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Does Italy play a special role for Islamic terrorists?

It's no accident that after carrying out the truck attack in Berlin, Anis Amri fled to Milan. Terrorism expert Marco Lombardi talked to DW about the Salifist scene in the area and Italy's role in Islamic radicalization.

DW: Anis Amri was shot in Milan, a city said to be a sort of hotspot for the Islamist scene in Italy. Do you have any idea where he could have gone?

Marco Lombardi: Milan is not really a hotspot, [but more so] towns around Milan. Especially north of Milan - the area of Varese, which is very easy to get to from Sesto San Giovanni, where the Tunisian [Anis Amri] was shot, for example. And all the surrounding areas are hotspots, especially if you go to Bergamo and Brescia. Most of the arrested people come from that area, where we also have a lot of mosques that are not official mosques. We do not have official mosques in Italy except the one in Rome.

There are many little mosques and sometimes radical Salafist mosques especially to the north and northeast of Milan… But it is a big question mark where the Tunisian was going. It is not clear.

The hypotheses we have are firstly; that the idea was to go back to the south of Italy. That could be because he was in jail in southern Italy for four years. So he probably had some connection in that area. Or secondly; the other hypothesis is that he was going to the Balkans area and that could be of interest because many of the Salifists around Milan [know people] in the Balkans.

Infografik Anis Amri Aktualisierung nach Tötung in Mailand ENGLISCH

Can you describe the Salifist scene in Italy, what sets it apart?

First you have to remember that the number of radicalized people is not so huge in Italy. Just to give you an idea, when we talk about foreign fighters, we count only 112 foreign fighters. Of those 112, no more than six or eight have returned to Italy. So it is really a different number of foreign fighters compared with Germany or France or Belgium and so on. On the other hand, there are quite a number of "radicalized people" not really joining the [so-called "Islamic State"] (IS) in the field but are a threat for Italy and Europe through their ideas and their involvement with IS. Most of those are people coming through the illegal migration channels.

It doesn't mean from my point of view that migrants are terrorists. That's a stupid idea, but what politicians have to consider is the exploitation of the illegal [migration] channels by terrorism to transfer people from the other areas of the world to Europe.

You said Italy only has about 100 foreign fighters. That is relatively few. Is there a reason for that?

There is a difference in the sociological and demographic structure of the population. If you look at the other countries of Europe, you can see that… most of the radicalized people are migrants of the third generation. Look at France, they are French because they have the French ID but all those people are French with a name that is Muhammed. So those people are people of the third generation of migrants and as all the studies of migration say, usually the third generation is the angrier generation

Migration in Italy is quite recent. It started in this way in the early 1990s… so we do not have a third generation.

I can also say that Italy's intelligence apparatus is quite capable of detecting the first signs of radicalization and terrorism.

Islam-Politologe Marco Lombardi (Marco Lombardi)

Sociologist and terrorism expert Marco Lombardi

Anis Amri appears to have been radicalized in Italy, moved freely through Europe, then returned to Italy. In your opinion, what role does Italy play for the jihadis?

The question is, is Italy safer because in some ways it is a logistical base for IS, so it is not useful to target the rest of the country? This is a big question we have to explore and we need to understand better why Amri moved to Berlin, and then from Berlin back to Italy and he never tried to target Italy.

This kind of analysis can help us to understand if there is some logistical reason that makes Italy safer.

You describe a jihadi world view. What role does this play in relation to other radical phenomena – such as socially or a desire for adventure?

This question is discussed intensively in the fight against terrorism.  At this point… we cannot say that radicalization is driven only by religious faith or ideological convictions. We also have very angry men, madmen, psychopaths. There are many paths to radicalization. This is important to understand if we want to interrupt the radicalization processes. At the same time, we have to look at terrorist attacks independent from the motives.

An attack is a terrorist attack because the result of the attack is to spread fear, not because of the [motives of the attacker.]

Marco Lombardi is a sociologist and terrorism expert who teaches at the Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. His recent book is titled "Il terrorismo nel nuovo millennio" (Terrorism in the New Millennium).

The interview was conducted by Kersten Knipp

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