WAR AND PEACE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN: understanding the Turkish escalation between the Chinese expansionism in Africa and the reshaping of Middle Eastern equilibria

by Andrea Molle

The renewed interest in the Mediterranean, too often considered as a secondary theater in the context of International Relations, derives from several medium and long-term processes that are affecting the global geopolitical equilibria. In particular, it is the consequence of an aggressive Chinese trade policy in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has intensified in the last decade and sees many African states, such as Kenya and Congo, for example, reduced to colonies or in a de facto subordination to China’s interests.

This dynamic is echoed by Beijing’s desire to complete its Belt and Road Initiative, affirming itself as a privileged trading partner of the most important powers within the EU to force it in a relationship of strong dependence. This scenario is made possible by the vacuum created with the protectionist and isolationist turn of the USA led by Donald J. Trump, who seems to lack any coherent international strategy. Moreover, it is a consequence of the lack of a coordinated European strategy in foreign affairs, as demonstrated by the recent Italian interest in becoming a closer partner to China independently from its partners’ choices.

The intensifying of migratory fluxes, aggravated by climate change, corruption, and the increased radicalization in Africa, is a symptom of the destabilization resulting from the Chinese expansionist policy that handed control of critical commercial routes and hubs over to Beijing. Faced with a substantial erosion of their economic systems, mostly caused by the quasi-monopolies established by Chinese companies and investors and the consequent social crisis, more and more people leave Africa to seek fortune in Europe, accentuating the demographic crisis of the continent. Paradoxically, such an easing of demographic pressure contributes to the perpetuating of Chinese control over African governments, hence aggravating the crisis and divisions within the European Union.

Moreover, the crisis is exacerbated by the recent Turkish initiatives aimed to gain a hegemonic role in the Maghreb and the Eastern Mediterranean. This pitch invasion is seemingly facilitated by the shared Islamic culture to which Turkey claims the role of Defensor in open competition with other countries such as Saudi Arabia. Once again, this is a consequence of America’s withdrawal and the lack of a single European voice. With the expected resignation of Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) recognized by the United Nations, the effects on the current Turkish activities in Libya are hard to anticipate. Nevertheless, the intentions of Ankara remain unchanged: to become the privileged Chinese partner by taking advantage of this economic and political conjuncture.

To better understand Ankara’s strategy while not underestimating its chances of success, it is paramount to consider the totality and complexities of the Sino-Turkish relations. We are witnessing several signals. First of all, a softening of visa policies between the two powers has been underway for years. In addition to intensified cultural exchanges, China has recently granted Turkey considerable financial resources to support the industrial and military development plans of the government led by Erdogan. To overcome its structural military inadequacies, Turkey is now rumored to considering the purchase of fifth-generation Shenyang J-31 stealth fighter aircraft. The opening to a partnership with China has been made possible by the exclusion of Turkey from the Lockheed Martin F-35 initiative, wanted by the US. It also represents a further step towards Turkey’s exit from NATO. Should it happen, the loss of the Turkish partner would undoubtedly cause a crisis in the Atlantic Alliance, which is already in a state of suspended animation according to several international observers. A possible weakening of NATO is also a goal of Putin’s Russia, which, despite the current political tension with Turkey, is already providing the country with anti-aircraft systems and is pressing Ankara to purchase its Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters.

In this context, the normalization of the diplomatic relations between Israel and some of the Middle Eastern powers, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and the unconfirmed rumors of possible future agreements for developing common military assets, should not be at all surprising. Indeed, this event cannot be just considered due to Trump’s plan to bring stability to the Middle East, which many commentators describe as insufficient if not wholly nonexistent. Instead, it must be understood as evidence that the Arab world, in a perpetual crisis of relevance, is aware of the profound changes in the geopolitical equilibrium of the Eastern Mediterranean and is trying to gain the most advantageous position possible. Finally, what seems to be consolidation now may appear as an anti-Turkish front. However, on a closer look, it is more likely to form an opposing front to Chinese neo-colonial reaches in Africa, or at least contain them while reducing at the same time the dependency from the West.

