THE OVERLAP BETWEEN TERRORIST AND CRIMINAL ROUTES: AN INTERVIEW WITH FRANCO ROBERTI
“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.