The latest issue of the Italian newsweekly Panorama devotes six full pages to the ICSA “Fighting Terrorism on the Tobacco Road” project. Kudos to special assignment reporter Fausto Biloslavo for successfully distilling 500 pages of academic research into 6 pages easily understood by the general public, thus helping spread awareness of the PMI Impact-funded project.
Subtitled Jihadist businesses between the Middle East, Africa and Europe, this comprehensive volume edited by Carlo De Stefano, Elettra Santori and Italo Saverio Trento summarizes the main findings of the ICSA “Fighting Terrorism on the Tobacco Road” research project.
Thirteen authors explore the criminality-terrorism nexus from a broad range of perspectives and conclude that jihadist terrorism participates – in one form or another – in every type of contraband or illegal traffic, from drugs to oil, from migrants to cultural heritage, as well as tobacco. The eight chapters apply the “follow the money” concept to different aspects of the funding of Jihadism, bringing the latest case studies to bear through extensive interviews with key players in government, law enforcement, foreign relations and journalism.
The study asks key questions such as: What are the connections between Jihadism, criminals and organized crime? How are Jihadist attacks in Europe funded through micro-criminality? And, crucially, can financial intelligence tools be used to counter the flow of illegal resources from illegal traffics to terrorism?
The 480-page Report is among the tangible results of the ICSA study funded through the PMI Impact global initiative, which supports university and think-tank projects against illegal traffics and related crimes.
Launched in Rome at the successful conference at the House of Deputies, Terrorism, Criminality And Contraband is now available from publisher Rubbettino, from Amazon and other online stores and in bookstores throughout Italy.
Terrorismo, criminalità e contrabbando. Gli affari dei jihadisti tra Medio Oriente, Africa ed Europa.
Rubbettino, Soveria Mandelli, 2019. Cm. 17 x 24, pp. 480. € 25.00. ISBN 978-88-498-5690-3
A long line in Via di Campo Marzio and the New Parliamentary Groups Hall teeming with people are the two most evident indications of the interest aroused by the conference to launch the ICSA report on Terrorism, Criminality and Contraband: Jihadist businesses between the Middle East, Africa and Europe, which presents the results of the Fighting Terrorism on the Tobacco Road project, funded by PMI Impact and published by Rubbettino.
Research, said ICSA Foundation President, Lt General Leonardo Tricarico, was carried out «with a spirit of independence», because «we do not fly the flag for political, business or any other interest». The findings show that Jihadist terrorism always plays a role in contraband or illicit traffic, whether as facilitator or end-user. From drugs to oil, from tobacco to cultural heritage, all the way to immigration, the study covers the main dynamics and strategies of the al-Qaeda/ISIS binomial and its links with crime, whether petty or organized. Undersecretary for Defence Raffaele Volpi spoke on behalf of the Italian government, further underscoring the perceived value of the study carried out by a team comprising both academics and practitioners from the law enforcement community.
Prefect Carlo De Stefano, who coordinated the project with ICSA Director Italo S. Trento and Elettra Santori, stressed the importance of the so-called “Al Capone approach” (in other words, mapping financial flows to identify terror-crime connections) but also the effort to develop predictive indicators capable of answering the crucial of what drives individuals to radicalise. One such indicator is the creeping age growth of Jihadists. The overall goal, added De Stefano, is to create security rather than spread alarm.
In its work ICSA was able to draw upon significant support, in terms of both analysis and statistical data, from the Dipartimento di Pubblica Sicurezza (Public Security Department of the Ministry of the Interior), the Carabinieri, the Polizia di Stato (National Police), the Guardia di Finanza (Treasury Guard), the Direzione Centrale per i Servizi Antidroga (Central Counter Narcotics Directorate), the Nucleo Investigativo Centrale of the Dipartimento dell’Amministrazione Penitenziaria (Central Investigation Team of the Penitentiary Administration Department) and the Unità di Informazione Finanziaria of the Banca d’Italia (Bank of Italy Financial Information Unit). Several of these organisations also spoke at the conference.
Carabinieri chief of staff, Major General Teo Luzi, noted that Italy has what today are the world’s most advanced procedures, in part through the crucial presence across the country. «There is no such thing as zero risk», said Luzi. «We have been in part good, in part lucky, but in order to detect signals it is necessary to be present on the ground.» BrigadierGiuseppe Arbore, head of the Operations Department of the Treasury Guard General Command, looked at illicit traffics. The amount of contraband cigarettes seized has grown from 120 to 280 tons in 2013-2018 and the unsustainably low fuel prices at so-called “white pumps” suggests the illegal origins of the product. Prefect Gennaro Vecchione, Director General of the Department of Informations for Security, added that the multidisciplinary ICSA approach is well-suited to the complexity of terrorism.
