The terrorism alert is increasing in Italy. An imam has been arrested. He was president of an Islamic cultural association in the southern city of Foggia, and he is accused of being an ISIS affiliate. In an interview, Souad Sbai, former Italian Member of Parliament, journalist, and expert on the Islamic world, argues that this event confirms the suspicion that certain cultural centers in Italy are actually a cover for terrorist activities. The Egyptian-born man was arrested on charges of indoctrinating minors, inciting them to take part in the Holy War, promoting hatred against the “infidels”, and even explaining how to attack them. Moreover, yesterday the Italian police arrested a Moroccan in Turin, as a result of an investigation of the anti-terrorist unit coordinated by the prosecutor’s office. The accusation is of having carried out a campaign of radicalization and proselytism on the web.
The Imam used to indoctrinate minors, inciting them to take part in the Holy War. Is this news surprising?
“Absolutely not, unfortunately it is simply an ordinary case. We have been warning for ten years now about the dangers lurking in the do-it-yourself mosques, or in certain Islamic cultural centers, which are actually centers of radical propaganda. For many years we have been asking to monitor these places and to investigate their sponsors. Once again, unfortunately, we must say that we were right. But there is a more disturbing aspect in this affair, namely the deafening silence of the last few months. It almost seemed that the terrorist threat was no longer among us. Actually, silence should worry us much more than clamor. It means that they are organizing themselves, and are free to do it without particular attention being given to them.”
But the arrest of the imam and the latest anti-terrorism blitz show that the intelligence has not lowered the guard at all, isn’t it?
“That is true. I have always disapproved the slowness of the state in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. However, I must say that the former Minister of Interior Minniti worked well, and I hope that those who will be ruling the country in the coming future, will follow the same line, making it even more effective. The intelligence is doing a good job, but it is necessary to remain on guard, as I fear that behind the silence of these months there could be a phase of intense organization.”
The Easter feast will be coming in a few days. How high is the risk for Italy and the possibility of an attack?
“I would say that it is very high. But not only in Italy. We must praise also those who have worked during the electoral campaign in silence to protect us from the risks. I fear that if there had not been this extraordinary work of intelligence, they would not have left us in peace, as the electoral periods are usually considered the riskiest ones. Terrorists generally aim to condition the elections, attacking with the purpose of creating institutional chaos and orient the votes with fear.”
What needs to be done in order to prevent the terrorist threat even more effectively? Besides the ordinary investigations and arrests?
“These purported cultural centers filled with criminals who are fostering the third generation of terrorists must be closed. After having indoctrinated the young, they are now focusing on the children. Defining such schools as Quranic, or as Islamic cultural centers, is wrong, as they are just criminal schools. I reiterate it, they must be closed and the children must be taken away from parents who send them to these places, knowing perfectly that they will be brainwashed. These children must be entrusted to recovery organizations, where they must be helped to get out of the tunnel of radicalism. I make a plea to Minniti and his successor. We must recover these children and send them to compulsory schools, uprooting them from the context in which they live before it is too late for them and for us.”