Tag Archives: Italy

Turkish Military Blocks Off Italian Drill Ship in Mediterranean

On February 11th, Cyprus accused the Turkish military of blocking a drill ship exploring for natural gas. The Cypriot-flagged ship was contracted by an Italian oil company, Eni.

A spokesman from Eni said the Saipem 12000 drill ship was heading from an area southwest of Cyprus to an area that was southeast of Cyprus when it was stopped by 6 Turkish military ships and told that it could not proceed any further. The Saipem 12000 was 15 miles away from its target when it was stopped. A spokesman from the Italian foreign ministry confirmed that the Turkish ships did not allow the Saipem to go towards its destination.

Turkey claims certain areas off Cyprus’s maritime zone fall under Turkish jurisdiction, or that of Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus. This zone is known as Block 3 and Turkey claims it as their exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Greek Cypriots also claim this area as part of their EEZ. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Turkey violated international law by blocking the ship.

Turkey issued a navigation telex to reserve an area for military exercises. The area reserved covers the 6th-9th blocks that Cyprus declared as their EEZ. The declaration by Turkey came when the Saipem 12000 arrived in the Mediterranean.

No country other than Turkey recognizes Northern Cyprus as an independent country. Turkish Cypriots run the breakaway state and say that resources around the island belong to them, while Greek Cypriots run Cyprus’s internationally recognized government in southern Cyprus. The United Nations General assembly has repeatedly passed resolutions declaring the independence of Turkey’s northern Cyprus is legally invalid.

Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs said February 11th that exploration of Block 3 was a unilateral move by Greek Cypriots which violated the sovereign rights of Turkish Cypriots on the ethnically divided island.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry said that this is a “blatant violation” by Turkey in regards to international law of Cyprus’s sovereign rights. The European Union (EU) has told Turkey to respect the territories of its member states. In 2004, Cyprus joined the EU but only the south enjoys full benefits.

EU council President Donald Tusk called on Turkey to “avoid threats or actions” and to settle the issue peacefully.

The Saipem 12000 was not the only ship that the Turkish military prevented form approaching the area according to a Cyprus government spokesman, although no details were provided.

This is the first time that Turkey has taken such steps to prevent drilling from occurring in the area. Turkey is showing off their military might and want to be taken seriously throughout the region while seeking to promote its influence in regards to the East Med natural gas pipeline project.

East Med pipeline project is facilitated by Israel, Greece, Italy, and Cyprus. The pipeline is expected to be 2000 km long running from the Levantine Basin in the far east corner of the Mediterranean, through Greece and Italy. It is expected to cost approximately 6 billion euros. On December 5th of 2017 Israel, Cyprus, Italy, and Greece signed a memorandum of understanding for the pipeline project.

The project provides the backdrop for an increased security relationship between the four countries, each of which has its own concerns with Turkish activities in the region.

Turkey’s efforts to assert influence in the Mediterranean comes as part of its response to recent advancements of the East Med pipeline project. The next advancement for the East Med pipeline project will be the signing of an intergovernmental agreement between the four countries in the spring of 2018 in Crete.

Qatari Deal for Military Jets as the Gulf Crisis Persists

The Qatari and British governments have signed a “statement of intent” for the sale of 24 Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets from British defense group BAE Systems, worth several billion dollars in an attempt to bolster the gulf state’s military during the gulf crisis with its four other Arab neighbors. The statement of intent was made on September 17th, and would be the first major defense contract between the UK and Qatar.

The British Ministry of Defense said in a statement that the deal with their “strategic partner” has taken several years to negotiate. The ministry also stated that this deal would hope to enhance security within the region across all their gulf allies. This deal also is expected to support 40,000 jobs in Britain.

The fighter jets deal is a joint project between BAE Systems, France’s Airbus, and Italy’s Finmeccanica. The statement did not give the cost of the combat jet deal. However, in 2014 BAE agreed to supply Saudi Arabia with 72 Typhoon jets for $6 billion dollars.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt broke off ties with Qatar on June 5th, accusing the state of supporting terrorist  organizations and attempting to destabilize the region. They have launched an economic boycott stopping Qatar airways fights from using their airspace, closing off the land border with Saudi Arabia, and blocking its shipments from their ports.