The second session delved deeper into the issues, with the specialist contributions of Elettra Santori, of Alberto Negri, who drew on his war correspondent experience to describe the complexities of today’s Middle East, and of Giancarlo Capaldo, who concluded with the observation that «today terrorism is no longer a form of war, but rather a modality through which criminality imposes itself and a tool of war, even between states.»
Fighting Terrorism on the Tobacco Road is built on the premise of bringing together theory and practice, academics and law enforcement officers – approach is very much in evidence throughout the ICSA report published by Rubbettino. The next step is that of sharing the findings to the widest possible audience, to increase both awareness of the phenomenon and effectiveness in fighting it.
In fact, the PMI Impact-funded research project entered the dissemination phase without waiting for the report to roll off the presses. As the authors and experts various completed their sections and chapters, the ICSA project team translated the academic findings into a training manual for the law enforcement community.
The manual follows the same basic structure as the complete report, packaged in a more streamlined format and with the important addition of Policy recommendations. The sensitive nature of some of these suggestions explain why the unclassified Manual is only available to course participants.
The ICSA FTTR seminars debuted on 4 February 2019 in Rome. The first event was hosted by Scuola Superiore di Polizia (Higher Police School), with over 150 attendees drawn from two regular courses and a refresher course. The five ICSA speakers comprised report editors Carlo De Stefano and Elettra Santori and authors Andrea Beccaro, Alessandro Locatelli and Federico Sergiani. The morning seminar was concluded by Lamberto Giannini, Director of the Central Directorate of Preventative Police, whose final remarks described future prospects particularly for de-radicalization and fighting violent ideologies. Additional training events will be held at the Scuola Ufficiali Carabinieri (Carabinieri Officer School) and the Direzione Investigativa Antimafia (Organized Crime Investigation Directorate).
“Many fighters will try to return and import their experience in the countries from which they come. These individuals are dangerous not just because of their familiarity with weapons and their links with former commanders, who might in some way activate or mobilize them from afar, but also to the possibility that they might become a radicalization and attraction magnet, a role model for the young.” Lamberto Giannini, Central Police Director for Prevention, speaks about the potential impact of returning foreign fighters in their countries.
From your point of view, what is the evidence of criminal activities (trafficking of migrants, weapons, drugs, cigarettes, antiquities, etc.) aimed at supporting Jihadist terrorism?
These are not systematic activities. With the rise of the Islamic State, people who found themselves in areas controlled by a terrorist organization were able to exploit a large amount of goods and resources, and they did this in many different ways. Clearly the availability of money, oil and archaeological items may have offered opportunities for illicit trafficking and various types of contraband.
As far as attacks brought by the Islamic State in the heart of Europe, it should be underscored that they did not require great funding. One of the characteristics of the Islamic State was the ability to move at two levels: warfare in a geographic area, which seems to be running out, aside from a some pockets still holding out against coalition forces, and the ability to carry out attacks anywhere, including Europe, by infiltrating individuals and leveraging ideals, proclamations and concepts launched by the Caliphate’s ideologues through the internet to activate individuals which did not necessarily share an organic link with each other. Just as an example, the Berlin Christmas 2016 attack was carried out by a single individual that simply stole a vehicle and killed its driver.
It is possible that those performing these attacks have contacts or experience with criminals and weapon recovery, and that past contacts and membership in criminal organizations help them get some kind help, but I don’t believe this is the case in general. It is necessary to look place-by-place, case-by-case. As a matter of fact, there is no evidence of major alliances between large-scale criminality and terrorism.
But is it possible to say there are functional/instrumental links between criminal organizations and terrorism? Perhaps not a true alliance, but occasional convergences driven by the exchange of goods and services?
I would be extremely cautious in this respect. There are several investigations that need to be developed before drawing conclusions, but for the time being there are no significant indications of common strategies. Of course there can be individual cases in which a given individual receives some kind of support from criminal structures. But now the real problem is that of the possible return of fighters, and it is likely that some return using a criminal organization to organize the trip. This does not however constitute evidence of a sort of common strategy between criminality and terrorism.
Which trajectories are returning foreign fighters following?
