A recent report circulated by Interpol names 50 Tunisians who, it is suspected, have become fighters for the Islamic State (ISIS). These men have infiltrated Italy from Tunisia, and Interpol warned authorities that they may target cities across Europe. Italian police have denied the report’s validity.
The United Nations has estimated that roughly 5,500 Tunisians have travelled to ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq to join the Islamist terror state. As ISIS has largely collapsed in the Middle East, terrorists may spread into other areas to wreak havoc.
Interpol’s general secretariat drafted the list of 50 suspected ISIS fighters in Italy, and sent it to the Italian interior ministry on November 29. They later distributed the list to anti-terrorism agencies across the continent, The Guardian reported.
Four of the suspects on the list were already known to European intelligence agencies. One “may have already crossed the Italian-French border, to reach Gard, a department in southern France, in the Occitanie region,” the agency told The Guardian. “According to the information obtained in the field of international cooperation, the Tunisian citizens are linked to Isis/Daesh and would have reached Europe aboard unidentified boats.”
Last July, Interpol released a list of 173 suspected ISIS fighters who may have been trained for attacks across the continent.
The Tunisians on the recent list are believed to have arrived in Sicily between July and October 2017 on fishing boats that were then abandoned on the beach, a European counter-terrorism officer told The Guardian. Many Tunisian migrants arrive at the Torre Salsa beach in Agrigento, having left Tunisia from Ben Guerdane, a city on the border with Libya, where ISIS engaged the Tunisian army in 2016, killing 28.
After the Guardian report went public, the Italian police department said there was no evidence of these 50 suspected ISIS fighters, ANSA reported. The department said the report “does not find any result.” The department added that collaboration between Italy and Tunisia had enabled Italian police to identify “a tiny number of people” flagged by Tunisian authorities, and these people had already been repatriated.
Local authorities estimated that more than 3,000 Tunisians have landed on the coast of Agrigento since July. Police have managed to block and identify 400 of these migrants.
“Investigators cannot exclude that, behind these ghost journeys, they may be jihadi loyalists hidden amongst the people travelling into Sicily,” Luigi Patronaggio, Agrigento’s chief prosecutor, told The Guardian.
Italy’s interior ministry estimated that over 5,500 Tunisians arrived and were identified in Italy in 2017. The country has repatriated 2,193 of those people, via twice-weekly flights from Palermo.
Terror attacks have struck many European cities, perhaps most notably the 2016 Berlin attack. That year, Tunisian Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist Anis Amri targeted the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, murdering 12.
Last year, the French city of Lyon decided not to open its world-famous Christmas market, because the cost of security would have reached nearly € 20,000.
Last November, German police arrested six Syrian nationals suspected of having fought with ISIS — and allegedly connected with a terror plot against another Christmas market in Germany. They were later released.
In March, police shut down a shopping mall in Essen after terror threats. At the end of October, police also detained a Syrian man who also suspected of preparing an explosives attack in Germany. Truck attacks have led to the erection of barricades and security in various cities across Europe.
An Italian politician also recently warned against the “Islamization” of Italy, suggesting increased immigration might doom the country’s culture. The numbers may not back this up (even aggressive migration will only push the Muslim population up to 14 percent by 2050), but the possibility of ISIS militants among migrants is a serious concern.
ISIS may be largely defeated in the Middle East, but the threat is far from over.