The four Arab nations set a list of 13 demands.  Some of these demands include limiting diplomatic ties to Iran, shutting down the state-funded Al-Jazeera news network, severing ties to all terrorist organization, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah, shutting down the Turkish military base, handing over terrorist figures, and aligning its foreign and defense policy with that of its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member states.

Qatar has continued to deny its close relationship with Iran as well as funding terror organizations.

Qatar is a relatively small nation of about 2.3 million located on the Arabian Peninsula into the Persian Gulf. It has the highest per capita income in the world due to its extensive natural gas reserves. Qatar’s own military is relatively small for the region, the army is estimated to be around 12,000 troops.

Shortly after the Gulf crisis began, on June 14th the United States approved a $12 billion-dollar deal with Qatar  to sell F-15 fighter jets, even though President Trump has accused the nation of supporting terrorism and sided with the Saudi-led bloc. Earlier in November of 2016 under the Obama administration there was a $21.1 billion dollar deal  already in the works, and the current deal under the Trump administration added to the number of jets in production. The previous deal approved the possible sale of up to 72 F-15 aircrafts.

The Qatari air force is estimated to only contain 12 operational jets and their air force consists of 1,500 individuals. The number of jets under the deals of the British and Americans raise questions about Qatar’s intentions. Both deals have been under work for years, but the timing of the announcements are clearly intended to send a message regarding Qatar’s relationship with the western posters.

The Qatari government’s fighter jet buying spree is best understood in the context of Qatari efforts to bolster support from western powers during the blockade.

The gulf crisis between Qatar and its neighbors came to the fore beginning in 2011 during the Arab Spring, as Qatar and its neighbors found themselves on different sides of various Islamist-led uprisings in the region. In particular the UAE began to blame Qatar for backing the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE alleged was in engaged in subversive activities. In 2013 Qatar was accused of breaching the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) security agreement of failing to commit to promises of not interfering in the internal affairs of the fellow GCC states and of harboring hostile media, referring to Al-Jazeera.

In March of 2014, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain suspended diplomatic ties with Qatar due to their support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Later in November of 2014, after 8 months of tension and frozen relations with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain, agreed to return their ambassadors, ending the suspension of diplomatic ties.

The British have been attempting to mediate the crisis with Kuwait. Foreign Secretary of England, Boris Johnson, in a statement said that “the security of the gulf is our security” and that the British will remain deeply committed to the stability of the entire region.  The United States on the other hand is split with how to align.

President Trump has previously declared that the blockade “hard but necessary,”  and overtly criticized Qatar for its role in terror finance, but other Trump administration officials have sent mixed messages, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson is perceived as having sided with Qatar, a country with which he has a long history of cooperation during his time as CEO of ExxonMobil.

Although the crisis is unlikely to lead to an armed conflict, the United States needs to keep an eye on the increase in Qatar’s military deal making.

Another factor to consider is that Qatar is  home to the largest U.S. military base in the region. Qatar’s al-Udeid Air Base,  is a crucial staging ground for U.S. operations in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and is one of several American military outposts across the Gulf that are intended to serve as a bulwark against Iran but now put Washington in a delicate balancing act.

The base is home to an estimated 11,000 U.S. Military personnel and was built in the 1990s. Qatar invested over $1 billion to construct the base, in an attempt to facilitate a deeper cooperation with U.S. military.

As the Qatar-Gulf crisis persists, it is unclear how the blockade will be resolved.

United States and the United Kingdom, have chosen to tread lightly with Qatar, largely due to Qatar’s role in the energy market and its perceived importance as a military staging ground for counterterrorism efforts.

Qatar’s arms deal diplomacy must not be allowed to distract from the central issue. Trump Administration officials need to stand behind the president’s decision that Qatar must alter its behavior. Both the U.S. and its Western allies, including Britain, ultimately cannot tolerate Qatar’s support for terrorism, and its intentional destabilization of the Middle East/North Africa region.

 

Afghan Terrorists Planned to Attack London

On Wednesday, May 10, 2016, Italian police detained two Afghan men in the Southern Italian city of Bari, for having connections to the Islamic State (IS), and facilitating illegal Migration. The two men are suspected of planning to carry out terrorist attacks on select targets in London.

The first man, Hakim Nasiri is suspected of being linked to international terrorism, and was living in a refugee center in Bari, while awaiting his asylum request to live in Italy. The other suspect, Gulistan Ahmadzai, lived in a Southern Italian town near Foggia, had already obtained refugee status, and is suspected of organizing illegal immigration schemes.