This game of Risk against the Sleeping Giant will eventually involve all those Persian Gulf countries, which were once sworn enemies of the Jewish state, which today think of Israel more and more as a natural ally. To them, Tel Aviv will represent not only a strong military partner but also an economic and technological hub capable of rivaling Beijing. Such a realignment of alliances and loyalties would probably lead to a solution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This result, however, will not be due to either the American mediation or the joint efforts of various nations and international organizations. But instead to the emergence of a common enemy at the horizon. If a solution is therefore reached, it will, unfortunately, be at the expense of the Palestinians. Clinging to obsolete rhetoric and increasingly marginalized by their former allies, they do not seem willing to accept the changes and adapt their long-term objectives and strategy accordingly, falling into complete irrelevance.

With tensions with China predictably on the rise and in the face of the recent threats to Greece, the US has recently taken a stand, causing the temporary withdrawal of Turkish exploration vessels in the territorial waters controlled by Athens. However, coming “too late and one dollar short,” the US is not signaling any intent to get involved in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the contrary, responding to the American intervention and following the announcement of military exercises planned by the Greek armed forces in the northern Aegean, Ankara accused again Athens of violating the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the Greek-Turkish war (1919- 1923) by redesigning the new borders between the two countries. It is not the first time that Turkey has accused Greece of violating the Treaty. The first time was in June 1964, following the deployment of a Greek motorized brigade on the island. However, this time Turkey does not seem to rule out a military reaction to the exercises recently announced by Athens.

On the northern shore of mare nostrum, things are not going any better. Although it is clear that the game that is being played in the Mediterranean, and that involves Greece and Cyprus, is an existential threat to European and Western interests, including the survival of the European Union, few nations have fully understood it. Amongst the European capitals, the change in the balance that for years accompanied the Union’s Mediterranean policy seems to be fully appreciated only by Paris. Accused of only aiming to control negligible energy resources, the second powerhouse of the EU has instead always pushed for a more incisive international role for Europe and its military integration. France is left alone while Berlin acts as Germany is still a trading state, interested only in short-term economic gains and not to upset the precarious balance reached with Turkey on the issue of migrants from the Balkan route.

As for Italy, Rome seems to think its best option is to take once again on the very same posture of equidistance and neutrality that has reduced it to a background actor in the international relations system with the addition of a dangerously ambiguous relationship with China. Nevertheless, France, which appears to be the natural candidate to lead the Union’s foreign policy, cannot expect to win this game alone. Geography is not an opinion: without Italy, the second naval power in the EU, Europe stands no chances of being relevant. It will inevitably be doomed in a humiliating position of subjugation.

#ReaCT2020 Report on Terrorism and Radicalisation in Europe (N.1, Year 1)

Click here to download:
Report on Terrorism and Radicalisation in Europe

by the National Observatory on Radicalisation and Counter-Terrorism based in Rome. Italian-version only.  Published in January 2020.


ReaCT is a network whose public and private co-founders and partners study terrorism and radicalisation from different perspectives, at an academic  or operational level. It promotes a multi-disciplinary approach to the subject and contributes to a comprehensive and up-to-date understanding of underlying issues.



06 ReaCT: Who We Are

08 #ReaCT2020 – Introduction

10 A Snapshot of Terrorism in Europe 

13 Claudio Bertolotti, Numbers and Outcomes of the ‘New Insurrectional Terrorism’ in Europe: from the Caliphate to the Post-ISIS Scenario
This essay outlines the main trends emerging from START InSight’s detailed database on Islamist terror attacks and incidents (2004 onwards); the latter enables  to produce quantitative analyses on different levels -from profiles of attackers down to operational outcomes such as strategic ‘success’ and media attention. These trends tell us for instance that 70% of European homegrown jihadis were born in the ’80s and ’90s; and that 85% of the attacks which took place between 2014-2019 were carried out by lone-actors, mostly brandishing cold steel weapons (63% of the cases; vehicles were used in 16% of the attacks). The database also indicates that from 2015 onward a so-called emulative effect takes hold in Europe, consisting in autonomous actions by self-starters, which are inspired or triggered by a main event and which occur within the following 8 days. The curve discloses that over the past 5 years, such actions represented 24% of the total: in Great Britain, their incidence reached 41%. In 2019, 75% of attacks led to a ‘functional blockade’; a most significant outcome for terrorism on European soil: security forces’ operational activities, transport, urban mobility, everyday life were all impacted, despite the attacker’s access to limited resources.

