April 17, 2024
How Italy became a hotbed for Palestinian extremism and terrorism
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How Italy became a hotbed for Palestinian extremism and terrorism

by Giovanni Giacalone

The ruling of the Appeal Court of L’Aquila which rejected the extradition of Palestinian terrorist and al-Aqsa Brigade ringleader Yaeesh Anan should not be interpreted as an isolated case, but should rather be included in a series of strange events that have occurred in Italy starting immediately after the October 7th massacre and involving various individuals related to the reactions to the conflict between Hamas and Israel. In order to better understand what is happening, it is best to proceed in order, exposing the most relevant issues regarding the five cases and finally drawing some conclusive thoughts on the issue.

  1. Mohammed Hannoun and ABSPP/API case

On October 10th, during a  pro-Palestinian demonstration held in central Milan, Mohammad Hannoun, claimed that “Hamas’ attack is self-defense”, while being interviewed by the Italian national TV station Rai3.

Mohammad Hannoun is the president of the “Palestinians in Italy Association”, the “Europeans for Al-Quds” and the head of the “Charity Association for Palestinian Support” (ABSPP) in Italy and he is known for his accounts being frozen back in 2021 due to a series of aberrations that include failure to register in the Revenue Agency and the massive movement of cash, in some cases to subjects registered in the black lists of European databases. In July of 2023, the Israeli Ministry of Defense asked the Italian police to seize Hannoun’s money. From the investigation conducted by the Shin Bet, it emerged that 500 thousand euros were available to the architect who in the past was accused by Israel, without any criminal repercussions, of hiding financial support to Palestinian families of suicide bombers.

A few days later, on October 13th, Hannoun took advantage of his role as imam at the Islamic Center of Genoa to attack those countries supporting Israel:

We have seen the attitude of our Italian, European, American governments and some Arab countries who have sided in favor of Israel, who begin to cry for the victims, who even told the lie to encourage, to compare Hamas as equal to ISIS ”… All this, to attack the “Palestinian resistance”.

The video mysteriously disappeared from the Facebook page of the Islamic Center of Genoa and from Hannoun’s account a few days later.

Image 1: The post of Hannoun’s sermon.

 

Such activity did not go unnoticed and several Italian newspapers from both, left-wing and right-wing political areas such as La Repubblica, Il Foglio, La Verità, Linkiesta and Libero published articles exposing the issue, which implies that it is indeed very difficult for Italian authorities not to be aware of this.

It is also worth recalling that in August 2022, an investigative report published by OFCS Report, an Italian observatory with expertise in national and international security, exposed a series of political connections regarding Hannoun, on a national and international level, including photos of him next to Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Meshaal.

On January 4th, on his personal Facebook account, Hannoun glorified Yahya Ayyash, Hamas’ notorious bombmaker, sadly known for both developing Hamas’s use of suicide bombings and building many of the explosives used in attacks (eliminated on January 5th 1996 by Israel). This time, the post was only in Arabic:

On this day, the cowardly assassination took place; Mercy to the martyrs; The legendary engineer martyr, who was a turning point in the history of the Palestinian resistance; Yahya Ayyash Abu Al-Baraa. Palestine today is in dire need of your patriotic spirit and vengeance for the spirit of the martyr Sheikh Saleh Abu Muhammad. Martyrs do not die”.

The second-last line of Hannoun’s post is dedicated to Saleh al-Arouri, a senior Hamas leader in Lebanon who died in a drone strike on January 2nd, 2024.

Image 2: Hannoun’s post on Ayyash.

 

This statement is very serious as it glorifies a terrorist mastermind who murdered many civilians in Israel. However, Hannoun remained untouched; he kept demonstrating at anti-Israel protests, he even managed to organize a “humanitarian convoy to Gaza (through Egypt) collecting cash money “hand-to-hand” and through the IBAN of an acquaintance (all promoted online) and, as of Friday, March 15th , he was still preaching from the pulpit of Genoa’s mosque.

Image 3: Hannoun delivering a sermon on March 15th, 2024.

 

Now, it is possible to imagine what would have happened if all this activity involved pro-ISIS or pro-Al Qaeda propaganda. Is pro-Hamas propaganda in Italy considered any different? It’s worth recalling that Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization in the EU.

