Italian police have arrested at least 19 people in connection with a militant neo-Nazi ring, national media reported on Thursday. Although the investigation was based in Sicily, the suspects hail from all over the country.
One of the arrested included a 26-year-old Milan resident who had been the winner of an online beauty competition called "Miss Hitler." She also spoke at an extreme-right conference in Portugal last August that attempted to unite the so-called "National Socialist movements" of Italy, Portugal, Spain, and France.
During the operation — led by prosecutors in Caltanissetta, Sicily, and dubbed "Black Shadows" — police undercovered troves of weapons, explosives, Nazi memorabilia and texts praising fascist dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, in a series of raids carried out across Italy.
On top of possible weapons charges, promoting fascism is a crime in Italy.
The supposed leader of the group is a 50-year-old public employee from the city of Padua, in the northeastern region of Veneto. She was not known to authorities prior to her detention, police have said, adding that they recovered anti-Semitic material from her home.
Another suspect is an offender with multiple convictions and ties to the 'Ndrangheta, the elusive Calabrian mafia, one of the richest organized crime syndicates in the world and by some estimates responsible for 3% of Italy's GDP. The man, Italian media said, had turned informant for the police against the mafia but was apparently acting as the chief "trainer" for the violence the neo-Nazi group hoped to carry out. Specific center-left politicians were named as possible targets.
The group used a Russian chat app to communicate and try to avoid detection, Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported. A Russian social media platform called VK was also used to host the "Miss Hitler" competition.