20 Chiara Sulmoni, Radicalisation and De-radicalisation. Lines of Inquiry
Almost 20 years have elapsed since the initial symptoms of a distinctly European jihadi scene started to manifest; today, quantitative data allow us to identify and investigate trends of so-called homegrown Islamist terrorism. Radicalisation on the other hand is subtler and more complex to track and measure, while the need for large-scale prevention and intervention (deradicalisation) gave rise to a whole new and, at times, controversial sector, where progress and outcomes are difficult to assess. Furthermore, academic research, political stances and realities on the ground are not always aligned, which adds to the challenges  awaiting Europe in the post-Caliphate ‘wave’. Exploring the mechanisms and the contexts accelerating recruitment remains crucial, but ‘profiling’ the obstacles met by practitioners in different countries is also important. Recent events in London, where two former convicts carried out terror attacks within a couple of months of each other between the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, ignited a heated debate on the issue of deradicalisation. While questioning the limits of such programmes is legitimate, expectations are often misplaced and the organisational complexity of these interventions not fully understood, thus compromising a balanced critique.

25 Giusy Criscuolo, The Communication of the Islamic State
This essay offers an updated overview of the internet platforms used by Islamic State and al-Qaeda and an in-depth analysis of these groups’ new communicative techniques and potential targets, including the repercussions of online recruiting. In recent years, the Caliphate’s activities on internet platforms have been particularly fruitful, gathering significant support, especially among youth and women.

30 Valentina Ciappina, The Dimensions and Effects of Cyber-Jihad and Videogames
The essential advantage of video games -when compared to television, audio recordings or books- is their interactivity. In a virtual world, a person behind a monitor can actively influence the course of events and become what he/she can not or does not have the courage to be in real life. This also offers unique opportunities for terrorist organizations. The online gaming space allows people to get in touch in a remote and anonymous way, and to overcome a sense of helplessness they might experience in everyday life: a shared perception of injustice and inadequacy makes these subjects more vulnerable and turns them into potential recruits. People who are isolated and vulnerable to radicalization tend to validate extremist messages. Over time, their isolation leads to the normalization of extremist opinions and hate speech. Such phenomenon is called ‘Gaming Jihad’ and it’s the way in which terrorist organizations have exploited violent games and images to attract young recruits.

36 Barbara Lucini, The Far Right: Current Risks and Future Threats
The international scenario of current extremist threats needs a strong focus on the phenomenon of right-wing extremism.
This phenomenon is complex, dynamic and requires to be understood according to criteria typical of crisis management, such as characteristics related to threat exposure, the perception of risk and the cognitive definition of the phenomenon itself. This extremism is also determined by labile boundaries, grey areas of overlap between different ideological tendencies, thus defining cultural and ideological hybrids, which often escape the systematic categorization of this form of extremism. Cultural and sociological dimensions are also key factors to be included in the analysis of these types of extremism, providing useful information to better understand peculiar relational and communicative patterns. In the near future, to enhance security and resilience in face of such threat, it is worthwhile to increase scientific attention to this highly complex and interconnected phenomenon.

42 Marco Lombardi, To Counter an Everlasting Enemy, We Need to Redefine Terrorism
From the very beginning, the Islamic State (IS) has taken everyone by surprise, most noticeably by seizing control over the media’s communicative and public domains through effective strategic moves, insinuating itself into the global political agenda, and defying the security experts that have grappled with its establishment and its ability to control territories and expand outwards like an unstoppable shockwave. However, the key question that has accompanied the Islamic State throughout its history concerns how this terrorist group has been, and still is, capable of adapting and evolving. In the context of hybrid warfare, in which each actor plays a specific role, IS has demonstrated that it is a formidable actor capable of playing offense on both physical and virtual battlefields, where communication has become a fundamental asset. The morphogenetic processes of the Islamic State, when read through the signs of communication, which not only narrate it but also constitute its organisational structure, reveal a threat that is destined to renew itself in an opportunistic and creative way within the reticular and conflictual world that it expressesThe new organisational structures of terrorism have become flexible and adaptable: belonging to the group has been substituted by belonging to the network based on relations between single individuals who imitate, confirm and emulate one another. The attempts to interpret this change often clash with the definition of terrorism with which everyone grapples in order to understand if the events that we are starting from are acts of “terrorism” or not. The limits of this debate, and the tentativeness of its outcome, is that the players are trapped in an attempt to confirm existing models and fail to fully grasp the evolutionary capacity of these patterns of terrorism, thus disrupting the interpretative frameworks of those who fight it. Fighting terrorism today needs new perspective and mind sets.

