alliance between the Islamists and the followers of the Piedmontese heretic of Valsesia?
Furthermore, at the time, the front cover of the official magazine of Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate, Dabiq, showed the black flag of the Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate flying atop the Egyptian obelisk at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
What is the symbol for? Simply for showing the policy line to the militants, i.e. to hit the Church and nothing else; to later terrorize the enemy, according to the warfare technique indicated by the Qur’an and the ahadit and finally to mislead the opponent’s operations.
War is deception, a Koranic theme that must be never forgotten.
In that phase, not long after the 2001 attack on the Jemaa el Fna square in Marrakesh, the Moroccan intelligence services that had warned Italy also neutralized 126 jihadist cells, arrested 2,676 Daesh-Isis militants and nipped 276 attacks in the bud.
Another constant feature of jihadist terrorism is that it is created and recreated at great speed, so as to confuse the opponents, direct them towards “old” networks and conceal networks while preparing the attacks.
Throughout 2015, Twitter and other social media published photos with Isis militants appearing in front of political, mass and historical-artistic sites in Italy with the hashtag “We_Are_Coming_O_Rome” or “Islamic State in Rome”.
We have never had doubts on the active presence of jihadist networks in Italy.
In fact, last May a network of illegal migrant traffickers between Bari, Catania and Salerno was dismantled – a network of Somalis who had contacts with groups of jihadists they probably funded thanks to the proceeds of their trafficking.
Apart from the small talk of “misguided idealists” or of incompetent politicians, it is obvious that illegal immigration covers up the creation of jihadist groups in Italy, initially divided by ethnicity and subsequently funded by international jihad networks.
“We are coming, o Rome” (“and we will slaughter you in your own houses”) is a technically easy-to-identify hashtag on Twitter and finally refers to the presence of the “Islamic State in Rome”.
A major identity (the struggle against the Catholic Church) linked to a minor identity: every militant knows what to do and what to do is indicated by the reality in which the jihad operates: attacks with knives, propane and methane gas cylinders or with mobiles to be used as remote trigger.
The jihad is camouflage, but it is the explicit goal that must be reached. There is no camouflage or deception here.
Therefore another permanent feature of European jihad is, at first, the great attack, mobilizing the Islamic masses and ensuring their loyalty, by exciting and inflaming them, and later the microphysics of power established by “do-it-yourself” terrorism.
Last February, the “Caliphate” published a text written in good Italian by a Mr. Mehdi, entitled “Lo Stato Islamico, una realtà che ti vorrebbe comunicare”, much focused on the “services to citizens”.
It was later discovered that said Mr. Mehdi was Elmahdi Alili, a 20-year-old Italian citizen of Moroccan origin.
In said text Alili also threatened to fire Caliphate’s missiles against Sicily.
We will see how the old Islamic conquest of Sicily is a myth equivalent to that of Al Andalus in Spain – a myth to which Osama Bin Laden was already referring in his first proclamations.
Therefore the first Daesh-Isis texts on Spain are of January 7, January 31 and May 30, 2016, respectively, with a very high climax of videos and messages in the networks managed by Daesh, just before the Barcelona attacks.
At first the people are motivated and given general orders; later the network is organized and finally the green light is given.
What about Italy? From June 3 to 7 last, Isis-Daesh produced three propaganda videos and a PDF file – two of those videos referred to Rome.
The images are very recent, shot in motion and at night. The videos have titles referring to Italy, such as “Deadline Rome”, while the PDF file is entitled “You want Raqqa, we want Rome”.
But Raqqa is now lost – hence the conquest of Rome seems to be a sort of revenge and reconstruction of the Caliphate among the “infidels”.
Hence the first video, translated from Arabic into English, is “Deadline Rome”, but the word “deadline” has also other meanings in English.
All these videos are produced by the Al Waad Foundation (“Commitment/Promise”), an unofficial structure linked to Daesh-Isis.
The analysis of the video makes us revert to the Libyan issue, the current key factor of the connection between the global jihad and Italy.
In fact, Isis fears a primary role played by Italy in supporting al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA). Then the Caliphate calls the “brothers” to take up arms to spread the jihad in Libya and finally recalls Al Libi, the ”heir” to Bin Laden.
Another sign not to be overlooked is that – following the jihadist tradition – the “Caliphate” refers to a battle of the Prophet, namely Khandaq or the “Battle of the Trench”.
Meccans and infidels on the one side, Medinan Muslims and newly-converted on the other.
A battle to be studied symbolically, but also practically: the 3,000 followers of the Prophet defending Medina remained holed up without accepting the clash with the overwhelming forces of the “infidels”.
This is obviously the image of the current Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate.
After Muhammad’s order to dig a trench to avoid the Meccans’ cavalry, the siege continued.
But the Jewish tribe Banu Qurayza refused to collaborate with the Prophet, as it had previously promised.
Hence it was accused of betrayal.
The symbolism is clear.
