Authorities Break-up GSPC Terrorist Cells in Italy

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 30

On July 21, Italian officials announced that they had arrested four Algerian GSPC members because of their involvement in a variety of terrorist planning operations and terrorist support activities. The counterterrorist operation, code-named “Numidia,” took place in the regions of Veneto and Lombardy, specifically in the cities of Brescia, Naples and Salerno. The Algerians, who had their cell headquarters in Venice, used their presence in the various cities to recruit new members from the illegal immigrants to whom they provided false documentation. Minister of the Interior Giuliano Amato considers the arrests of “significant relevance” because they demonstrate an extensive GSPC infrastructure established to plan terrorist activities against targets in Italy and in Iraq and Algeria in the name of the global jihad (Corriere della Sera, July 21; La Repubblica, July 21; El Mundo, July 21). The arrest of the Algerians is also important because the GSPC cell appears to be part of a larger GSPC network in Italy. According to security services reports, the current arrested Algerians were planning for and preparing to execute various terrorist activities against government targets in Italy, and against undefined government/military targets “overseas.” In addition to planning terrorist operations, the arrested Algerians were engaged in a ring responsible for falsifying documents for terrorist activities, and for falsifying labor contracts facilitating clandestine immigration, likely to support their terrorist financing and other activities.

The arrest of the four Algerians in the three Italian cities coincides with previous arrests of GSPC members in the same cities and regions. In November and December 2005, Italian counterterrorist operatives arrested five Algerian nationals on suspicion of planning terrorist operations in Italy and the United States and for providing financial/weapons/logistical assistance to other jihadi cells in Europe (La Repubblica, November 17, 2005). The November arrests captured Yamine Bouhrama, whom Italian security services believe was the head of the Salerno cell, and who had contact with other GSPC cells in Milan, Brescia and Naples (La Repubblica, December 23, 2005).

Special intelligence investigations into the activities of Algerian Salafi-Jihadists reveal that GSPC members established inter-connected cells throughout Italy. The Viale Jenner mosque in Milan and its cultural center stand out as the epicenter of jihadi-related activities. Other cells are in Salerno, possibly Venice, Naples and Brescia. According to available information, the GSPC network operating throughout Italy is almost exclusively composed of Algerian nationals who immigrated to the country during the past decade. Italian security services’ detention of and investigations into the activities of Salafi Islamists recently culminated in the exposure of a deep and wide network of GSPC cells throughout Italy (Corriere della Sera, November 17, 2005).

Although the cells in Italy appear to be composed exclusively of Algerian Salafi-Jihadists, their interaction with mixed Moroccan and Algerian cells in Spain, Norway and other countries demonstrates that the desire for global jihad has overcome the historical animosity between these two national groups. An additional finding of the Italian counterterrorism investigations is the extent of the communications between the GSPC cells in Italy and the Maghrebi-dominated networks in Spain and other European countries. Italian police have been investigating contacts between GSPC members in Italy and Algerian jihadists in Belgium, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

While the GSPC continues to engage in and support terrorist operations in Algeria, the group’s emphasis on “out-of-Algeria” terrorist operations has made it the largest, most cohesive and dangerous terrorist organization in the al-Qaeda orbit. GSPC cells in Italy employ a dual-track approach to planning terrorist attacks and providing support infrastructure—safe houses, communications, weapons procurement and documentation—to GSPC networks in other European countries. GSPC cells in Italy and other European countries have traditionally recruited people to engage in suicide terrorist attacks in Iraq.

As a result of the July arrests, it is now clear that GSPC cells have become ingrained in Italy. Moreover, the investigation likely will reveal that the four Algerians had contacts with other GSPC members in other parts of Europe, which shows the continuing inter-connectivity of GSPC cells. The continuing discovery of GSPC cells in Italy, however, demonstrates the ability of these cells, believed to be originating from North Africa, to infiltrate Italian society and adapt themselves to leveraging (for terrorist purposes) market dynamics, such as document falsification and clandestine immigration rings. Moreover, GSPC cells certainly remain a threat to Italians and Western targets in and outside of Italy. The “reach” of these operatives is literally “out of area” and is an issue that must be addressed. The revelation that the arrestees were involved in falsifying labor contracts to facilitate clandestine immigration is interesting because the Italian government may want to investigate how many illegal immigrants are coming into Italy due to terrorist activities.