We have evidence of relocation to other theaters in which there is fighting, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Indonesia and the Philippines. At the time being, this return of foreign fighters does not seem to be an organized phenomenon. It would appear that military defeats have caused some kind of disorientation in these individuals: among them there are certainly those who will have some difficulty in slipping the bonds of the Caliphate – not an easy thing to do, as there are reports of retaliation against so-called traitors and we know it is not so easy to leave. It is possible that some returnees only want to close their experience and move on. But several fighters will try to return and import their experience into the countries they came from. Many fighters will try to return and import their experience in the countries from which they come. These individuals are dangerous not just because of their familiarity with weapons and their links with former commanders, who might in some way activate or mobilize them from afar, but also to the possibility that they might become a radicalization and attraction magnet, a role model for the young
This will create a new challenge: it is conceivable that, lacking a territorial dimension, the Caliphate might become a sort of virtual reality that continues to broadcast its messages of hate and to incite to war.
What are the current risks for Italy? Are risks greater than before?
I wouldn’t say we are more at risk than before. Italy is threatened like other countries, as shown by the threatening messages issued against it and the defensive activities we have carried out.
The media occasionally report that we are protected from terrorist attacks because organized crime and terrorism in general.
In the first place, there is nothing to confirm this theory. Secondly, given the minimal cost of carrying out these attacks, I cannot imagine what these convergences might be. Third, as I have said, Italy is not a zero-risk country. We have found evidence of indications to strike in Italy. It would seem to me that these comments overlook the results of a number of operations which have led to discovering in our country individuals who were being pressured to remain and hit in Italy, rather than to leave to go fight in war areas.
Do you believe that it would be useful to face the problems of returnees and indigenous Islamism by focused de-radicalization programs like those implemented by other European countries such as Denmark?
Absolutely yes. We must face the problem. Moreover, we must avoid the mistake of believing that de-radicalizing is a mere police problem. In reality it is a great social issue, which calls for the fullest commitment of several parts of society: school, social organizations, medical structures, counseling structures, meeting points, etc. We must strengthen the ability of law enforcement, social workers and prison staff to identify early on the first symptoms of radicalization in order to intervene swiftly. Young people, if spotted at the beginning of the route to radicalization, still have a full life before them that can be used to recover and adopt a correct relationship with religious ideals. Fighting radicalization must go hand in hand with fighting marginalization, because frequently the challenge of integrating, of being isolated and social discomfort make these individuals easy preys of radicalizing influences, both as physical persons and as web messages.
Which de-radicalization approaches can be followed for individuals who have significantly radicalized, including actual participation in terrorist activities?
This is a difficult question. If an individual has committed a crime, there is of course a criminal sentence, which under Italian law should also aim to re-educate. In addition to the punishment and to security measures, which reduce the individual’s ability to do harm, and to preventative measures established by our Criminal Code with various limitations, there remains the possibility of removal from national territory. We are already doing this by expelling people.
Which areas of Italy are more at risk, whether because more radicalized or more affected by violent extremism?
In the 1990s there formed in Northern Italy various centers of radical aggregation, but today traces of radicalized individuals can be found throughout the country. In addition, radicalization now occurs so quickly – on the Web, indoors, particularly with people who are in various ways uncomfortable, who do not engage with others – that putting under the spotlight a given situation instead of another might actually be deceiving. The same high attention must be used throughout the country. Before the Internet became widely available, many investigations started in mosques in the North, particularly in Milan. Today, instead, anyone can access the most terrible images, messages and other. To focus on individual realities might not be correct.
Is this because radicalization has little to do with belonging to a community?
Radicalization is often the path of an individual or a micro group within a community. In my opinion the problem is not that of discovering so-called ‘radicalization hubs’. While in some countries there are veritable extremist strongholds, in Italy it is often the case that two or more individuals develop friendships based on extremism and radicalization, which act as aggregators. If I am an extremist and my circle of accomplices revolves around my town, that in itself does not necessarily make it a hub of radicalization. Even a single individual can act as aggregator.
Do you know of any returnees in Italy? Are you monitoring them?
We have arrested some, who are now in jail. Others are being monitored. Others were not part of Jihadist units, but the phenomenon still requires close attention.
What can be done to verify whether an individual participated in combat?
This is a big question, which can be answered with both technical and investigative activities, as well as messages, posts and pictures that sometimes document actions even on social media.
In other countries there have been cases of women explaining their departure for Syraq with being forced to do so by their partner. What about Italy?
In Italy investigations and even court decisions indicate a different situation: women meeting and marrying men through the Web and chats, precisely in order to join certain ideals and to leave for war zones.
What is the approach for women who return to our countries without having seen combat, but presumably willing to raise their children in adherence to Jihadist ideals?