17 Matteo Bressan, The Evolution of the Terrorist Threat following al-Baghdadi’s Death
Although General William H. Seely III, Commander of the US-led coalition believes that the capabilities of the Islamic State are far from being sufficient to regain portions of territory, their presence in Deir ez-Zur province in Syria and in Diyala province in Iraq represents a real threat. Following the killing of ISIS former leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the night between the 26th and the 27th of October 2020, multiple challenges remain -not only in Syria and Iraq-. Namely, the issue of returnees, prisoners, YPG and al-Qaeda in Syria.

23 Francesco Pettinari, Jihadist Radicalisation. Calculating the Activation Times of Radicalised Individuals
The endogenous threat that radicalised individuals pose to European security makes it necessary to investigate their activation time; meaning, the stretch of time incurring between their first encounter with jihadist ideology, and the first violent action they perpetrate. From a statistical analysis on a sample of 46 homegrown jihadists who carried out attacks in Europe between 2014 and 2017, we can infer that their activation takes place between the first and the third year since the beginning of their radicalisation process. However, if the total sample is further divided according to different radicalisation processes, results consistently vary: individuals who radicalised through ‘face-to-face’ interaction (29 out of 46), most probably ‘activated’ between the second and the fourth year. On the other hand, those who ‘self-radicalised’ online (17 out of 46) activated within the first year, with half of them committing a violent action within the first six months. Therefore, it clearly emerges how ‘self-radicalised’ individuals tend to act faster than their counterparts, and that different radicalisation processes should be taken into consideration when trying to anticipate activation.

(The above-mentioned statistical analysis was conducted by the author in 2019. All information related to the sample were derived from a cross-examination of open source articles and investigation documents)

27 Deborah Basileo, Cyber-Terrorism and Information Warfare – Little Awareness and Big Regulatory Limits
In the long, steady war for information control, a virus is creeping in: cyberterrorism. Generally conceived as a “politically motivated attack against information, computer systems, computer programs, and data”, it lacks specific characteristics as well as a clear and internationally-recognised definition; furthermore, it is often confused with cyberattacks. A thin line actually separates cyberattacks from cyberterrorism. But in a world dominated by an increasing rate of cyberattacks perpetrated by cybercriminals, can we keep on leaning on ‘shy’ regulatory responses mainly conceived to ensure data protection?

33 Ginevra Fontana, Terrorism 2.0: Between Drones and New Technologies
In recent years, a series of different ‘actors’ –including criminal and terrorist groups– have been increasingly exploiting off-the-shelf technologies for their own ends:
for instance, in a number of cases commercial drones were flown over prisons with illegal deliveries for convicts; they were also used for espionage and terror attacks. Even messaging apps, with their end-to-end encryption protecting users’ privacy, have proven to be a double-edged sword in the hands of ill-intentioned actors. Should we therefore expect these groups to also take advantage of the inherent potential of ‘ground delivery drones’ and autonomous cars soon?

39 Anna Triggiano, Countering Terrorist Financing: The EU Legal Frame and Italian Legislation

45 Claudio Bertolotti, The Italian ideologue of the Islamic State – A Case Study

Editor: START InSight sagl, Lugano (Switzerland) 


What is wrong with the model which prompted lockdowns? An interview with Andrea Molle

As the spread of COVID19 progressed rapidly in Europe at the beginning of 2020, the pandemic predictive model devised by the Imperial College in London featured prominently in public policies and debates. Its extremely worrying statistics prompted lockdowns.

Now, it’s under intense scrutiny.

Researcher Andrea Molle (Chapman University, California), who covered several aspects of COVID19 in a series of previous articles, explains what is wrong with it and the way it entered public debate.     

What do you make of the criticism surrounding the model and its author, Professor Neil Ferguson? 

I would not go as far as Elon Musk and call him a fake. That was wrong and unwarranted. He is undoubtedly an impressive and reputable scholar. But Prof. Ferguson also has a record of excessively pessimistic predictions and mortality overestimations. For example, look at his work on the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic up to his recent incorrect prediction of 2009 swine flu mortality. They were both calling for draconian measures but ended up in nothing.

How do you evaluate the model itself?