There would be plenty more to say about Hannoun and his entourage, but for reasons of space and the purpose of this work, which aims to reconnect various facts, it is best to proceed with the following issues.

  1. The issue of the anti-Hamas sign in Milan

On January 27th 2024, the Holocaust Memorial Day, a pro-Palestinian unauthorized demonstration was held in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto, precisely via Padova, a street with a high presence of Muslims.

In theory, the demonstration was not supposed to take place, since the authorities had requested the organizers to postpone it to the following day, Sunday the 28th, to avoid having it on the Holocaust Memorial.

However, around 1,200 demonstrators belonging to Giovani Palestinesi (Young Palestinians), including Mohammad Hannoun and his deputy, Suleiman Hijazi (well known for his pro-Hamas posts on Facebook a few years back), and others belonging to the far-left formations took the streets.

At a certain point during the demonstration, 22-year-old student Mihael Melnic exposed from the window of his building, right above the demonstrators, a hand-written cardboard sign saying “Free Gaza from Hamas” (see video here). The demonstrators did not appreciate the message and had a verbally violent reaction, insulting him, telling him to “come downstairs” and yelling “Now we know where you live”.

What’s more pro-Palestinian than a sign calling upon the liberation of Gaza from Hamas?

Well, incredibly, the plainclothes DIGOS police immediately paid a visit to Melnic, violently banging on his door, entering his apartment, identifying him, asking him all kinds of personal questions, and trying to take the sign away from him, as explained by Melnic himself in an interview with The Times of Israel. Melnic did not give in to police pressure and did not surrender the sign.

It is worth asking why were pro-Hamas demonstrators free to take the streets, on Holocaust Memorial Day, while Melnic had to receive a visit by the Italian DIGOS police trying to seize an anti-Hamas sign. It is worth recalling that on that same morning Mohammad Hannoun, who had already stated in the previous months that “October 7th was self-defense” and glorified Ayyash, held a speech in Piazzale Loreto.

Image 4: the original sign.

 

Image 5:  Mihael Melnic exposing the sign before being visited by the DIGOS plainclothes police.

 

  1. Dani Moh’d: the Palestinian who launched firebombs against the US consulate in Florence

On February 3rd, police in Florence proceeded with the arrest of 22-year-old, Dani Hakam Taleb Moh’d, a Palestinian originally from the West Bank who threw two Molotov cocktails against the US Consulate in Florence, fortunately without casualties, and claimed responsibility through a video emulating the appearance of a Hamas terrorist (covered face, green band on the forehead).

On February 1st, Moh’d had also created a Telegram channel named “The whole world is Hamas”, with very little content and around 20 followers.

The video also announced the start of a “real operation”, with attacks against 49 targets in Italy, as well as a larger operation in Europe called “death to the Zionists”, unless support for the Israeli and US operations, defined in the video as “crimes”, ceased. The video’s author claimed that more than half of the targets were not Americans or Israelis.

The investigations indicated possible connections to a wider network, but after a few days of media noise, full silence fell on the case.

It is worth noticing that immediately after the arrest, several mainstream media outlets indicated the Moh’d as “Jordanian” rather than Palestinian. Additionally, former UCOII president and leader of the Islamic community of Florence, Ezzedin Elzir (also Palestinian) stated in an interview to Corriere Fiorentino that, according to what emerged from the video, the voice did not seem Palestinian nor “Islamic”. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to wait until the identity was to be made public before releasing immediate statements? Why such a rush from everyone to state that “he was not Palestinian”?

What happened to the Moh’d Case today? How come, unlike cases involving ISIS individuals, the information is not all over the media?

Image 6:  Dani Moh’d in his video claiming responsibility for the attack.
  1. The hate speech of a Pakistani preacher, who is still free to preach

On Saturday, February 24th, Milan hosted one of the usual anti-Israel demonstrations that had its final destination in the very central Piazza Castello.

Among the speakers at the event, moving inside a driving van, was Pakistani preacher Zulfiqar Khan, a Tabligh who runs an Islamic center in Bologna named “IQRAA” and well known for his verbally violent sermons against Israel and the West.

During the demonstration, Khan yelled that Gaza’s war is “a genocide that was planned, designed, by these assassins, supported by America, by the UK”. Adding that: “This project did not start after October 7th, but it was designed 100 years ago when their leader, their founder, Chaim Weizmann, declared that soon the Palestinians would be kicked out of Palestine”.

