Video: Italy investigates ‘terrorist crossroads’ south of Rome
Recent jihadist terrorist attacks in France and Germany have cast a spotlight on the town of Aprilia, south of Rome, where three of the perpetrators spent some time prior to the attacks.
Tunisian Ahmed Hanachi, who killed two women at Marseille’s Saint-Charles train station on October 1 before being shot dead by soldiers, spent several years in the small town located 40km from Rome, where he married an Italian woman.
The 29-year-old was not known to attend any mosque, but was known to the police for minor theft and drug problems.
“We were astounded when we heard what he’d done,” his former father-in-law told FRANCE 24, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“He was not an extremist. He did not read the Koran. He didn’t pray. He was just a good for nothing. And one day he just disappeared and we lost trace of him,” he added.
Shortly after Hanachi vanished, the city hosted another Tunisian, 24-year-old Anis Amri, who slammed a truck into a crowd at a Christmas market in Berlin in December 2016, killing 12 people and injuring 48.
Anti-terrorist investigators are now exploring whether Amri, who was shot dead by police in Milan just days after the Berlin attack, and Hanachi could have crossed paths in Aprilia, or elsewhere in Italy.
Investigators say a third known terrorist, 33-year old Algerian Khaled Babouri, who attacked two policemen in Belgium in 2016, also spent some time in Aprilia.
All three attacks have been claimed by theIslamic State (IS) group, though French investigators say they are yet to find a link between the Marseille attacker and the jihadist group
‘Molenbeek of Italy’
The concurrence of cases has prompted some commentators to label Aprilia the “Molenbeek of Italy”, referring to theBrussels suburb that has hosted dozens of Islamist terrorists in recent years.
At an improvised mosque in Aprilia, worshippers are fearful this will lead to misconceptions.
“We never saw him [Hanachi] here,” Ramzi Hamam, a local preacher, told FRANCE 24.“Islam is a peaceful religion, and anyone who harms a Christian or a Jew will go to hell – so says our Prophet.”
A town of 70,000 inhabitants, Aprilia is home to a large foreign population, including a 200-strong Tunisian community whose members are at pains to distance themselves from reports of terrorist activity.
Investigators are looking into whether the city could house a logistics base, a workshop to forge fake identity papers, or even be the centre of a radicalisation network stretching to other parts of the country.
“It is highly likely that foreigners who travel through our country can find support in this town,” said Claudio Galzerano, who heads one of Italy’s counter-terrorism police units.
“Italy is a point of departure, and a place of transit for foreign fighters of the Islamic State (IS) group. That is a fact,” he told FRANCE 24.
Days after the Marseille knife attack, Italian police arrested Hanachi’s younger brother Anis in the city of Ferrara, following an international arrest warrant issued by France.
French investigators, who suspect Anis of complicity in his brother’s attack, said he had joined jihadist forces in Syrian-Iraqi territory after he was first expelled from Italy in 2014.
Since last January, Italy has deported 86 people for Islamic extremism. According to Italian media reports, they include three Tunisians suspected of having been in contact with Amri, the Berlin attacker, in Aprilia.