In what Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is calling a “very important operation,” counterterrorist forces arrested four Moroccan-born individuals accused of planning terror attacks in a coordinated raid outside of Milan Thursday.
After intercepting a number of conversations, Italian police arrested four people involved in a terrorist investigation, including a man living in northern Italy who had received Islamic State orders to carry out an attack in Rome, prosecutors said. Police also issued arrest warrants for two others believed to now be in Islamic State territory.
Milan prosecutor Maurizio Romanelli told reporters that investigators had intercepted communications sent from Islamic State territory ordering attacks in Italy “with special emphasis on the city of Rome” and focusing on the Jubilee pilgrimage now underway. It is there, in Rome, that “pilgrims find the strength to fight the Islamists,” an intercepted message stated.
Romanelli underscored that the instructions arriving from the Islamic State were “not generic, but specific” and urged terrorist activities to be carried out “within the territory of the Italian state.”
Authorities arrested Abderrahim Moutahrrick and his wife, Salma Bencharki, as well as Wafa Koraichi, the sister of jihadi Mohamed Koraichi, and 22-year-old Abderrahmane Khachia, the brother of Oussama Khachia, a foreign fighter who died in Syria in 2015 after joining the caliphate.
In past months, Moutahrrick was in frequent contact with jihadist Mohamed Koraichi, who left Italy over a year ago with his wife and three children to fight for ISIS on the Iraqi-Syrian front. In a number of audio messages sent via WhatsApp, Koraichi urged Moutaharrik to carry out an attack in Rome.
“My brother,” Koraichi said to Moutaharrik, “there in that Italy, the capital of the Crusaders, my brother, that’s where they go to make their pilgrimage, it is from there that they get their strength and from there they go to conquer the nations, and from there they fight Islam. So far no operation has been carried out, you know that if you carry out an attack it is a great thing.”
In a reply, Moutaharrik said, “If I can get my family to safety, I swear I’ll be the first to attack them… in this Italian crusade… I swear I will attack the Vatican, by the will of God.”
Moutaharrik said that “perhaps God wants them to think they are at peace, but I swear they are not at peace, even if we live in the midst of them and play our game as if we were like them, but I swear that we are not like them.”
“I want to smite Israel and Rome,” said Moutaharrik in a separate tapped call last February 6 to Khachia Abderrahmane, who was also arrested Thursday. In the conversation, Moutaharrik refers to “his plan to carry out an attack on the Embassy of Israel,” claiming to have contacted “a certain Albanian to procure weapons,” an attempt that apparently failed.
A warrant has also been issued for the arrest of Mohamed Koraichi and his wife Alice Brignoli, who changed her name to Aisha after her conversion to Islam. Investigators believe that the couple is currently in Islamic State territory together with their three small children.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome.