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
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.