Authorities say Ahmadzai was planning on moving the French port city of Calais and use it as a base of operations to smuggle terrorists into the U.K.

The Telegraph reported that the two Afghan men are part of a five-man terror cell that sent at least one member to London last December to scout potential targets. The other two suspects are Qari Khesta Mir Ahmadzai and Surgul Amhadzai, both Afghans wanted by the police and believed to still be in Afghanistan.

Authorities believe Surgul Amhadzai was in London December 9, 2015 scouting targets for the terror cell.

The fifth member is Pakistani national named Zulifqar Amjad who was arrested in Milan, but lived in Bari, his role within the group is not yet known.

Italian police believe the men were given travel documents  that allowed them to travel throughout the Schengen Zone EU states, but also made it to the U.K., which is not part of the Schengen Zone. UK officials have indicated they do not know how Surgul Amhadzai got into the country or how long he stayed.

Italian authorities had briefly detained four of the suspects including Naisir, Qari, and Surgul in December after they were caught video taping a shopping center in Bari. They also found cell phone pictures of Bari airport and local shopping malls. A few days later 15 Qari and Surgul fled Italy for Istanbul and later entered Kabul.

Italian authorities found one of the suspects cell phones and discovered a list of prices for smuggling migrants into Europe, and information about smuggling activity in Italy and Calais, France. Investigators found that Greece and Turkey were the initial starting points for the groups smuggling operations. Cell phone pictures revealed likely targets for the terrorists which included a hotel in West Indian Quay, the Sunborn Yacht Club, the South way Footbridge to Canary Wharf, The Premier Hotel Inn, and an Ibis hotel in Victoria Dock Road all targets were in London.

There were also pictures of an Italian airport and sea port along with pictures of the Roman coliseum, along with pictures of potential targets in France.

The U.K.’s Home Office Secretary Theresa May has ordered that a reorganization of Britain’s coastal forces to protect its borders as it is suspected the IS terrorists may have tried to gain entry into the U.K. through Calais, which runs ferries daily between France and the U.K.

The Home Office came under major scrutiny last month when a whistle blower within the Home Office admitted that Border Forces lacked the necessary powers in preventing terrorism and also lacked critical resources to protect the country’s borders as migrants attempted to sail from France to Kent and Sussex.

May noted that there are now four cutters patrolling the channels and waterways of the U.K., but critics claim the patrol is insufficient for the task.

The arrest of the two terror suspects once again solidifies a link between human trafficking and migrant smuggling and terrorist operations, and is likely to provide added fuel to the argument of those who propose reinitiating border controls between EU states

Italian Authorities Note Growing Number of Jihadists in Lombardy Region

On Thursday, April 28, 2016, Italian authorities arrested four suspected Islamic State (IS) members during anti-terror raids in northern Italy. Intercepted intelligence led authorities to the location of one the suspects who had received instructions to carry out attacks Italy and with a particular focus directed against Rome.  Recent arrests have pointed to a disturbing trend of jihadists residing and operating out of the Lombardy region, one of the more heavily Muslim populated areas of Italy.

Italian authorities had issued six arrest warrants and successfully captured four suspects, all in the Lombardy region.

Abderrahim Moutahrrick, of Moroccan descent, reportedly received direct communications from Islamic State was arrested along with his wife Selma Bencharki. The two were allegedly planning on travelling to IS territory, together with their two young children.

Another Moroccan suspect identified as Abderrahmane Khachia was arrested in Varese, Italy. He had planned on traveling to Syria with Moutahrrick and Bencharki to become a an IS fighter. In January 2015, Khachia’s brother was expelled from Italy on international terrorism charges and later killed while fighting for IS.

Two arrest warrants are still issued for Mohamed Koraichi and his wife, both of whom left Italy to fight for IS last year with their three small children. Italian prosecutor Maurizio Romanelli says there is evidence that suggests Koraichi was the one in communication with Moutahrrick about conducting attacks in Italy. The last person arrested was Koraichi’s sister who put her brother in contact with the other IS suspects.

Romanelli noted the intercepted intelligence called for lone wolf attacks by foreign terrorist fighters (FTF). Despite the arrests, Italian law enforcement insisted there was no immediate terror threat to the region.

