The Italian government has arrested and deported a Tunisian national tied to the Islamic State and suspected of planning a bombing of the leaning Tower of Pisa.
The 26-year-old alleged jihadist Bilel Chiahoui was arrested earlier this week in the Tuscan city of Pisa after posting photos of “Islamic martyrs” on a Facebook profile registered under a false name, as well as declaring his desire to die a martyr in the city. Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano signed the decree of deportation not long afterward.
Investigators say they have reasons to believe that the man intended to carry out a bombing attack on Pisa’s iconic leaning tower, but noted that the airport and train station were also possible targets. On August 11, Chiahoui traveled from Turin to Pisa and it was there that security agents picked him up before he could carry out his attack.
On Friday afternoon, the regional prefect stated that the decision to expel Chiahoui from the country stemmed from evidence collected as part of the Italian counterterrorism activities aimed at “preventing and combating the phenomenon of so-called foreign fighters and lone wolves.”
According to reports, investigators found documented links with two Tunisian foreign fighters who recently died while fighting in the “Syrian-Iraqi war theater,” as well as clear evidence of ideological proximity to the jihadist extremism espoused by ISIS.
Agents found that Chiahoui had published comments expressing his esteem for Islamist martyrs, saying that the two foreign fighters were among the few true men he had ever known and referring to them as “lions”—a term frequently used in jihadist propaganda to refer to the mujahedeen. The Tunisian also posted commemorative photographs of the jihadists, stating that he wanted to emulate their actions.
Officials in announced they will be installing 11 new cameras and other security systems that could assist in monitoring other possible attackers. Pisa’s main square is patrolled 24 hours a day by military and law enforcement officials.
The deportation of Chiahoui is just the latest in a series of counterterrorist preventive measures undertaken by Italian security officials. Last month authorities deported a Moroccan imam known to be a Muslim extremist for “reasons of public order and state security.”
The 51-year-old Salafi Imam Mohammed Madad, who had named his own daughter “Jihad,” was expelled from the country by order of Italy’s Ministry of the Interior, and is forbidden from applying for a return visa for the next 15 years.
Italian counterterrorism units (DIGOS) had had the man under surveillance because of his allegedly radical profile, but as his sermons took on an increasingly radicalized, violent and anti-Western tone, they determined that the man could also facilitate international terrorism.
Italy has been remarkably successful in preventing Islamic terrorism, in part because of its willingness to deport radicalized individuals seen as a threat to national security.
Last fall, leading military analyst Edward N. Luttwak commended the Italian model, arguing that Italy has been successful in thwarting Islamic terror attempts because of its swift and decisive action.
In an essay titled “Doing Counterterrorism Right,” Luttwak noted that despite many factors going against Italy, Islamic terrorists have failed to kill a single person on Italian soil. He contrasted Italy with France and Belgium, observing that although Italy is much more vulnerable than they are, it has been far more effective at stopping would-be terrorists before they strike.
Luttwak commended the Italians for their willingness to act swiftly in cases of credible evidence against possible jihadists.
By imprisoning or deporting radicalized Muslims, Luttwak said, Italian authorities have been able to keep numbers of suspected potential terrorists within a reasonable range and thus are able to monitor them effectively.
The fact that the Italians lump together anti-mafia operations with counterterrorism under their DIGOS agency is also telling. Italy has a long history fighting serious organized crime within its borders, coming from the different branches of the Italian mafia working in various parts of the peninsula.