Italian mafia may be supplying weapons to ISIS, say investigators

AK-47Organized criminal groups in southern Italy may be supplying assault weapons to groups and individuals that are associated with the Islamic State, according to European investigators. British newspaper The Guardian said last week that security officials in Italy, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe have traced weapons used by Islamists to at least one arms cache that entered the European black market through a Sicilian crime family with links to the mafia.

According to The Guardian, the initial link to the supply of weapons seems to originate with an organized criminal family in Catania, on Sicily’s eastern coast. The family, known locally as the “Ceusi”, is part of the “Santopaula” clan, which is the dominant criminal network in that part of Italy. Investigators have confirmed that two years ago the Ceusi family purchased a cache of 160 deactivated AK-47s from AFG Security Corporation, a Slovakia-based European weapons dealer. The purchase of the weapons, for $40,000, was legal. But the Sicilian mafia then illegally reactivated the weapons by removing the deactivating metal pins that had been inserted into the weapons’ barrels. The reactivated weapons were then supplied to the ’Ndrangheta, the Italian organized crime network that operates in the region of Calabria, in the Italian mainland. In turn, the ’Ndrangheta, which specializes in the trafficking of contraband to and from Europe, sold many of these reactivated weapons to a smuggling ring headquartered in the Egyptian port of Alexandria.

It was the Egyptian network, say investigators, that sold the AK-47s to Islamist militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, who have close connections with the Islamic State in Syria and other Islamist groups. A few of the weapons even ended up in the hands of European Islamists in France and elsewhere. Much of the intelligence regarding the AK-47s comes from telephone intercepts, said The Guaridan. But the newspaper cautioned that concrete links between the Mafia and the Islamic State have not yet been established. Nevertheless, the paper said that, according to European investigators, “organized criminals are increasingly open to trading with extremists”, and there are mounting “signs of an even closer relationship between organized criminals and Islamists” operating in North Africa and the Middle East.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 July 2016 | Permalink

Advertisements

Italian spy chief paid secret visit to Syria: news reports

Alberto ManentiThe head of Italian intelligence paid a secret visit to Syria earlier this month, a week after his Syrian counterpart visited Rome, according to reports from the Middle East. The Dubai-based newspaper Gulf News, which first reported the alleged behind-the-scenes exchange, said the visits focused on counter-terrorism cooperation between Syria and the European Union. The paper said that the initial contact was made in late June by Major General Deeb Zeitoun, head of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, who paid a secret visit to Rome. General Zeitoun’s visit was allegedly in response to an official invitation issued by the Italian government. The general is believed to have stayed in a secluded private villa, which was provided by the Italian External Intelligence and Security Agency, known as AISE. He subsequently met with several Italian intelligence officials, including AISE Director, General Alberto Manenti.

A week later, Manenti secretly traveled to Syrian capital Damascus, where he stayed for several days. According to Gulf News, General Manenti met with his Syrian counterpart and other senior intelligence officials, as well as with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The main purpose of the secret meetings was to explore the potential for enhanced collaboration between Syria and the European Union on counter-terrorism issues. It appears that the Syrian government is willing to share intelligence on citizens of the EU who have traveled to Syria and have joined the ranks of the Islamic State, as well as other al-Qaeda-inspired groups in the country. Damascus is even willing to give EU intelligence personnel access to captured Islamist fighters that are being held in Syrian government facilities.

In return, however, the Syrians are asking that the EU enters negotiations on possibly normalizing diplomatic relations with Damascus. Contacts between the EU and Syria were severely disrupted at the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War and remain officially non-existent to this day. According to Gulf News, the Syrians told General Manenti that full intelligence cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism will ensue as soon as the EU normalizes diplomatic relations with the government in Damascus. The Italian intelligence official is believed to have told the Syrians that Rome will press the EU to move toward re-establishing relations with Damascus, in return for concrete steps taken in Syria toward “political transition” in the war-torn country.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 July 2016 | Permalink

