Italian counterterrorist police have arrested a 22-year-old Somali imam and asylum-seeker, for planning a terror attack on the city of Rome as well as “intense and vehement proselytism” among migrants for jihad.
On Wednesday, police moved swiftly to arrest the man at the “Happy Family” migrant reception center where he was living in Campobasso, in the southern Italian region of Molise, saying they had evidence he intended to leave that very day for Rome where he planned to carry out an attack.
Prosecutors also claim they have “clear technical evidence” indicating that the imam, who told others living at the center that he was a member of the Somali Islamist group al Shabaab, was preparing an attack in Rome. He had been denied refugee status and would have had to leave the migrant center soon.
Just over two months of intense investigation, including the interception of phone conversations and taped footage from a hidden camera placed in the man’s room, allowed the counterterrorist agents ascertain the real extent of his words and intentions.
According to police, in an intercepted conversation the man uttered the phrase, “Let’s start with Italy, let’s go to Rome and start with the station,” referring to Rome’s iconic Termini train station.
“The war continues. Charlie Hebdo was only a foretaste of what is happening now,” he also said, as well as “there’s an easier way: to equip themselves and blow themselves up, that’s the easiest way.”
The man allegedly used his platform as imam to praise last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris and the “martyrdom” of its perpetrators, urging the other guests of the center to join jihad and follow him, first to Rome and then to Syria. At the end of one service, the imam offered a prayer for the Islamic State and for the fighters who sacrifice themselves for the cause.
According to the charges brought against him, the young Somali sang the praises of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Al Shabaab, in an attempt to radicalize other guests of the reception center to undertake violent actions under jihad. The chief prosecutor of Campobasso, Armando D’Alterio has described his activities as an “intense and vehement proselytism” for jihad against the West.
In one recorded sermon, the imam declared to the other guests at the migrant center:
“This month the Prophet is preparing soldiers against the idolaters, fighting against the enemies of God. So take advantage of this month, and race to be the first. God has ordered us to kill his enemies and make jihad in his name, preach religion and Sharia and punish the sinner.”
Police believe the Rome attack was still in the planning stages, and that the man had not yet acquired the necessary materials to carry it out. They do, however, identify him as “extremely dangerous and determined,” with clear intentions of violent actions.
“The arrest in Campobasso shows that the system of prevention works,” said Italian Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano. “We have a very strict, technically equipped monitoring system in all the centers and places where proselytism can occur and where recruiting could theoretically take place.”
Matteo Salvini of Italy’s Northern League Party was not so quick to heap praise on the system, saying that Italy is in heightened danger of attacks precisely because of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s weak immigration policies.
“Renzi is an accomplice in this!” Salvini said. “If I were in his place, there would be blanket controls and mass deportations. Italians are at risk because of Renzi and Mattarella,” he said, referring to Sergio Mattarella, Italy’s President.
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