On March 27, 2016, Italian authorities arrested a Moroccan who was believed to have made documents for the Brussels bombers.  On April 5, 2016, Italian and German authorities in a joint anti-terror raid arrested five men in Milan connected to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. Milan prosecutor Stefano Dumbruso said the five men had connections to other terror groups in France, Germany, Belgium, and Britain.

The Lombardy region remains tense, with the institution of a number of measures including banning veils and/or burkas following the Paris attacks. Lombardy’s regional legislature passed a  law restricting mosque building based on zoning regulations that was later overturned by Italy’s constitutional courts. A2015 census found there are 1.6 million Muslims living in Italy and 26.5% or about 400,000 live in the Lombardy region.  Lombardy Governor Roberto Maroni is a leader of the euro-skeptic Northern League which opposes large scale Islamic immigration to the region. In the wake of 9/11 the Northern League called for the closures of mosques and Italian borders to Muslim migrants.

It’s not clear that the Lombardy region yet represents the same kind of hotbed for jihadist activity as seen in areas such as Molenbeek in Brussels, but recent arrests raise concerns that Islamic State and Al Qaeda supporters can successfully conceal themselves among the wider Islamic population in the region.

Deal for United Libyan Government Signed … by Some

On July 11, representatives from the internationally recognized government of Libya and from various factions that create the Islamist opposition government signed an agreement to create a united government for one year, though the opposition government itself boycotted the agreement. The internationally recognized government is called the General National Congress (GNC) while the government controlled by the conglomeration of Islamist groups collectively known as Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) is known as the new General National Congress (new GNC).

In 2011, the longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who had suppressed Islamist groups, was killed. The country held elections for the GNC in 2012 and in 2014, and numerous Islamist groups, which were allowed to participate in politics for the first time, participated in both elections. In 2012, a coalition of secular groups won the largest voting bloc in the GNC, though a combination of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parties won a large bloc as well. However, the Islamist groups lost a lot of seats in the 2014 elections. Following those elections, Fajr Dawn forced the internationally recognized government out of the capital of Tripoli and created a rival government. Since then, the country has been torn apart by fighting and has seen an increase in Islamic State presence.

The rival governments have been engaged in negotiations for months. The deal signed on July 11 has the support of the internationally recognized government and various small political parties and civil groups. Though some member groups of Fajr Libya were among those to sign the deal, officials representing the entirety of the new GNC failed to give their support to the agreement or to even go to Skhirat, Morocco, where negotiations have been held. The rival government says that the deal is not “satisfactory” and requires “modifications” before it would be willing to sign on. Nevertheless, many see the preliminary agreement as a positive step toward peace in a war-torn country.

Among those praising the agreement were the European Union and Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. In 2015 alone, thousands of African immigrants have entered Europe through Italy, many coming from Libya in an attempt to escape the violence and chaos. A stable government in Libya would have the ability to combat human smuggling, which would likely lead to a decline in the number of immigrants seeking political asylum in Europe. As terrorist organizations are among those who profit from the lucrative human-smuggling business, a stable Libya could contribute to counterterrorism efforts with no extra effort from the West by taking away a source of income from these groups.

Additionally, terrorist groups, including the well-resourced Al Qaeda and Islamic State, have been disguising their fighters as refugees and sending them into Europe through various human smuggling routes, including those coming from Libya. If Libya were to become more stable, it would theoretically be able to crack down on human trafficking. These groups would therefore have a much more difficult time sending members into Europe to contribute to their recruitment efforts and attacks in the West.

Despite the many positive steps toward peace that may arise from a deal, many fail to realize just how much the internationally recognized government of Libya has been manipulated. As previously stated, Libya overthrew Gaddafi in 2011 and held its first democratic elections in 2012. In those elections, the Islamist groups legitimately won power and became the Libyan parliament’s second-largest voting bloc. However, when they were badly defeated in the next democratic elections, held in 2014, they withdrew completely from the government to stage a revolt under the Fajr Libya militia coalition against the newly (legitimately) elected government. By creating a violent and chaotic situation in the months following the election, they forced the internationally recognized, lawfully chosen government into negotiations that have forced a concession of power to political parties that Libyan citizens chose not to elect in the first place.