First, I would like to start by saying that I believe that models should not be looked at as infallible predictions but as tools to explore probabilistic scenarios. If we look at a model as a prophecy, like we have done so far with COVID-19, then we end up fulfilling it hoping to avoid an even more catastrophic outcome. The issue I have with this model, in particular, is not with the model per se. But, the ease with it was assumed as the “golden standard” to inform global suppression, and mitigation strategies, is frankly unacceptable.


In my opinion, it was a decision based more on the reputation of the Imperial College than its applicability as a policy tool, which is quite frankly very limited.

Why do you believe so? 

Mainly because the model is too simplistic to inform policies. I do like an elegant model, but the complexities of this pandemic call for more sophisticated approaches. Without getting too technical, Ferguson’s model is based on an assumption of an R0, the linear reproduction number, which is assumed to be randomly distributed in the population. This assumption, otherwise legitimate, ignores something we need to know in estimating a contagion: how social and cultural factors determine the spread of contagion in modern societies, making a huge difference. Also, the model is, quite frankly, unsound to inform policies for it cannot be empirically tested.

The model became the golden standard because it was a convenient choice for politicians looking for a magic bullet approach that minimized their responsibilities and the potential fallout.

Can you elaborate on that?

Let me give you an example. Imagine a scenario where I am telling you, “don’t go outside, or you are going to die because the rain is going to kill you.” Faced with such an extreme outcome, you rationally decide to stay in and eventually survive. Can I use this as proof that I was right and the rain kills? Not at all. Would 10,000 people not going out and not getting killed good enough to prove my statement? Again, it is not enough. It is not a matter of numbers. I have to prove that, first, people by sending people outside to die; second, that they die because of the rain and, lastly, that there is nobody (of course, allowing a certain level of tolerance) that goes outside, get wet, and survives. How can I test all of that without risking people’s lives? And how about testing the use of a raincoat, or an umbrella, with a subset of the population? Going back to our suppression and mitigation strategies, informed by Fergusson’s model, no one took the risk of doing nothing and saw what would happen: if the model were empirically sound. And even if some countries, like Sweden or Japan, did something close to that, supporters of the dominant narrative do not consider it enough of evidence that the model was wrong. And rightfully so.

On the other hand, because in many countries we have fewer numbers of what the models predicted in its worst-case scenario, that is automatically taken as evidence that the model is 100% correct. All of it without excluding alternative explanations, which is a must in addressing causal hypothesis. A typical way of reasoning of what we call an “unfalsifiable” theory, in other words, an unscientific one. I don’t believe this was Ferguson’s intention, but it is how the model entered the political debate.

The model ignores something we need to know in estimating a contagion: how social and cultural factors determine the spread of contagion in modern societies, making a huge difference.

Is the model wrong?

I am not saying it was “wrong.” A model is not wrong or right; it is consistent with its assumptions and the data used to fit it. I am simply saying that there is no way to tell if its predictions were valid. The model is designed, or at least presented, in a way that does not allow itself to be tested. Of course, I am not implying that social distancing is not essential and should not be carried out. It does matter, and we know it from the epidemiological literature. But there are different ways to apply it, and we should have also considered other models, and opinions, before committing ourselves to such an extreme strategy as an indiscriminate lockdown under any circumstances.

So why did it become the golden standard?

Because its outcomes, and the inferred policies, are simple to understand and, politically speaking, safe to implement. It was a convenient choice for politicians looking for a magic bullet approach that minimized their responsibilities and the potential fallout.

The problem is that there is no magic bullet, and decisions should be tailored to each country’s specific context. Even more so, areas within countries should have different strategies based, among other things, on their population and network structures. An increasing number of scientific publications, based on real data, is showing that some are might need a full lockdown, whereas others might do better with targeted closures. Also, there are now better mathematical and computational models that account for these social, economic, and cultural differences. Still, they are not as immediate as Ferguson’s to understand. And not as simple to turn into policies to fight COVID-19 without taking a huge political risk. Unfortunately, adopting Ferguson’s model without asking for a second opinion or double-checking, it might have been a wrong choice.

The consequence of adopting an extreme, blanket, strategy is that there is now a mounting pressure to abandon any form of social distancing completely.

Are you referring to the accusation that the model was badly coded? What if the model is, like it is suggested now, faulty and full of mistakes?

