The radicalisation of Anis Amri in Sicily

Since attack, Italian investi­gators found documents showing pattern of unreported radicalisation of Amri during his time in Sicilian jails.

Italian police officers work next to the body of Anis Amri in a suburb of the northern city of Milan, Italy, last December. (Reuters)

2017/01/15 Issue: 89 Page: 12

The Arab Weekly
Alessandra Bocchi

Tunis - Italian investigations into the Tunisian terrorist suspected of killing 12 people at a Christ­mas market in Berlin have un­covered a network of support organisations that provided him with help and indoctrination over a 4-year period.

The Islamic State (ISIS) released a video after the December 19th at­tack showing Anis Amri, a 24-year-old born in Oueslatia, pledging al­legiance to the group: “My message to crusaders bombing Muslims eve­ry day… Their blood will not go in vain. We are a nation behind them and will take revenge for them,” he said.

Amri crossed France into Italy after the December 19th attack, the BBC reported, where he was even­tually killed by Italian police in the northern Milan suburb of Sesto San Giovanni.

Since the attack, Italian investi­gators found documents showing a pattern of unreported radicalisation of Amri during his time in Sicilian jails.

Amri arrived on the small island of Lampedusa in 2011, where he sought asylum pretending to be a minor. He was sent to a tempo­rary centre for underage migrants, where, Italian security officials said, he became increasingly unsatis­fied with living conditions and the bureaucratic processes required to obtain asylum.

Amri and four other Tunisians threatened and beat the custodian of the centre, took part in a robbery and “in a particularly violent riot, when the centre was set on fire and several people were injured”, an Italian security official told the Ital­ian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. Amri was found guilty of aggravated in­timidation, personal injury and ar­son and was sentenced to four years in jail.

The Italian Division of Investiga­tion and Special Operations, known as Digos, and investigations led by the prosecution in Palermo recov­ered files showing violent behav­iour that led Amri to be moved to different jails in Sicily. In four years, he was sent from Catania to Enna, Sciacca, Agrigento and Palermo, where, according to Digos, he was in contact with Tunisian Islamists who helped him obtain false documents to freely move around Europe.

However, Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that Amri was only signalled to the authorities in prison as violent and indications of radicalisation were never reported, even though Italian security offi­cials said that during his time in Sic­ily’s jails Amri told a fellow inmate: “You’re a Christian, so I will cut your head off.”

His behaviour was reported as anti-social and he was excluded from activities with other inmates. In 2013, Amri was found to have in­timidated and bullied his cellmates and a year later he was accused of organising revolts inside the prison.

The Italian penitentiary depart­ment’s administration warned the Italian committee of antiterrorism analysis about Amri’s suspicious ac­tivities. According to findings by the Italian branch of Investigations on Criminal Activities and Terrorism, they found the Italian penitentiary system had created an environment in which “religious acts of conver­sion were directed in a way that in­creased the number of people ready to commit acts of terrorism”.

During his time in jail, Italian in­vestigators said Amri obtained false documents through a terrorist net­working operation so he could reach ISIS recruiter Ahmad Abdelaziz based in Germany, a known recruit­er of terrorists for the organisation in Europe, Il Sole 24 Ore reported.

The same investigators also said there was evidence that Amri could have contacted jihadist cells in southern Italy connected to the ter­rorist organisation Ansar al-Islam, which planned journeys for undoc­umented migrants to venture into northern Europe.

Amri was released from jail for deportation in May 2015; however, the Tunisian government refused to recognise Amri as a citizen, leading Italian authorities to order him to leave the country and filed his pro­file with the Schengen information centre, reported the Italian newspa­per Il Fatto Quotidiano.

Amri left Italy a few months later, apparently to reach Abdelaziz in Germany, where the plotting of ter­rorist acts began, the German news­paper Bild said.

Alessandra Bocchi is a Tunis-based journalist.

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