Furthermore, as the Center for Security Policy has previously stated, “while they may have differences, Islamist forces, whether Libyan Dawn, Al Qaeda’s affiliate Ansar al-Sharia, or the Islamic State, all seek to impose Shariah law, and are inherently anti-democratic, and diametrically opposed to U.S. interests.” Though some smaller Islamist parties have agreed to this power-sharing deal with the secular, recognized government,  the opposition government’s refusal to sign the agreement until it receives even more undeserved concessions completely undermines the democratic process put in place after Gaddafi. These Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi-backed opposition parties do not believe in sharing power, turning to violence when they lose power and using negotiations to gain the upper hand in order to undemocratically impose Sharia, rather than to reach a compromise with the secular government. Should they lose again in future elections, there is no guarantee that the country will not similarly dissolve into violence.

Islamic State Claims Italian Consulate Bombing

At approximately 6:15am on July 11, a 450-kilogram car bomb laden exploded near the Italian Consulate in Cairo, Egypt. The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on Twitter.

A street vendor was killed. Ten civilians were hurt, including a police officer and four children. None of the casualties were Italian. The main entrance to the building was destroyed, windows were broken, and pipes burst, leaving the building flooded. Due to the timing of the attack, which was early in the morning on a day when the Consulate is closed, the casualty count could have been significantly higher. Following the attack, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi about Rome’s support of Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni is scheduled to meet with Sisi on July 13.

The IS affiliate in Egypt is known as Wilayat Sinai (Sinai Province). The group, formerly known as Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem), was inspired by Al Qaeda but pledged allegiance to IS in November 2014. Though it is a part of IS, it reportedly also works with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, to facilitate attacks on Egyptian security forces.

The IS statement of responsibility did not give a reason as to why the group targeted the Italian Consulate, though an IS-linked Twitter account tweeted that Muslims should avoid areas like the Consulate because those are considered to be “legitimate targets.” The New York Times reported that the statement of responsibility came from “Islamic State, Egypt” rather than from “Sinai Province,” which Wilayat Sinai typically uses, raising questions as to the veracity of the claim.

Wilayat Sinai has a history of targeting foreigners. On February 18, 2014, the group warned all tourists in Egypt to leave the country by February 20, 2014 or they would risk getting attacked. The February 18 statement followed a bombing attack on a tourist bus two days prior that killed two South Korean tourists and the Egyptian bus driver. The threat caused travel agencies to advise travelers to stay inside their hotels and a decline in tourism numbers.

Wilayat Sinai has a history of targeting foreigners, an affiliation with IS, and has conducted numerous deadly attacks on Egyptian military targets in the Sinai Peninsula. The group is highly capable, but it chose to bomb the Italian Consulate at a time when very few people were there. Given these circumstances, the attack on the Italian Consulate on July 11 seems to serve as a similar warning to the February 2014 warning to tourists, a move that is not typical of IS but is standard with previous actions by this particular organization. It typically targets the Egyptian military and police but may be seeking to increase its attacks on foreigners, including governmental and tourist infrastructure, in the future.

ISIS Takes Control of Airport in Sirte, Libya

Islamic State (ISIS) forces raided the civilian airbase Al-Qardabiya, near the northern city of Sirte Libya, Thursday, May 28, 2015. The 166 Battalion militia was forced to withdraw after a request to Tripoli for backup was not answered. Fajr Libya or “Libyan Dawn”, an alliance of Muslim Brotherhood-linked militias and other jihadist groups (including Al Qaeda-linked Ansar Al-Sharia), had originally seized control of the air base in August of 2014, and had maintained control until recently ousted.

Al-Qardabiya was not the only source of aviation that Libyan Dawn controlled. In August of 2014, Libyan Dawn seized Tripoli International Airport. The airport, previously controlled by two anti-Islamist militias, had actually been closed up until Libyan Dawn took over. One of the primary concerns of the Tripoli airport incident revolved around 11 commercial airplanes that were reported missing after the group took over. Considering Libyan Dawn took over the airport in August, many became worried that these missing aircraft could be used in some sort of plan or attack on September 11th. Back in March 2015, Libyan Ambassador to the UAE Aref Ali Nayed warned of just such an attack scenario.

The Islamic State’s seizure of the Al-Qardabiya airbase will further raise concern among many regarding ISIS’s increasing presence in Libya and especially about what that presence means for neighboring countries. Italy, a country approximately 1100 miles from Libya, is particularly concerned. Islamic State’s rhetoric targeting Italy has only increased with its increasing strength in Libya. As previously discussed here on the Free Fire Blog, Italy’s proximity to Libya poses a number of issues as the North Africa state has descended into chaos.

