Libyan authorities have warned Italy of the presence of a Milan-based Islamic State cell, after recovering internal documents from an ISIS headquarters in the Libyan city of Sirte last week.
The militants of the Italian terror cell are reportedly associated with Abu Nassim, a 47-year-old Tunisian man who lived in Italy for years before becoming an ISIS commander in Libya.
Born Moez Ben Abdelkader Fezzani, Abu Nassim first arrived in Italy in 1989 to work on construction sites, but later was arrested by US forces in Pakistan in 2001 and eventually deported to Tunisia. Since 2014, he reportedly commands Islamic State forces around the Libyan port of Sabratha.
The latest reports came amidst growing concerns that Islamic State jihadists could infiltrate migrant boats crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa into Italy in order to carry out lone wolf terror attacks on Italian territory.
Italian authorities have been stepping up counterterrorism operations, and in the course of a week ordered the consecutive deportations of two suspected jihadist sympathizers.
Last week, the Interior Ministry mandated the expulsion of Bilel Chiahoui, a Tunisian national accused of planning an attack at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Counterterrorism forces arrested the 26-year-old in Pisa after he posted messages threatening to attack the monument on social media.
Then, on Saturday, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano ordered that a second Tunisian, the imam Hosni Hachemi Ben Hassem, be deported for inciting racial hatred. The 49-year-old imam, based in a mosque in the southern Italian Puglia region, had been arrested earlier on charges of recruiting fighters for terrorist cells, but was later acquitted.
Hachemi is the ninth imam to be expelled from Italy since the country adopted a “zero tolerance” policy toward Islamist extremism early in 2015. Alfano, who has signed a total of 109 expulsion orders since the start of last year, 43 of them in 2016, credits the policy with reducing the risk of a terror attack on Italian soil.
The Islamic State has repeatedly threatened to attack Italy, and earlier this month released a video vowing it would “conquer Rome.”
Representatives of Italy’s Northern League Party expressed consternation over the news of an ISIS cell in Milan. Paul Grima, deputy of the Northern League and the Secretary of the Lombard League, said that the report “raises the alarm on our territory, especially regarding Milan and Lombardy.”
“We ask the government to take immediate action to avoid becoming complicit in attacks,” echoed Lombardy’s Councillor for Safety, Simona Bordonali.
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