Italy – Italy dismantled an alleged Islamist terrorist network with links to al-Qaeda on the 24 Apr 15 claiming the extremists had planned to attack the Vatican. Italian authorities said the network included two men who were bodyguards of Osama bin Laden before he was killed in a raid by US Special Forces in Pakistan in 2011. Early morning raids were carried out across the country. Nine suspects were arrested, while another nine were being sought, three of whom were believed to be in Italy. All were Pakistanis and Afghans. Investigators said the suspects belonged to “an organisation dedicated to transnational criminal activities inspired by al-Qaeda and other radical organisations pursuing armed struggle against the West and insurrection against the current government of Pakistan”. The arrest orders were the culmination of a 10-year investigation that began with an inquiry into illegal immigration on the island of Sardinia. But the people allegedly involved in the trafficking, in which Afghans and Pakistanis were smuggled into Europe, also had sympathies with Islamist extremism, investigators said. The money earned from people trafficking was allegedly sent to extremist groups in Pakistan, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The principal members of the network were allegedly Khan Sultan Wali, a shopkeeper and long-term resident of the Sardinian port of Olbia, and an unidentified imam who lived in Brescia in northern Italy. The extremist network may have been planning to launch a suicide bomber against the Vatican in 2010, when Pope Benedict XVI was head of the Roman Catholic Church, said Mauro Mura, a prosecutor in Cagliari, Sardinia. Police intercepted telephone conversations between the suspects which gave “signals of some preparation for a possible attack” against the Holy See, he said. In the wiretaps, the suspects discussed launching “a big jihad in Italy”, said Mario Carta, a senior police officer. They also used the word “baba” – a possible reference to the Pope. The purported attack may have been called off after police in Sardinia conducted a raid on the home of one of the alleged al-Qaeda sympathisers in March 2010, possibly scaring off the extremists who planned to carry out the strike. The Vatican said that since the alleged attack plan dated back five years, it had no particular concerns about the security of Pope Francis, who succeeded Benedict two years ago. “From what it appears, this concerns a hypothesis that dates from 2010 which didn’t occur. It has therefore no relevance today and no reason for particular concern,” said Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has released several videos in which it says it aims to conquer Rome, enslave Christians and raise the black flag of the caliphate over St Peter’s Basilica. While authorities say the videos are melodramatic propaganda, they acknowledge that the Pope has made himself a target with his outspoken comments on behalf of Christians being persecuted in the Middle East and his qualified support for air strikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq. Two recent papal visits to Muslim countries – Albania and Turkey – passed without incident. Some of the men arrested or being sought are suspected of involvement in the October 2009 bombing of a bazaar in Peshawar, Pakistan, which left more than 100 dead and over 200 people injured. They were also suspected of organising attacks against Pakistani police and security forces between March 2011 and November 2011, in which five people died. Italian police said they had uncovered evidence that the attacks were planned and financed from Sardinia and that extremists based in Italy had taken part in them. The aim of the attacks was to foment an insurrection against Pakistan’s government and put a stop to its support for US forces in Afghanistan, prosecutors said. 361 COMMENT: There have been a number of warnings this year regarding possible terrorist plots in Europe and particular Italy. As far back as February this year warnings have been given out by various leaders regarding the threat to Europe. (See 361 Terrorist and Security Report 28 Feb 15, Italy Comment). This attack if it had taken place would have been a huge boost to the group and the rewards of propaganda and recruitment would have been immense. COMMENT ENDS
Spain/Libya – A bomb exploded outside Spain’s embassy in the Libyan capital on the 20 Apr 15 without causing injuries an attack later claimed by ISIS. “Islamic State extremists concealed an explosive device near an exterior wall of the Spanish embassy building in Tripoli, which caused some material damage to it and to neighbouring buildings,” local official Issam Naas said using another name for ISIS. Several accounts linked to the Libyan branch of ISIS claimed the attack on Twitter. Spain’s El Mundo newspaper said nobody had been hurt as Spain, like most Western and Arab countries, had pulled out its diplomats in summer during weeks of heavy fighting between rival armed groups in Tripoli.
United Kingdom – Over 20 years after the paramilitary ceasefires, two masked gunmen were seen on the streets of a Northern Ireland housing estate, waving their weapons around with apparent impunity. Political representatives reacted with fury after these images of armed republican dissidents patrolling the streets emerged on social media. There were also unconfirmed reports of shots being fired during the show of strength, apparently to indicate that the guns were real and not replicas. The images of the terrorists appeared on a Facebook page belonging to Republican Sinn Fein. The caption on the pictures described the images as "Volunteers... patrolling the streets of Lurgan on the lookout for England's armed colonial police and undercover British soldiers who are operating unwontedly across occupied Ireland." Mr Simpson also called on all candidates for the Upper Bann parliamentary seat to clearly condemn the presence of masked gunmen on the streets. 361 COMMENT: These individuals clearly live in the past. This attempt to gain publicity for a cause that no longer exists was part of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) tactic during the troubles. All of which was since left in the past with the signing of the Downing Street Agreement. Such word were also written in the PIRA newspaper ‘An Phoblacht’ which was used in countries where there were large Irish populations who for some reason believed what was written in the paper. The Province of Northern Ireland has moved on, but for some, the past seems to be something they cannot let go. COMMENT ENDS
Two incidents that were reported during the reporting period are as follows. The incidents occurred in a well known town in the UK that has a large military presence. A member of the Royal Navy was followed through Plymouth by a car with four Middle Eastern/Asian looking men. He reported the incident to the police who checked their CCTV footage and confirmed that he was followed by four Asian looking men in a car. In a separate incident a member of the Royal Marines was followed out of a barracks whilst in civilian clothing. He sensed something was not quiet right and noticed a vehicle (separate type from the first incident) drive slowly and level with him and found one of the occupants filming him on his mobile phone. The soldier pulled out his own phone and filmed them back and the man in the vehicle quickly started to use it as though he was speaking on the phone and not wanting to be filmed filming another individual. At the same time the Royal Marine noticed another of the vehicles occupants gesturing to another Asian male who was behind their vehicle and in a transit van which was following slowly behind. When the occupants of both vehicles realised that they had been spotted they both drove off together. 361 COMMENT: These two incidents show that some form of attack was about to take place. The first may have been a reconnaissance but the second incident clearly shows that a kidnap was to take place. The possibility of being bundled into the transit van and taken to an unknown destination where a filming of the murder of a service person would have been conducted and then posted on the internet in the name of a group cannot be disregarded. COMMENT ENDS