Any refugee that reaches Europe is almost automatically granted asylum based on the European Commission’s refugee system. This means that undetected IS terrorists that find the means to reach Italy’s borders will be allowed into the country, and are able to freely travel throughout Europe.

The time for serious and revolutionary reform of this system was yesterday. Islamic State sympathizers threatened to target Italian tourist sites and monuments in April of this year; this threat has become more concerning considering that two airbases are in the control of jihadists.

Libyan airstrikes against Islamic State as Threat To Europe Grows

The Libyan Air Force launched attacks on Islamic State strongholds within Derna, Libya. These airstrikes have targeted several weapons and ammunition storage facilities. The Islamic State released an online statement confirming the attack, but claimed the attacks struck the headquarters for the Hisbah, ISIS’ shariah law enforcers. Pro-Islamic State twitter users have accused the Libyan government of striking a civilian apartment building, but no confirmation of damages or losses has been reported.

The attacks took place on May 2nd, targeting the city of Derna.   Derna is a coastal city, making it a strategic stronghold for the Islamic State, in part because it allows them to take part in smuggling into Europe, mainly Italy.

In a country filled with clashing governments and terror groups, it is no wonder Islamic State is increasing its influence in Libya. Not only does Libya provide the Islamic State with access to the trafficking and smuggling trade, but gives them a base from where to launch attacks on Italy. A  NATO official told the news website WND that an attack against Islamic State forces in Libya is not under discussion, and warned that such an effort would face challenges because of the high concentrations of civilians and refugees. In Italy the call for action has grown more vocal, as  Italian politician Paolo Gentiloni, warned, “We don’t have months and months to sort this out”.

The Islamic State has already promised to attack Italy and revealed that they already have supporters operating within Italy. The best way to stop Islamic State from infiltrating Italy is to crack down on the smuggling and trafficking route from Libya to Italy. These routes provide an easy point of entry and allow Islamic State members to pass unnoticed and undetected.

The failure to act in Libya is a result of a disjointed policy, which recognizes the importance of striking Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, but ignores, or disassociates Islamic State provinces from the main body. Although Islamic State launched efforts in Libya as early as November 2014, as late as April 20th, shortly after the Islamic State’s execution of 21 Coptic Christians,  the Obama Press Secretary Josh Earnest said it was “difficult to assess” what presence Islamic State had in Libya. Libya’s Foreign Minister has accused the U.S. of being “blind” to the threat.

The U.S. and coalition efforts should actively target Islamic State and other jihadist groups (including Al Qaeda) regardless of expansion across borders. The United States and its allies must adopt a global strategy against a global threat.

Securing Italy from Islamic State Requires Changes to Refugee Laws

The Islamic State has announced that it is beginning its countdown to terror in Italy. Photos were spread on twitter of handwritten signs held in front of notable places in Rome such as the Colosseum and in Milan. Written on the signs was the hashtag “#Islamic State in Rome”.

Photos such as these are not uncommon. Similar notes have been held up across the world, including in the United States in both Chicago and Washington D.C.

With messages such as “we are in your cities” and “you are our goals anywhere”, they are used to recruit jihadists and instill fear in civilians.

The threat may not have materialized in Chicago and Washington, D.C., but Italy does have cause for concern. In a recent pamphlet titled, “Black Flags of Rome”, published by the Islamic State, they layout step by step their plan to conquer Italy. While highly ambitious, this manual for conquering Italy must be taken seriously and the authorities need to create a comprehensive response.

The manual indicates that the jihadists have focused on Italy  thanks to its central geography in Europe. From there, terrorists’ fantasize about spreading across Europe, conquering countries and gathering troops, with the ultimate plan of heading to Israel.

While these plans are obviously outside the realm of Islamic State’s capability, it shows clear intent and desire to target Italy and authorities should act accordingly.

One focus on the Islamic State’s proposal is utilizing Muslim gangs already present throughout many parts of Europe. Combined with  photos of Islamic State Sympathizers posing outside key landmarks across Italy reinforces the fact that there are already jihadists living in Italy.

The “Black Flags of Rome” document also discusses the use of the sea as a tool to conquer southern Italy by transporting jihadists and weapons from Libya to Sicily and Southern Italy. Multiple reports have discussed Islamic State targeting cruise lines and other shipping within the Mediterranean.