Khan also accused America of being “a terrorist and assassin organization” and that “Israel wants to rule the world” and said that Israel “is threatening Hamas, it’s bombing schools, mosques, and churches, and Netanyahu wants to exchange hostages so that he can bomb again”.

Additionally, he also accused Europe of being “enslaved by its boss Netanyahu”, because “everyone is enslaved by Israel” and he accused the Israeli PM of being “a liar, an assassin and the Israelis of aiming to occupy the whole world and killing pregnant women”. (The videos are viewable here and here).

Khan’s statements reached a twisted racist imprint when he claimed that

Nobody can prove that Israelis are Semites, because Semites are the children of Sem, son of Noah, and they were Palestinians. Those who come from Poland are not Semites. The antisemite is Netanyahu who is committing genocide in Palestine…Netanyahu’s mother tongue is not Hebrew. He came from abroad to kick out the Palestinians. They are not Jews, they are not real Jews. Why did Netanyahu say that he is a descendant of Joseph? He didn’t say Yaacov? Because they hate Yaacov”.

Image 7: Zulqifar Khan’s delivering a speech at IQRAA in Bologna.

 

The previous day, Friday February 23rd, Zulfiqar Khan had used the pulpit of his Bologna mosque to attack once again the US, the UK, Israel and Europe, this time using a doctrinal rhetoric based on the Quran and the Hadith. The sermon was posted on IQRAA’s Facebook page entitled “Delusions of invincibility of the United States and its allies”.

Khan also defended the Houthis:

And these terrorists say that Yemen is a threat to Europe. Yemen is only asking for a ceasefire in Gaza and everything will go back to normality. And when they saw that their destiny is defeat and they have no way of escape, Germany wanted to confiscate Russian assets. This is the dirty face of these assassins and terrorists”.

And again: “Because Allah sees who is with Israel and the US. If he is unfair, he will have his end…Those who side with Israel and America will come to a bad end”.

Isn’t this last sentence a threat?

Scrolling through IQRAA Italia’s Facebook page, it is possible to find plenty of Khan’s sermons attacking Israel and the West. Sermons that have nothing to do with religion and with titles such as “American military industrial complex, a threat to world peace”; “Destructive role of the United States in destabilizing world peace”; “Continuous hypocrite oppression” and, indeed, Tucker Carlson’s interview with Putin, whom Khan seems to appreciate for taking an anti-Israel stance.

It is worth recalling that in October 2023, Zulfiqar Khan claimed that “Israelis are terrorists and deceivers according to the Bible“, attracting the attention of the Italian media and Cruciani’s “La Zanzara” broadcast which publicly denounced it on X.

Did the Italian authorities put a stop to Khan’s sermons? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, on Friday Match 15th he was once again preaching from the pulpit stating that “Allah does not love those who do not follow him and his messenger”.

In another sermon from this week, entitled “Call for Palestine”, he praised Putin for trying to unify the Palestinian factions. Moreover, he attacked the government of Muslim countries of UAE, Bahrein and Pakistan of being hypocrites for not supporting Palestine.

It must be recalled that Italy is notorious in Europe for its quick deportations of Islamist extremists, as done in many occasions with individuals (including imams) spreading pro-ISIS and pro-al Qaeda propaganda both online and in person.

Image 8: One of Khan’s posts on his FB account.
Image 9: A post regarding Hamas on Khan’s FB profile.
  1. The “Tulkarem Unit” al-Aqsa Brigades cell planning attacks in Israel from Italian soil (read Washington Outsider’s full article on the issue here)

In early January of 2024, the Israeli authorities requested the extradition of al-Aqsa Brigades member Anan Yaeesh, 37, originally from Nablus and a leader of the “Tulkarem Unit”.

Anan was consequently arrested in late January 2024, while two other Palestinians, Irar Ali Saji Ribhi and Doghmosh Mansour, were arrested last weekend by the Italian police in relation to Anan’s case.

Anan has a long story of involvement in Palestinian terrorism: he spent years in prison in Israel for a series of attacks against Israeli targets, for taking part in the Second Intifada and he was even expelled by the Fatah secret services, where he served from 2002 to 2005, for terror-related issues. In September of 2005 he was arrested by the Palestinian police and locked up in Jericho’s prison from where he escaped six months later.

