A leading military analyst is citing Italy as a model of counterterrorism done right, pointing out that despite many factors going against it, Islamic terrorists have failed to kill a single person on Italian soil.
In the most recent issue of Nikkei Asian Review, Romanian born political scientist and military analyst Edward N. Luttwak lays out a persuasive theory explaining how Italy has been so successful in thwarting Islamic terror attempts. In a word: Italy is not afraid to deport those it considers to be a threat to national security.
In his essay titled “Doing Counterterrorism Right,” Luttwak contrasts Italy with France and Belgium, noting that although Italy is much more vulnerable than they are, it has been far more effective at stopping would-be terrorists before they strike.
So where France has been “caught by surprise again and again by terrorist attacks with many lives lost” and in Belgium “terrorists have been coming and going for years, buying military weapons with remarkable ease,” Italy has remained unscathed.
It would seem that Italy doesn’t have much going for it. It has porous borders and a Muslim population that exceeds 2 million and has played an active role in military expeditions in Islamic territories. Moreover, the Vatican is the “most iconic target in Europe,” and tops the list of objectives of the Islamic State, Luttwak observes. And yet, “nobody has been killed by Muslim terrorists in Italy.”
Italian counterterrorism has been on full alert since 9/11, Luttwak says, and its combined forces “have detected and interrupted hundreds of terrorist plots large and small, at every stage from mere verbal scheming to fully ready actions.”
So where terrorists have successfully attacked in Madrid, London, Paris, Toulouse, Copenhagen, Brussels and elsewhere, in Italy they have been foiled time after time.
Luttwak suggests that Italy’s success is all a question of method, based on the insight that the only thing that can be done to stop potential terrorists is to follow those who are suspected to be truly dangerous around the clock so that they can be arrested or killed at a moment’s notice. Since the numbers of probable suspects can be astronomical, Luttwak says, their numbers must be effectively reduced if this strategy is to bear fruit. And this is exactly what Italy has done.
State intelligence agencies throughout Europe monitor suspects, filling out reports and keeping files, but they often fail to take the action needed. The Italians, however, immediately conduct an interrogation on credible suspects, and many are sent home or arrested, if their situation merits it. Italy currently has more than 180 radical imams in prison, Luttwak notes.
Employing this method, Italian authorities are able to keep numbers of suspected potential terrorists within a reasonable range and thus are able to monitor them effectively.
Earlier this month, Franco Roberti, the head of Italy’s anti-mafia and counterterrorism task force, said he intended to protect citizens from the danger of terrorism “by adopting all the preventive measures necessary,” and noted that “we must be prepared to give up some of our personal freedoms, in particular in the area of communication.”
The fact that the Italians lump together anti-mafia operations with counterterrorism is also telling. Unlike other European states, with the exception perhaps of the UK, Italy has a long history fighting serious organized crime within its borders, coming from the different branches of the Italian mafia working in various parts of the peninsula.
The Italian interior ministry has reportedly also increased its “targeted expulsions” of persons considered to be a risk to national security. So far this year, 55 individuals have been deported and the ministry has said the numbers will only grow.
According to Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, intelligence and counterterrorism units are reevaluating information gathered in recent months on some 56,000 people, scouring case files to see whether anything could have been overlooked.
Given Italy’s impressive counterterrorism track record, it may be about time for other European nations to sit up and take note.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome