Opinion
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Human trafficking and jihadist infiltration - a potential risk for Europe

By Giovanni Giacalone

The summer season is about to begin and as weather and sea conditions in the southern Mediterranean improve, the human traffickers based in Libya and Tunisia are getting ready to stuff boats and vessels with illegal immigrants in order to push them at sea with the hope that some NGO boat or the Italian Coast Guard will pick them up and bring them to Europe. It is not a case that the NGO boat "Seawatch 3" left the port of Marseille a few days ago and reached Libyan waters waiting for illegals to be "rescued"; indeed, in the upcoming weeks and months more initiatives on behalf of the pro-immigration activists can be expected.

Italian Minister of Interior, Matteo Salvini, clear stated that NGO boats will not be allowed to enter Italian ports and that no illegals will reach Italy, however the Minister has to face disruptive actions on behalf of part of the Italian political arena, such as Naples mayor Luigi De Magistris and Palermo's mayor Leoluca Orlando and he also has to deal with part of the Italian judiciary which is not so keen to contrast NGO boats activity once they are blocked and even to implement deportation of illegals who have no right to be on Italian soil.

In addition, in mid- Apri,l an argument borke out between Salvini and Italian Defense Minister, Elisabetta Trenta, regarding a directive that the Minister of Interior sent to the summits of Law Enforcement and to the Ministry of Defense, asking for specific strictness in keeping ports closed and preventing illegal infiltration. However this move was not appreciated by Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta and by part of the army General Staff as they accused Salvini of unproperly pressuring the Defense apparatus and claiming that such initiative goes beyond his competence

Salvini replied that it is his duty to safeguard the Italian borders, recalling that Navy ships are expected to safeguard the Italian coasts and that they can also perform "police operations" at sea. This is an interesting point as part of the Italian public opinion has raised questions on the reasons why the Italian Coast Guard picked up immigrants in foreign waters and carried them to Italy instead of preventing them from reaching the country.

The Minister of Interior also recalled that there is high risk of jihadist infiltration thorugh the illegal immigration flow from Libya and it is mandatory for the Italian authorities to prevent this risk.

Such facts show a lack of coordination between Salvini and the Minister of Defense, Elisabetta Trenta as a normal procedure would require the two ministers to coordinate before implementing directives.

A lack of coordination that could reflect different positions regarding the way to deal with the illegal immigration phenomenon. It is not a case that in mid-April the Minister of Defense had claimed that "the policy of closed ports is an extraordinary measure that cannot be maintained forever". 

In addition, Trenta also claimed that "in case of a war in Libya, Italy will have refugees, not immigrants, and refugees will have to be hosted".

Jihadist infiltration through immigration flow

The problem with the policy of "open ports" is that it opens doors to an indiscriminate entrance of individuals coming from all corners of Africa, including criminals and potential terrorists.

Italian authorities are not able to deal with such a massive flow without any type of European support and that is obvious as there are insufficient resources to deal with such an uncontrolled phenomenon. It's not a case that authorities are unable to properly contain and identify the immigrants and many of them simply disappear once they reach Italian soil.

Additionally, as the war in Libya continues for its 8th year and the jihadist presence in North and Central Africa dramatically increases after Isis' defeat in Syria on behalf of Russia and the Syrian government, the risk for jihadist infiltration in Europe through the illegal immigration route from Libya increases. Infact it is important to recall that human trafficking is a major source of income for part of the tribal economy in Libya as well as for the militias in southern and western Libya.

Here are a few facts: in April 2018, in Naples, the Italian police arrested 22 year-old Gambian citizen Alagie Touray and accused him of terrorism as he had recorder a video where he swore oath to Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. According to enforcers, Touray was planning to launch a car against a crowded place. The individual had arrived in 2017 in Messina boarding a boat from Libya, together with 638 other immigrants and he had presented a request for political asylum.

Two months later, in June 2018, Italian authorities arrested another Gambian citizen, 34 year-old Sillah Housman, also accused of terrorism. As investigations moved forward it turned out that Touray and Housman had both been trained in weapon and explosive use in a jihadist mobile camp in Libya, known as "Mo'askar".

Another well-known case of a jihadist reaching Italy on board a boat of illegals is the one involving Anis Amri, the "Berlin Christmas market attacker"; Amri had arrived in the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in February 2011 after fleeing Tunisia on a boat together with other illegals

Now, the two Gambian jihadists were caught, but the question is: "are there other jihadists currently hiding and waiting to strike?"

The potential infiltration into Europe of jihadists coming from Africa and utilizing the Libyan route, as well as the ones coming from east through the Balkanic route, is a clear and present danger that puts at stake national as well as European security. However that is not the only danger, as Europe is now facing the risk of foreign fighters returning from the Syrian and Iraqi warzones as well as further radicalization being carried out by propagandists throughout Europe, looking for potential volunteers to carry out attacks.

Alexei Grishin's paradigm on radicalization is an "evergreen" as it recalls that jihadist propagandists and recruiters are always looking for young individuals in harsh economic, social and psychological conditions and there are plenty of such cases throughout Europe among newcomers, second and third generations as well as among natives who have converted to radical Islam.

It's not simple to predict what will occur in the upcoming summer months, but one thing is for sure, all necessary measures must be taken to prevent and contain jihadist infiltration and the closure of illegal immigration routes is part of such policy, including neutralizing unsuitable rescue initiatives if they end up helping the human traffickers' activities.