In 2013 he fled to Norway thanks to a visa obtained from the Norwegian embassy in Ramallah but, in 2017, after several failed attempts to obtain the international protection status both in Norway and Sweden, he was asked by Oslo authorities to leave. Despite being without passport and ID (withheld by Norwegian authorities), he managed to find hospitality in Italy where he revealed all his past to the Italian authorities in an interview with DIGOS police in L’Aquila in October 2017.

Despite his international protection request being rejected by the Court of Bari (for public security issues), he still managed to receive a “special protection” status.

During his stay in Italy, from October 2017 till today, he managed to open eight bank accounts, despite his unemployment status, and to communicate via Whatsapp with the al-Aqsa Brigade chief commander, Mounir al-Maqdah, and other key members of the terrorist organization, always using simple social media tools such as Whatsapp, Facebook, and Telegram.

Anan and two associates had been planning a series of terror attacks on Israeli soils against Israeli politicians, the war cabinet and they were also organizing an armed assault against the Israeli settlement of Avnei Hefetz. The assault was supposed to be in an October 7th-style, with cameras placed on rifles and hats to film everything for propaganda purposes.

Last week, the Appeal Cout of L’Aquila rejected Israel’s request for extradition, stating that:

Anan could be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or in any case to acts which constitute a violation of human rights”, additionally indicating that “Israeli prisons are characterized by overcrowding, physical violence, poor hygiene conditions and lack of healthcare further worsened by the ongoing conflict”.

As if Israel was a “banana republic” and Italy did not have any issues with overcrowded prisons, violence and suicides.

The Italian authorities were clearly aware of his presence, of his al-Aqsa militancy. What would have happened if Israel had not requested his arrest and extradition? How is it possible that Anan was able to obtain such permits of stay, operate in Italy, open eight bank accounts with money flowing despite being unemployed? No red flag was raised?

In the legal papers it is also stated that “after the October 7th 2023 facts in Israel, the DIGOS police intensified its monitoring activity to spot individuals of concern for national security and detected Anan Yaeesh as potential author of projects of a terrorist nature potentially capable of also targeting interests and sites on national territory”.

However, Anan entered Italy in 2017 and the Italian authorities knew of his presence at least from October 31st of that year. Anan knew that he was under surveillance from the government, as he reveals to an interlocutor during a phone call (see image 11). However, he is not worried about using Facebook, Whatsapp and Telegram to communicate with key members and leaders of the al-Aqsa Brigades in the West Bank and Lebanon.

 

Image 10: A flyer of a pro-Anan demonstration.

 

Image 11: A paragraph of the legal papers where Anan claims to be aware of being monitored by the government: “… he clarifies that he is monitored by the government also in relation to his money and that he prefers to operate in cash”.

 

Figura 12 Anan in a videocall with Mounir al-Maqdah

 

A few thoughts

To summarize and conclude, two of the cases described above include: one Palestinian activist who defended Hamas, glorified bombmaker Yahya Ayyash and used the pulpit of his mosque to verbally attack Israel and the West;

one Pakistani preacher who systematically used the pulpit of his mosque to verbally attack Israel and the West and who made very serious and offensive statements during a street demonstration while yelling to the crowd microphone in hand.

To understand the gravity of the situation it is necessary to make a simple comparison and imagine that, what was said and what happened above, was in relation to terrorist organizations such as ISIS, al-Qaeda. Would the consequences have been different?

However, Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization in the EU, just like al-Qaeda and ISIS, it is therefore unclear why no measures were taken, unlike previous cases involving people spreading propaganda and incitement for the latter. The impression is that, since the cases involve the so-called “Palestinian cause”, more tolerance is being applied.

The case regarding the “Free Gaza from Hamas” sign is another worrying and inexplicable fact, firstly because it was a sign against a terrorist organization (recognized as such by the EU) displayed from within private property; this gesture does not break any law and, as a matter of fact, it’s a manifestation of free thought backed by the Italian Constitution.

Is it legal for the DIGOS plainclothes police to enter a private home without invitation nor warrant, identify the owner, and try to seize something belonging to him? (In this case, a cardboard sign against a terrorist organization). Isn’t such a behavior intimidating?