Additionally, from January to March 2015 alone, over 10,000 people have been illegally trafficked and smuggled to Italy from Libya. It should be assumed that the people who are smuggled into Italy are not all simply civilians looking for a better life.

The trade routes throughout Africa leading to Libya and ultimately across the Mediterranean to Italy can be used to smuggle terrorists as well. Those terrorists can bring in weapons and other materials needed for ongoing terror plots.

The Italian authorities have already begun providing more security around some of the historic attractions in Rome, but have yet to crack down on the smuggling operations from Libya.

Under Europe’s Common European Asylum System, every refugee in Italy is entitled to asylum. The European Union’s policies may as well be welcoming jihadists into their countries with open arms.

With real threats on the horizon, it is time for Italy and the European Union to develop a plan in order to strengthen its borders and take preemptive actions, before the Islamic State has an opportunity to carry out planned attacks.

Large Italian Counterterrorism Operation Shows Threat to Europe

Italian police are currently conducting a large-scale counterterrorism operation on Friday to dismantle an al-Qaeda linked terror network that was reportedly planning an attack on the Vatican. Some members of the cell were of a sufficiently high-level of importance within Al Qaeda to have had direct contact with Osama bin Laden.

The operation, which is still underway, consists of a series of raids in seven provinces throughout Italy, one of which targeted the Italian Mediterranean island of Sardinia, the terror cell’s alleged headquarters. Much of the intelligence leading to the raids came from investigators wiretapping the network’s phones and computers between 2005 and 2012, before the group discovered they were being monitored.

Authorities expect to arrest 18 people, most of them from Pakistan, in what Mario Carta, the counter-terror police official leading the raids called “one of the most important operations we ever conducted.” Nine people are already detained, two are at-large in Italy, and the remaining seven are believed to be in Pakistan.

Counterterrorism officials said the network started operating out of Sardinia in 2005 and was very well structured, composed primarily of Afghan and Pakistani nationals with connections to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Prosecutor Mauro Mura revealed at a news conference in Sardinia that wiretaps indicate the terror cell was preparing for a possible attack on the Vatican, including having a Pakistani suicide bomber arrive in Rome, who later left the country. The 2010 plot was meant to target Pope Benedict XVI, but the Vatican released a statement saying the threat is no longer a concern.

Two members of the network are thought to have been close confidants of Osama bin Laden who actually assisted the al-Qaeda leader while he was in hiding. According to Carta, wiretaps show one man bragging that bin Laden personally sent him to Italy; Italian authorities believe members of the cell were in contact with people who knew bin Laden’s whereabouts and even asked about his health over the phone.

Some of those with warrants out for arrest are suspected of having involvement with the brutal 2009 market bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan that killed at least 100 people and injured over 200 others.

According to police, the terror cell’s goal was to create an insurrection against the Pakistani government and support attacks that would deteriorate the government’s backing of United States forces in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the network “preached armed struggle against the West” and was very well armed.

To these ends, the network fundraised throughout Italy to then smuggle the money into Pakistan for terrorist operations. An imam in the northern city of Bergamo, for example, who was the group’s alleged spiritual leader and has been arrested, collected money supposedly for religious reasons from Afghans and Pakistanis in Italy. Much of the money was moved through hawala, a trust-based transfer system that predates the Prophet Mohammed.

The network also frequently smuggled illegal immigrants out of Afghanistan and Pakistan who posed as political refugees to trick immigration officers. One suspect owned a construction business in Sardinia, and he reportedly recruited immigrants with false documents. The organization used work contracts as a primary way to get people into the country.

Italy has been especially concerned about Islamic terrorism reaching its borders since Islamic State (ISIS) moved into Libya – just across the Mediterranean – and threatened to takeover Rome and send migrants to Italy in a video where the jihadist group beheaded 21 Coptic Christians. Despite being enemies, al-Qaeda and ISIS have worked together, like with the attack on Charlie Hebdo, making an al-Qaeda cell on Italian soil even more serious than the obvious threat it would normally pose.

While the Italian counterterrorism operation is encouraging, it is a sober reminder of the danger that the West faces from Islamic terrorism. There are differences between extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, but their main enemy is ultimately western civilization. Given the several attacks carried out in western countries like France and Denmark, this threat is not confined to the Middle East and Africa. The danger is real today, especially in Europe, and other countries need to confront it like Italy did on Friday.