The “Caliphate” propaganda on Rome continues with “we will conquer Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem”.
The possible meaning is the following: we will start from Rome, home to the “Crusaders” and later we will continue with Byzantium and Judaism.
Finally the PDF file shows the Colosseum and the Theater of Marcellus and it has been put online by the Al Wafa Foundation, an official organization of Daesh-Isis.
Here again there is a reference to the Quraysh tribe, the Meccans rejecting Muhammad’s Prophecy.
Is this the sign of an internal debate, probably between militants of the Syrian-Iraqi “State” and the jihadists who want to operate in Europe?
Staying or going away – thus turning Daesh-Isis into a global terrorist agency, such as the old Al Qaeda – or calling all the jihadists already present in Europe to return to its territorial area, only after their carrying out an attack or at least a personal war action against the “infidels”?
Is it a simple indication of the “enemy” to be successful in some operations or is it a geopolitical project starting from resistance in Raqqa and in the rest of the Daesh region?
Or – as the second video entitled “Between two Migrations” shows – the jihadists are explicitly asked to return to the “Caliphate”, in addition to showing the images of Pope Francis’s visit to Lesbos while migrants seem to refuse and criticize the Holy Father’s visit.
Let us analyze data: the first regards migrants – hence the Caliphate works on the assumption that there is a share of migrants currently present in Italy who could reunite with the territorial jihad. The second is the rejection of Pope Francis’ “open hand policy”, which could be successful in some regions of the Muslim world.
This means that the jihadists are said: carry out the great attack you are already preparing and then come here.
The third video entitled “Ramadan, the Month of Conquest” explains with many historical data the Islamic conquest of Sicily. Then a boot appears on the image of Italy and finally the word Rome comes to the screen.
Last March a rather strange video was put online, subtitled in Arabic and English, in which one of the two jihadists spoke only the sign language.
I am not an expert of this language, but it is very likely that the signs say much more than expected.
This video for deaf-mutes is again a call to move to the Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate – possibly after perpetrating an attack – with unspecific threats to the United States, Great Britain, Italy and France, always repeating the usual slogan “we will come and kill you”.
Hence either the jihadists are rounded up and gathered to create critical mass at a time when – only thanks to Russia and its regional allies – the Caliphate is surrendering, or the jihadists who have remained in the Isis-Daesh region are said to go and destroy European countries.
The ambiguity is obviously desired.
However, it was in April 2015 (which makes us think that the attack was closer than expected, considering the time of the traditional connection between the threat on the web and the perpetration of the terrorist attack) that Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate put online a video in Arabic, but fully subtitled in Italian.
It was designed both for the Italian Arabs and for the young people not yet mastering the Koranic language.
In fact, it was produced as a good music video.
“Like a thunderbolt you will see the war in your countries”. “We will come to spread slaughter and death”.
These are the two poles of propaganda.
The sharp knives are mentioned, to which we have already got used.
There is the precise indication of a weapon.
The video subtitled in Italian refers to “balls of fire”, which may be bullets or bombs.
This is an indication movie – with the true indication of the end times.
Without eschatology we cannot understand the contemporary jihad, also in its aspects of McIslam which, in other contexts, could make us laugh.
With this specific propaganda the “Caliphate” wants to say that its militants must take action soon, as soon as possible.
Again in November 2015 a series of particularly cruel photos referring to Italy were spread via Twitter together with horrible threats.
In that case the jihadists who must arrive in Italy are said to act quickly, so as to prepare the attack and remain unknown to the police and the intelligence services (in fact, it is clearly said “we will come to kill you”) or the jihadists who are preparing a terror attack are told it must be extremely fierce.
What if the Caliphate – today floundering in a crisis between Syria and Iraq – wanted to create pockets of ongoing destabilization in Europe, to be connected from corridors or small control areas – as it did in its Middle East territory?
Europe is so weak and uncertain that not even this option can be ruled out.
Finally, in my opinion, little analytical value can be attributed to the interpretation of the current jihad – at least from the Nice to the Barcelona attacks – as an internal struggle between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and its allies, using the Islamist terrorist network.
Certainly, these two countries have huge real estate, hotel and industrial property in Italy and Europe.
But a terrorist operation in the Porta Nuova district, Milan – bought by Qatar – would bear a too clear signature.
And either of the two countries could really strike the final blow on the Caliphate they both have so much supported.
And yet both countries currently keep on helping the “Caliphate” – hence the structure of Al Baghdadi, now dead, has no interest in supporting one against the other.
I know that terrorists are always more informed about their targets than we may believe: I had a bad experience with the so-called “New Red Brigades”. I was first on the list, but the then National Police Chief, Vincenzo Parisi, informed me of everything our National Security Network came to know.
Moreover, strange events still occur, such as the fact of a journalist denying the Shoah who was found to be a friend of the founder of the above-mentioned New Red Brigades, namely Nadia Lioce.
About the author:
Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France.
This article was published at Modern Diplomacy