All this, while underneath that building, a non-authorized anti-Israel demonstration, on Holocaust Memorial Day, was taking place; among the demonstration, the same individual who defined “Hamas” as resistance and who glorified on his Facebook profile Hamas bombmaker Yahya Ayyash.

In relation to the case involving Dani Moi’d, the Palestinian individual who threw Molotov cocktails at the US Consulate in Florence, one interesting aspect that emerged is how the mainstream media immediately presented him as “Jordanian”, while it turned out that he was in fact Palestinian.

Why all this effort on him not being Palestinian? Moreover, why did the case suddenly stop receiving media attention after a few days?

And at last, the case involving Yaeesh Anan and the al-Aqsa cell planning attacks in Israel from Italian soil. It is unclear why, after being kicked out of Norway and Sweden (countries notoriously hospitable to immigration) he managed to obtain a residence permit in Italy despite having recounted his past to Italian authorities as he reached the country in October 2017. How was he able to open eight bank accounts while being unemployed? (In one of the accounts, over 95,000 euros were found). Why did he communicate with the chief commander of the al-Aqsa Brigades, Mounir al-Maqdah and with other members in the West Bank using easily interceptable tools such as Whatsapp, Telegram, and Facebook? In one phone conversation he told his interlocutor that he was aware of “being monitored by the government”.

It is worth recalling that he was arrested after an extradition request by Israel. What would have happened if Israel hadn’t intervened? Why did the Appeal Court in L’Aquila refuse the extradition? The statement regarding the condition of Israeli prisons is not convincing.

It was already exposed that Anan and Hannoun received support by Italian left-wing political figures such as Laura Boldrini, Nicola Fratoianni, Michele Piras  and Stefania Ascari, as indicated in multitude of cases by the Italian press, and this sure is of help; but this whole situation does not seem to be exclusively political.

Taken singularly, these cases may not seem too significant to some, but once added, connected together, they raise many questions. The impression is that things are being dealt with differently if compared to cases regarding ISIS or al-Qaeda because the Palestinian cause is at stake.

But why? After all, the right-wing government led by Meloni has shown support for Israel, unlike the left-wing. Italy even suspended fundings to UNRWA, unlike other European countries.

Anan’s extradition refusal could as well be ideologically motivated in a country where left-wing ideology within the judicial is well-known and, it is also a temporary decision, since the trial still needs to reach Cassation that could eventually overturn the whole issue and give the green light to extradition.

Is it possible that this soft approach to the Palestinian cause has a deeper source and it is linked to underground intelligence deals?

Dr. Francesca Musacchio, an expert in Islamist terrorism in Italy, in her book “La Trattativa Stato-Islam” (The State-Islam negotiation) discusses the negotiations between the Italian authorities and Islamic representatives. Two very interesting points are taken into exam: the first one is the fact that Italy, unlike France, the UK, Germany, Belgium, and Spain, never experienced attacks by Islamist terrorist organizations. The second one is the so-called “Lodo Moro”, an agreement, sought after the Fiumicino massacre of 17 December 1973 by Foreign Minister Aldo Moro, with which Italy guaranteed the Palestinians – aided by Italian subversive groups – freedom of passage of weapons and explosives on their national territory; in exchange, the Palestinians guaranteed not to strike on Italian soil.

In chapter 5 of “The State-Islam Negotiation”, Musacchio cites the writings of former General Antonio Cornacchia in the book “Airone 1, Retroscena di un’Epoca” (Heron 1: Behind the Scenes of an Era) where the author hypothesizes if it could be possible that some sort of “Lodo Moro” is currently active with Islamists:

“…Italy will be the only country, and not only in Europe, to be safe from attacks by al Qaeda and radical Islamic galaxies, including the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, perhaps having as a counterpart that historical and Moro-Christian tolerance towards imams, mosques and every center of radical agitation”?

In sunto, could all this go beyond the different governments that come and go? Beyond simple ideology? Could it be something rooted within the internal mechanisms of risky agreements with inappropriate interlocutors and perpetrated by profound State apparatuses? In this case, at the expense of Israel? Could it also be that within some Italian institutions there is anti-Israeli feeling?

All doubts are legitimate and all reflections are useful. After all, it was the Italian statesman and head of State Giulio Andreotti who once said “You sin in thinking bad about people but, often, you guess right”.

 

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