Arrest of Fezzani, Leading IS Figure and Recruiter in Italy

Moaz Fezzani, widely known as Abu Nassim, the Tunisian terrorist wanted by half the world and thought to be an IS recruiter in Italy, has been arrested in Sudan. Between 1997 and 2001, he is thought to have been part of a terrorist cell known as the “Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat” based in Milan, which recruited men to send to countries at war. In 2014 he was definitively convicted in Milan for criminal association for the purposes of terrorism, after being acquitted in 2012 and expelled from Italy. Fezzani was wanted under an international arrest warrant, after his final sentence for 5 years and 8 months, issued by the State Prosecutor’s Office of Milan. He was identified in Sudan thanks to the work of two Italian intelligence agencies. Last August, local sources had reported the arrest in Sirte of Moez Ben Abdelkader Fezzani, but the news subsequently turned out to be false.

Sermons in the mosque in Milan
Fezzani’s story is linked to that of the last twenty years of terrorism: from the fight for Bosnia in former Yugoslavia to extremist organizations, from his beginnings in radical circles to the move to IS. Questioned by magistrates in Milan in 2010, he explained why he had gone to fight in the Balkans, after a period in which he trafficked in drugs: “I used to sell hashish, then I became a pious man.” His decision was the result of listening to the sermons of the Egyptian Anwar Shaaban in the mosque in Viale Jenner: a man with a large following, determined and charismatic, a reference point for Islamists in Milan. The city has always been central, now as in the past, not only because it is at the halfway point to northern Europe, in particular Belgium and France, but because it lies on the routes taken by fighters on their way to Syria and Libya.

IS soldiers
Fezzani, 46, had previously been captured in Pakistan in 2002. Held at the US base in Bagram, Afghanistan, he had been extradited to Italy before being sent to Tunisia, and later moving on to Libya’s war zones. Investigators from his nation sought him for the attacks at Bardo and on the beach at Sousse. As revealed last August by Corriere della Sera, according to the Libyan secret services, his name is linked to a group of IS soldiers in the Milan area. The suspicion is that he really had a leading role in Lombardy, reactivating his old networks to recruit foreign fighters. Speaking to the Italian police officers that put him on the plane to Tunis at the time, he said: “This isn’t the last you’ll hear of me.”

 Andrea Galli (English translation by Simon Tanner)

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