BARBIE LATZA NADEAU
There was a 200 percent increase in Tunisians attempting to get to Italy by sea last year. Many of them are coming to carry out attacks in Europe, authorities say.
When Anis Amri, the perpetrator of the 2016 Berlin Christmas Market truck massacre, arrived in Italy by sea from Tunisia in 2011, he was part of a mass exodus of tens of thousands of men escaping the Arab Spring uprisings. By 2012, Italy and Tunisia had signed a bilateral agreement to immediately repatriate all Tunisians who arrived by sea, and the number of those trying to make it to Europe dwindled to less than five percent of overall sea migration demographics.
But in late 2017, the number of Tunisians intercepted while attempting to come to Italy by sea suddenly spiked to nearly 10,000, marking a more than 200 percent increase over the year before. And in 2018, Tunisians are again on track to make up the bulk of sea arrivals that are intercepted.
Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri warned the European Parliament this week that the Tunisians are not like other migrants in search of a better life. He said they are likely terrorists coming to wage holy war. He said Frontex surveillance aircraft have detected scores of smaller speed boats that were not seen by Italian Coast Guard officials.
Leggeri said that while the number of migrant departures from Libya had decreased thanks to an accord between Italy and Libya that bolstered the Libyan Coast Guard’s capabilities to turn boats back, the number of departures from Tunisia and Algeria had increased, and now makes up almost 20 percent of all irregular migration crossings.
“(The terrorism threat) remains high and we must be certain that there are no frontier crossings to the EU that are not intercepted,” he said. “This would be to the detriment of European security.”
That threat has put Italy on high alert. On Thursday, four Tunisians and a Palestinian were arrested in the town of Latina, south of Rome. The men were known associates of Berlin killer Amri, who had spent time in Latina after being released from prison in Palermo four years after he arrived in Italy by sea. They had been caught on wiretaps talking about recruiting new arrivals to the country with videos that urged foreign fighters to “cut off the heads and genitalia of non-believers.”