Russian, Portuguese intelligence officers arrested in Rome on espionage charges

Frederico CarvalhãoTwo intelligence officers, one Russian and one Portuguese, have been arrested by Italian authorities on charges of espionage. The arrests took place in Rome on Monday by Italian police, who were reportedly accompanied by Portuguese counterintelligence officers. It is suggested in Portuguese media that the two men were arrested in the act of exchanging classified documents and money. The Portuguese intelligence officer has been identified in news reports as Frederico Carvalhão, a section chief for Portugal’s Security Information Service, which is tasked with domestic security and counterintelligence. The Russian intelligence officer has not been identified, but is believed to be an employee of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, known as SVR. Interestingly, the Russian officer does not have diplomatic status and was therefore arrested, since he holds no diplomatic immunity.

A press release by the Portuguese government prosecutor said that Carvalhão had been arrested “along with a foreign subject linked to an intelligence organization” after a lengthy investigation into “concerns that [classified] information was being exchanged for money”. It is believed that Portuguese authorities began investigating Carvalhão in 2015, and now believe that he frequently traveled abroad to meet his Russian handler. He is thought to have been recruited by the Russians in 2014. According to Portuguese media reports, the documents that Carvalhão appears to have been giving the SVR contain information about the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Portugal is a member.

Carvalhão is said to have flown from Lisbon to Rome on Friday of last week in order to meet his SVR handler. The two men were meeting in a café on Saturday when they were arrested. The Portuguese government prosecutor said that Saturday’s arrests resulted from “rigorous collaboration between Portuguese and Italian authorities”. He also thanked Eurojust, a European Union agency based in the Netherlands, which focuses on cross-national judicial cooperation between European Union member-states. Security officers also raided Carvalhão’s home in Portugal, where they allegedly seized “documents and cash”. Both he and his alleged Russian hander remain in detention in Rome, while Italy is preparing to extradite them to Portugal.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2016 | Permalink | News tip: C.W.

Portuguese appeals court orders extradition of ex-CIA officer to Italy

Sabrina De SousaAn appeals court in Portugal has ruled that a former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency is to be extradited to Italy, where she faces charges of helping kidnap a man as part of a secret operation sponsored by the United States government. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, in 2003, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured, raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, in October of last year. She spent two nights in jail before being released. However, her passport was seized by Portuguese authorities until they decided whether to extradite her to Italy to face her conviction. After a decision was made to extradite De Sousa, her lawyers filed an appeal. Last week, however, her appeal was denied, which means that she is to be extradited after May 4. It appears that De Sousa will now have to travel to Italy in order to be given official notice of her conviction, as well as the sentence, according to European legal conventions. Following that, she will probably have to return to Portugal to serve her sentence. Her lawyer said, however, that De Sousa plans to challenge her conviction at the Supreme Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court of appeal.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 April 2016 | Permalink


European court of human rights censures Italy over CIA abduction case

Abu Omar NasrEurope’s highest human rights court has ruled against Italy in the case of an Egyptian man who was abducted from Milan in 2003 by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, is a former member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Islamist group founded in the 1970s, which aimed to overthrow the Egyptian government and replace it with an Islamic regime. Members of the group have been implicated in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, as well as in numerous attacks on tourist facilities in Egypt in the 1990s. Once al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya was declared illegal in Egypt, Italian authorities offered Nasr political asylum, after he successfully argued that he would be subject to torture if arrested in Egypt.

But in 2003, the CIA, which believed that Nasr was involved with al-Qaeda-linked groups in Europe, abducted him from Milan in broad daylight. After his abduction, Nasr was delivered by the CIA to Egyptian authorities under Washington’s “extraordinary rendition” program. He was then imprisoned in Egypt for four years without trial. Following his release in 2008, Nasr said he was brutally tortured and raped by his Egyptian captors and was never given access to a lawyer. Regular readers of intelNews will recall that the Nasr abduction prompted international headlines after an Italian court convicted 23 Americans and two Italians for Nasr’s kidnapping. The American defendants, most of whom are believed to be CIA officers, were tried in absentia. Washington has since refused to extradite them to Italy.