I was not directly referring to that. If those accusations, however, are proven right, it will turn up to be a huge scandal, which will potentially cause massive lawsuits. More importantly, it will start an unprecedented wave of mistrust in, if not open hostility towards, science and politics. After all it could be considered partially responsible for the dare social and economic consequences of the pandemic.

In what sense then. And what conclusions can we draw?

The consequence of adopting an extreme, blanket, strategy is that there is now a mounting pressure, fueled by the long-term unsustainability of the current approach, to abandon any form of social distancing completely. Politicians will eventually succumb to the pressure, and this would potentially lead to a dire scenario. Ironically, that might provide the data we need to validate or disprove, Ferguson’s model.

Estimating the number of unidentified cases of COVID-19 in Italy as of March 31st using South Korean and Chinese mortality rates

Andrea Molle, Chapman University, California USA.

The global panic around the COVID-19 epidemic is fed by alarming estimates of its mortality rate. Italy in particular is watched upon with great anxiety as a potential global scale scenario with a mortality rate currently estimated in the 10%. Using the mortality rates by age group identified in China and South Korea as theoretical mortality rates and comparing them to the deceased numbers in Italy in order to estimate the number of unidentified COVID-19 cases, I suggest that as many of 500,000 infected, asymptomatic, individuals are not included in the official count. This in return, results in the over estimation of the overall gross mortality rate which probably falls around 2%. There are strategical public policy implications to our quarantine and mitigation strategies.

The official number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 in Italy represents a mystery for the disease seems to have taken on a more aggressive and lethal form than in other countries, with a mortality rate currently estimated in the 10%. In this research note, I assume that this is a statistical artifact and a consequence of extremely unreliable data on the true total number of cases in Italy. First, there is one main factor which contributes to an underestimation of the total case numbers. Italy appears to have performed fewer tests than other countries and, more importantly, it is testing only individuals who experience severe symptoms, and who ultimately require hospitalization. Many of the currently infected, asymptomatic, people are therefore not included in the official count. Secondly, in more acute cases, there is a lag of about 8 to 10 days between the initial onset of the symptoms and the death of the patient. All this clearly results in the over estimation of the overall mortality rate.

Here I suggest that is possible to get a better understanding of ​​the actual spread of the contagion in Italy using the mortality rates by age group identified in China and South Korea as theoretical mortality rates and compare them to the deceased numbers in Italy in order to estimate the number of unidentified COVID-19 cases.

Estimates of Total Cases

First we need to consider mortality rates in China using the most recent data available [1]. Being the first country to experience an outbreak of COVID-19, it is now probably the closest country to having a conclusive outcome for most of its active cases. Chinese estimates are, however, considered highly problematic and present a staggering difference between the mortality rates in Wuhan and the rest of the country. Therefore, we advise extreme caution if using them as a reference.

The following table (1) computes estimates of the total cases in Italy using Chinese mortality rates as a reference. Using the official number of deaths by age group reported by the Italian Ministry of Health at March 30th [3] [4] (column B of the table), we estimate the number of true cases by age group (column D) assuming that Italy has the same mortality by age group as China. This is done by dividing the number of deaths in each age group by the corresponding theoretical mortality rate. By subtracting the number of official cases (column C) from them, we determine the estimated number of infected people who are not yet identified (column F).  In comparing the latter with the official Italian data, we assume that the more the detected lethality differs from the theoretical mortality, the more infected people are not yet identified.

Table 1 – Estimated true cases (Chinese mortality reference)

For example, if we want to estimate the true number of infected in the 70 to 79 bracket, we divide the number of deaths officially recorded for this age group (3,458) by the corresponding mortality estimated from the Chinese data (8%) thus obtaining a projection of 43,225 cases which results in 25,761 more cases than the 17,464 currently detected. By repeating this for each age brackets, with the exception of the <30 bracket for which we don’t have mortality data available, we estimate that the total number of true cases is 169,408.

Let’s now consider mortality rates in South Korea as of March 30th [2]. The East-Asian country has the most accurate estimates of the true size of the infection due to its extensive testing, it has already reached the cases peak, and is not far from having a conclusive outcome for most of its currently active cases. Because of the more reliable data, assuming that the standards for reporting cases outcomes are the same across both countries and its structural and demographical similarities with Italy, we recommend using the estimates based on the Korean case. In other words, the mortality rates by age group in South Korea represent a better approximation than China of what the true Italian mortality rates should be. Adopting the same procedure as we did with China and results are shown in the following table.