When evidence of criminal activities cannot be found, our legal system still allows for various preventative measures to be implemented. Italian citizens can be subjected to certain limitations, or be instructed to report to police stations and follow a prescribed behavior. In the case of foreign citizens it is possible to interrupt their presence in the country.
“The hypothesis that trafficking by terrorist organizations uses the same routes and, at least in part, the same networks of international organized crime is undoubtedly legitimate”. Franco Roberti, the former National Organized Crime and Terrorism Prosecutor and current Advisor to the Minister of the Interior, recently spoke with the ICSA “Fighting Terrorism on the Tobacco Road” project.
From your point of view, what is the evidence of criminal activities (trafficking of migrants, weapons, drugs, cigarettes, antiquities, etc.) aimed at supporting Jihadist terrorism?
The links between international terrorism and transnational organized crime were first underscored by the Common Position adopted by the EU Council on 27 December 2002 and attain directly to the characteristics of transnational organized crime.
The Resolutions adopted by the United Nations in 2015 confirmed that the Islamic State (IS) used to gather about US$ 3 billion annually through very wide ranging criminal activities: smuggling drugs, oil and cultural heritage, contraband tobacco, human trafficking, blackmail and kidnapping, corruption and money laundering. In order to be carried out, the criminal activities require a vast network of relations and collusion outside the criminal organizations themselves. In order to generate profits, the latter tend to interact with legal business activities and through official networks: just think of how money transfer activities can be used for money laundering and to support terrorism. On the other hand, a basic and unavoidable market law postulates that every deal requires a seller and a buyer, a supply that answers a demand. Thus the terrorist supply is met by a globalized demand of illegal goods and services.
Which are the main geographic routes that feed Jihadist terrorism? Do traffics managed by terrorist groups follow the same routes of those controlled by international criminal organizations, or do they tend to follow specific and separate trajectories?
The hypothesis that trafficking by terrorist organizations uses the same routes and, at least in part, the same networks of international organized crime is undoubtedly legitimate. In recent years the National Directorate Against Organized Crime and Terrorism has made great efforts to develop investigative cooperation and judiciary assistance arrangements with the countries most directly affected by illegal trafficking flows, signing memorandums of understanding with Libya, Egypt, Russia and all Balkan countries. With the latter we have gone as far as to create a permanent conference based on a gradual sharing of IT systems, which has already become operational between Italy and Serbia. With the Libyan General Prosecution Office we have begun a constant info-investigative exchange, which runs parallel to, and in support of, Italian government action.
Jihadists and Italian organized crime: is there any evidence, at this moment, of links and converging interests?
In the 1980s organized crime grew in part because of terrorism, which led the government to deploy its best resources against it, decreasing investigative attention to other forms of organized crime. Terrorism is an empowering factor for organized crime. And in turn, organized crime can have a subversive terrorist dimension. With regard to this, some events are symptomatic and should be recalled. The Cosa Nostra members convicted for carrying out attacks on the Italian mainland in 1993 (May: Rome, via Fauro; Firenze, via dei Georgofili; July, basilica of St John Lateran and church of St George at the Velabro; Milan, National Museum of Modern Art; October: Rome, Olympic stadium) were sentenced with the extra penalties associated with the purpose of terrorism and overthrowing Constitutional order (pursuant to art 1 of decree-law 625/1979, as converted by law no.15/1980). More recently, the same terrorist nature was found to exist in the mass murder of immigrants carried out in Castelvolturno on 19 September 2008 by the group under Giuseppe Setola and belonging to the “Clan dei Casalesi”.
At this moment there are no investigations in which terrorists and Italian organized criminals are jointly investigated. But the above-mentioned reasons lead me to believe that in order to face the challenge of international terrorism it is necessary to fight more effectively – particularly in terms of international cooperation – the transnational criminal organizations and their trafficking activities: drugs, weapons, military equipment, oil, illegal immigration support networks.
However, since all forms of transnational crime exploit globalized world spaces, it would be necessary to look at the world through optics different from those we have used to try understand and govern it until now. And this applies mainly to the legal frameworks on which the new global order should rest. But there is still no sign of this new global order. To the contrary, there appear to prevail forces that destroy the already frail systems appear. The current tendency of countries to look only within, and the manifest or latent sovereign closures is an obstacle to cooperation, whereas the latter should always be spontaneous and fast in order to allow each country to receive immediately the information necessary to prevent crime and fight it effectively.
Which strategies appear best suited to fight Jihadist terrorism financing methods?