On Tuesday, Italy was found guilty of human rights violations in the Nasr case by the European Court of Human Rights, the highest court of justice sanctioned by the Council of Europe. The court said that the Italian state imposed “the principle of state secrecy […] in order to ensure that those responsible [for Nasr’s abduction] did not have to answer for their actions”. Consequently, those responsible for the abduction were “ultimately […] granted immunity”, said the court, implying that the Italian executive sabotaged the Italian trial in order to allow for the alleged CIA officers to escape justice. The court also ordered Italy to pay Nasr €115,000 ($127,000) in restitution.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 February 2016 | Permalink

Portugal court rules to extradite ex-CIA officer wanted in Italy for kidnapping

Sabrina De SousaA court in Portugal has ruled to extradite a former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency to Italy, where she faces charges of kidnapping a man as part of a secret operation. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, in 2003, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured, raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, in October of last year. She spent two nights in jail before being released. However, her passport was seized by Portuguese authorities until they decided whether to extradite her to Italy to face her conviction. The Reuters news agency said on Friday that De Sousa would “be surrendered to Italian authorities” so that she could be informed of the Italian court’s decision to convict her in 2009. The news agency was reportedly told by a Portuguese court official that De Sousa would have to travel to Italy in order to be given official notice of her conviction, as well as the sentence, according to European legal conventions. Following that, she would have to return to Portugal to serve her sentence. Her lawyer said, however, that De Sousa planned to challenge her conviction at the Supreme Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest court of appeal.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 January 2016 | Permalink

Portugal detains ex-CIA operative wanted for 2003 kidnapping

Sabrina De SousaA former officer in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is wanted by Italian authorities for her alleged role in the abduction and rendition of a suspected Islamist militant in Italy, has been arrested by police in Portugal. Sabrina De Sousa, 59, was an accredited diplomat stationed at the US consulate in Milan, Italy, when a CIA team kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a Milan street in broad daylight. Nasr, who goes by the nickname Abu Omar, is a former member of Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and was believed by the CIA to have links to al-Qaeda. Soon after his abduction, Nasr was renditioned to Egypt, where he says he was brutally tortured and raped, and held illegally for years before being released without charge.

Upon Nasr’s release from prison, Italian authorities prosecuted the CIA team that abducted him. They were able to trace the American operatives through the substantial trail of evidence that they left behind, including telephone records and bill invoices in luxury hotels in Milan and elsewhere. In 2009, De Sousa was among 22 CIA officers convicted in absentia in an Italian court for their alleged involvement in Nasr’s abduction. Since the convictions were announced, the US government has not signaled a desire to extradite those convicted to Italy to serve prison sentences. However, those convicted are now classified as international fugitives and risk arrest by Interpol and other law enforcement agencies, upon exiting US territory.

According to The Associated Press, Vice News and Newsweek, De Sousa was arrested at the Portela Airport in Lisbon, Portugal, on Monday. She is believed to have spent two nights in jail before being released on Wednesday. However, De Sousa’s passport was seized by Portuguese authorities, who are now trying to decide whether to extradite her to Italy to face charges for helping kidnap Nasr in 2003, and for failing to appear in court in 2009. Shortly after her conviction, De Sousa told American media that the CIA operation against Nasr in Italy “broke the law”, but had been authorized by the leadership of the CIA. The latter, she said, “abandoned and betrayed” those who carried out Nasr’s abduction, leaving them “to fend for themselves”.

In 2013, another convicted CIA operative, Robert Seldon Lady, who is believed to have been the CIA’s station chief in Milan at the time of Nasr’s kidnapping, was detained while attempting to enter Panama from Costa Rica at a remote jungle border-crossing. Costa Rican authorities said later that “a check on his passport [had] triggered an INTERPOL alert”. However, he was released a day later. According to the Panamanian foreign ministry, Lady was released because “Panama did not have an extradition treaty with Italy and because documentation sent by Italian officials was insufficient”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 October 2015 | Permalink