Table 2 – Estimated true cases (South Korea mortality reference)

Following the previous example, in order to estimate the true number of infected in the 70 to 79 bracket using the South Korean mortality rates, we divide the number of deaths officially recorded for this age group (3,458) by the corresponding mortality estimated from Korean data (5.27%) thus obtaining a projection of 65,617 cases which results in 48,153 more case than the 17,464 currently detected. By repeating this for each age brackets, with the exception of the <30 bracket for which we don’t have mortality data available, we estimate this time that the total number of true cases could be as large as 416,270.

Finally, to obtain a more accurate estimate of unidentified cases, we can factor the window from contagion to death in our calculations. I computed an estimate of future deaths by regressing the current distribution of cases with a fatal outcome up to March 30th. I then opted for a conservative prediction of 14,574 total deaths by April 5th and redistributed them across age brackets using the same proportions as in the original Italian data.

Table 3 – Estimated true cases with projected deaths (South Korea mortality reference; death cases adjusted for onset-to-death window)

Once again, if we use the resulting distribution to estimate the true number of infected in the 70 to 79 bracket using the South Korean mortality rates and we divide the number of deaths for this age group (5,026) by the corresponding mortality from the Korean data (5.27%) we obtain a projection of 95,374 cases which results in 77,910 more cases than the 17,464 currently detected. By repeating this for each age brackets, with the exception of the <30 bracket for which we don’t have mortality data available, we estimate that the total number of true cases could be as large as 605,330.

The validity of our assumptions and the robustness of our estimates are confirmed by the resulting mortality rate of 2.408% that is similar to the Case Fatality Rate at 10 days (2.45%) computed by dividing the number of death at March 30th (812) by the cases active at the beginning of March 20th (33,190) [5]. The analysis shows that about 78.64 to 85.31% of cases haven’t been identified and thus between 327,367 and 516,427 infected people are still potentially contagious. Although these figures should be taken cautiously, the size of the difference between identified and unidentified cases remains alarming. Moreover, as shown in the following table (4), if the true mortality rate in Italy is the same as North Korea, the age breakdown suggests that more than 70% of undetected cases should be among the active population, between 40 – 69 years old.


Table 4 – Proportion of unidentified cases per age bracket (South Korea mortality reference; current cases vs. adjusted for onset-to-death window)


Many researchers are now suggesting the importance of comorbidities in determine the severity and the outcome of the infection by COVID-19. Having an estimate of undetected cases could help the Italian government, and other governments now facing the same scenario, to better investigate the spread of the virus among their population. Thus, extending aimed testing to underrepresented age brackets and, for example by targeting individuals with comorbidities, increasing the effectiveness of their public health strategies in facing the pandemic as well as mitigating the panic in the public.

About the Author

Andrea Molle, Department of Political Science and Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics and Society, Chapman University, Orange, California, 92866 USA

[1] The Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia Emergency Response Epidemiology Team. The Epidemiological Characteristics of an Outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diseases (COVID-19) — China, 2020[J]. China CDC Weekly, 2020, 2(8): 113-122.

[2] Age distribution of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in South Korea as of March 30, 2020, Korean Center for Disease Control. Retrieved through link [Retrieved on March 30th, 2020. The site updates regularly, mortality rates are subject to change].

[3] Characteristics of COVID-19 patients dying in Italy. Report based on available data on March 30th, 2020, Istituto Superiore di Sanita’: Link [Retrieved on March 30th, 2020. The site updates regularly, mortality rates are subject to change].

[4] COVID-19 Italia – Monitoraggio situazione by Protezione Civile: Link [Retrieved on March 30th, 2020. The site updates regularly, case numbers are subject to change].

[5] A. C. Ghani, C. A. Donnelly, D. R. Cox, J. T. Griffin, C. Fraser, T. H. Lam, L. M. Ho, W. S. Chan, R. M. Anderson, A. J. Hedley, G. M. Leung, Methods for Estimating the Case Fatality Ratio for a Novel, Emerging Infectious Disease, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 162, Issue 5, 1 September 2005, Pages 479–486, Link.