In order to fight the funding of terrorism it appears necessary to promote the circulation of information, modules and operating practices. With regard to this, I would draw attention to the opportunities granted by the new Italian money laundering law and the role it assigns to the National Directorate Against Organized Crime and Terrorism in the swift processing of the alerts for suspicious financial transactions already vetted by the Treasury Police’s Special Currency Force (NSPV). This results in the National Directorate coordinating and prioritizing District Prosecution investigative activities.
For instance, information received from the Italian Financial Investigation Office and referring to individuals known for (or suspected of) Islamist terrorist activities, the National Directorate, supported by the NSPV, carries out pre-investigative activities aimed at spotting potentially interesting elements, particularly about those subjects and transactions that are localized in Italian territory.
In several occasions, the results stemming from this kind of data have highlighted subjects belonging to organizations involved in international drugs trafficking as well as transnational organizations active in human trafficking. Through their criminal activism, these subjects had accumulated considerable illegal profits that could have easily been used to support terrorist actions, also by using money transfer channels to move money abroad.
The end of the territorially based ISIS creates a returning Jihadist problem, which also affects Italy, although less than other countries. Do you believe that it would be useful to face the problems of returnees and indigenous Islamism by focused de-radicalization programs like those implemented by other European countries such as Denmark? If so, how do you think an effective de-radicalization should be structured?
A de-radicalization program along the same lines as in Denmark would certainly be very useful. But so would one on the French model. Let me recall that last year Stefano Dambruoso introduced in the Chamber of Deputies a well-structured bill that allocated money to develop de-radicalization programs also in jails. The Chamber passed the bill, which then became stuck in the Senate. I hope the new legislature will take up the subject.
Many investigations on Islamist terrorism carried out worldwide have shown a link – stable rather than occasional – among subjects residing in different countries but sharing close online links to discuss and plan shared operational activities. In view of what we have said so far, would it be possible to charge such persons with criminal collusion even if they have never met in person?
Yes, without any doubt. The Court of Cassation has a consolidated record of finding that a criminal association for the purpose of committing terrorism (including international terrorism) whenever there is an association having a cellular or networked structure, which can act simultaneously in several countries, also at different times, with physical, telephone or computer contacts among the various linked groups, even occasional or non continuous, which carries out even a single support activity of use to the activity of known terrorist organizations and acting as such. These activities include recruitment, distribution of propaganda material, assistance to associates, making or acquiring weapons or false identity documentations, enlistment and training.
ICSA Foundation will undertake a two-year research project.
The connection between the illegal tobacco trade, which in Europe alone is worth almost 50 billion Euros, and the financing of international jihadist terrorism, is at the center of the “Fighting Terrorism on the Tobacco Road” research project. The ICSA Foundation has been awarded a grant for this project under PMI IMPACT, a global funding initiative by Philip Morris International against illicit trade and related crimes.
“At present, terrorism can profit from an underestimated perception of the danger of tobacco smuggling. Our research will define the contours of the threat in order to identify the most suitable forms of counter action”, says General Leonardo Tricarico, President of the ICSA Foundation. “The PMI IMPACT selection of Fighting Terrorism on the Tobacco Road is evidence of the ICSA Foundation ability to carry out research in highly specific contexts and envision new means to convey scientific research results to a much broader audience”.
The “Fighting Terrorism on the Tobacco Road” research project will span two years, divided into two subsequent phases. The first phase produce a report and a training manual. The second phase will be concentrate on increasing awareness in the security and media communities. The project will also explore other criminal activities often related to the illicit tobacco trade, such as drug smuggling, trafficking of cultural heritage, oil smuggling, human trafficking and money laundering. All research and results will be made available through the project website and social media outlets connected to the dedicated project website.
“The ICSA research team will tackle the complex subject by implementing an interdisciplinary approach, which will combine social science methodology with field experience, all with absolute research independence”, Project Leader Carlo De Stefano, Vice President of the ICSA Foundation, specifies.
According to Italo Saverio Trento, Director of the ICSA Foundation, the experience that will derive from this project will “represent an opportunity to expand on the subject of international jihadist terrorism, which has already distinguished Foundation ICSA’s analytical activity since its origins in 2009″.
Fighting Terrorism on the Tobacco Road” is one of the 32 research projects financed by PMI IMPACT in the initiative’s first funding round. The selection was made by a board of independent experts in the fields of law, anti-corruption, and the fight against organized crime and illegal trade, which chose from over 200 applications submitted by private and public subjects from over 40 countries.