The Italian authorities believed they were monitoring the activities of an experienced cyber terrorist when they came across a Telegram channel used to launch Jihadist campaigns. Instead, the person responsible for this crime was, shockingly, a 15-year old Italian student from Udine, Italy, with Algerian origins.
The investigation of the Italian teenager accused of “spreading terrorism through the Web” began in December 2016 when the postal police discovered “Khilafah News Italy”, a Telegram channel where the student shared Isis’ messages he translated from Arabic into Italian. His posts included videos of beheadings and practical guides on how to build explosive devices. The teenager used the hashtag #caliphateIT to spread the information among online Isis supporters in the country. It was also a way of luring and attracting Islamists.
To forward his malicious agenda on Telegram, he posed as a leader with the aim of inspiring “lone-wolves” interested in committing terrorist attacks and joining the battleground in Iraq and Syria. His channel attracted close to 200 members, whom he monitored scrupulously, while deleting those accounts he presumed were fake.
Fortunately, the story does not end with another tragic terrorist attack. Instead, the Italian student was identified and is now undertaking a de-radicalisation programme following the decision of the Trieste Prosecutor’s Office and Juvenile Court during the preliminary investigation.
This is the first time, in Italy, that such a measure has been applied to a radicalised minor in the country. Adults accused of the same crime are usually incarcerated or deported.
“The student started the de-radicalisation path once we discovered what he was doing on Telegram.” said Leonardo Tamborini, Public Prosecutor for Minors, in a phone interview.
“He was inciting people to join Jihad online, but has never planned to commit a terrorist attack, so we believe this is the safest and most promising way to deal with it.” Tamborini added.
The minor is now involved in a path of recovery developed by an experienced consultant. Shocked by his behaviour, his family, who has been living and working in Italy for many years, collaborated with the authorities to ensure a de-radicalisation process that could save the life of their son.
According to Mr.Tamborini, the teenager was forced to take a break from the Web and was then gradually allowed to use the Internet again.
“With the help of experts, the minor is subjected to recreational and volunteering activities that also allows him to revisit his beliefs.” Tamborini explained. “For instance, Isis claims that the group is made of free people defending Islam against Western attacks. This concept contains many lies. Firstly, Isis members are not free. They are slaves. Secondly, they don’t defend the true teachings of Islam. Experts in the program discuss with the teen previous senseless attacks like the killing of young people attending a concert, which don’t represent Islam at all.”
This unprecedented age of terrorism has left every nation struggling with legalities and strategies to counter this phenomenon. Italy is lagging behind other countries. There is limited legislation to enforce de-radicalisation programmes, preventative measures, and a perceived lack of importance in the political domain. The Italian strategy to counter terrorist attacks in Europe has mainly revolved around increasing police power and applying new repressive measures.
However, in July 2017, the Chamber of Deputies approved an important draft legislation on this subject titled “Dambruoso-Manciulli”, aimed at preventing radicalisation by training school teachers and prison staff along with running de-radicalisation programmes for detainees. Unfortunately, the end of the parliamentary term has left this proposal stranded in the Senate and overshadowed by other issues that are considered priorities.
Now that the new Parliament has taken office (it was initiated on 23rd March 2018) Andrea Manciulli, co-proposer of the “Dambruoso-Manciulli” draft law, rapporteur on the 2015 counter-terrorism decree-law at the Chamber of Deputies and Head of Italy’s Delegation to the NATO PA, wishes that his draft law will be taken up again for the betterment of the country.
“We realised that repression is not enough as we worked on the 2015 decree law which introduced new crimes such as the organisation of travel for the purpose of fighting. It was written to tackle web proselytism and the foreign fighters phenomena too.” Mr. Manciulli told me.
“Daesh compared to Al-Qaeda, attracts young people between 16 and 25 years old, therefore we need to prevent this. We need to understand why female minors leave everything behind to become wives of foreign fighters, why this happens and how to prevent it. Our law aims to train teachers to recognise early forms of radicalisation in schools in order to treat them socially before the youngsters turn to violence.” Manciulli added.
The Italian student accused of “web proselytism” never had a criminal record. He now awaits the commencement of his preliminary hearing that may start in a year.
Leonardo Tamborini, Public Prosecutor for Minors in Trieste, Italy, hopes the defense asks for probation, a restorative justice tool taking inspiration from the Anglo-Saxon probation system. It will then be up to the judge to decide whether the young man has achieved the goals. If so, his web terror proselytism offence will be annulled.
by Margherita Cargasacchi