Youth and extremism. START InSight took part in the Muslim World League’s international conference in Geneva

On the 18th and 19th of February 2020 the Muslim World League convened an International Conference at the UN headquarters in Geneva to discuss

“Initiatives for Protecting the Youth from Extremist and Violent Ideologies: Implementation Measures”

In the presence of the League’s Secretary General, His Excellency Mohammad bin Abdul Karim al-Issa, of numerous religious leaders, political representatives, experts and researchers, the Conference tackled the following subjects:

  1. Thoughts, Ideologies and Milieux leading to Extremism
  2. National Identity and its Role in Building Intellectual Security
  3. Europe’s Muslim Youth in Europe and the Threat of Extremism
  4. Religious and Cultural Pluralism, and the Culture of Tolerance

START InSight’s President, Chiara Sulmoni, featured in a panel focussed on Muslim youth in the West and the threat of extremism. In her intervention, she talked about the average ages of extremists resulting from profiles analysed by researchers in a series of European countries and also about time spans characterising the process of radicalisation in Europe; she then underlined the need for early prevention. Based on her field-research and interviews with practitioners in 5 different nations, she suggested a greater involvement of the private sector and the value of  ‘models’ as effective counter-narrative tools, while she also highlighted the dangers stemming from a ‘politicisation’ of the whole issue. In the end, after briefly explaining how prevention is organised in Switzerland according to the National Action Plan adopted in 2017, she concluded by stating that if we really consider citizenship as an antidote to parallel societies and extremism, we should collaborate more, trust and value European Muslims as part of the solution.

Among closing remarks, those of the Vice-President of Swiss Parliament, On. Isabelle Moret and Amb. Elan Carr, US envoy for the fight against anti-Semitism who conveyed President Trump’s greetings.

The Muslim World League’s Twitter account reports some more contents on the issues addressed by the many speakers.

Work in progress

We are currently working on: European perspectives on Islamist radicalisation

Radicalism is like a zoom

Prisons have always been a fertile ground for extremisms of any kind. Today, they top the list of sensitive places where Islamist radicalisation could thrive.


In Italy, according to the 2018 Report penned by Associazione Antigone -which monitors detention conditions- cases have grown by 72%. Such trend demands attention and should lead on the one hand, to questioning the reasons why; on the other, to examining which initiatives could be put in place with a view to prevention.

This in-depth, radio report discusses the issue with Fra’ Ignazio De Francesco, a monk with the Piccola Famiglia dell’Annunziata whose pilot project within a detention facility in Bologna (Italy) has become a documentary called ‘Dustur’ (which means ‘constitution’ in Arabic). The core of this educational programme is a robust interaction with the Italian and some of  North African constitutions. Such approach is particularly interesting as it lays bare conservative Muslims’ difficulties in accepting man-made laws.

The report also includes the testimony of Samad Bannaq, a young, former convict explaining the prison’s ecosystem which could lead to radicalisation; an interview with Valeria Collina, the mother of one of the London Bridge attackers of Italian-Moroccan origins, and the overall evaluation of the Italian case by Stefano Dambruoso, a well-known anti-terror magistrate and co-author of a draft law on countering violent extremism which also provides for a prevention plan, but remains to be adopted by the Senate.


Perspectives on radicalisation in Europe – a series

Direct link to the Reportage “Laser – Radical Rift” –  RSI Rete 2

A radio report by Chiara Sulmoni for RSI

Individual profiles of Islamist extremists differ greatly from one another. With a view to prevention, focussing on contexts and mechanisms leading to radicalisation is therefore very important. This in-depth radio report was broadcast by Swiss National Radio in the Italian language and gathers three perspectives on this issue.

Raffaello Pantucci, Director of International Security Studies at RUSI and author of a detailed book on the evolution of violent Islamism in the UK – We love death as you love life – Britain’s suburban terrorists –  depicts the British jihadist scene;

Douglas Weeks,  researcher, academic, and consultant specializing in radicalization, de-radicalization, and counter-terrorism policy, explains what radicalisation is about (“the key issue here is that radicalisation is not occurring solely because of the existence of ISIS or al-Qaeda or any other radical groups or for what people find on the internet”);

Hanif Qadir, founder and CEO of the Active Change Foundation, recounts how his own experience of Islamist extremism brought him to Afghanistan in the early 2000s. The author of a best-practice guide Preventing and countering extremism and terrorist recruitment also illustrates some faultlines between government policies and practitioners.