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#ReaCT2021 – Tools to counter violent radicalisation: a case study

by Alessandra Lanzetti

The killing of the French professor Samuel Paty and the recent attacks conducted in Nice and Wien, clearly show that the jihadist-inspired terrorism represents one of the most dangerous threat to Europe, notwithstanding the fall of the Caliphate.

The counter terrorism agency is aware that to counteract effectively this phenomenon, it is necessary to place side-by-side to the law enforcement tools, also measures that allow to anticipate the radicalisation process, by affecting the stages that precede the perpetration of terrorist crimes.

In Italy, already in the past legislature, a Parliament debate started aiming at channelling into an Act, all the tools that are usually employed in practice in order to detect in time all the radicalised subjects and, therefore, to facilitate their de-radicalisation, which means giving up a violent ideology and fostering their social, cultural, employment integration, in compliance with the fundamental rights of religious freedom.

The debate of a bill signed by the honourable MP Fiano is still pending at the Chamber of Deputies; its contents follow closely the previous one being signed by the Honourable Manciulli – Dambruoso; in the Italian practice, the legal tools in force were used to start some de-radicalisation interventions.

One of them is the case of B.A., a teenager of Algerian origin, who in 2017 was investigated into by the Tribunal for minors in Trieste for instigation to perpetrate terrorist crimes, with the aggravating circumstances of the use of IT tools.

B.A. was fourteen years old when in 2017 Digos personnel in Udine and UCIGOS found him in possession of some important messages related to the religious war and the image of the Islamic State flag. The investigators have been after him for months, through a constant monitoring of his chats on Telegram platform; a virtual space where he was not any longer an introverted boy with no friends, but rather a contact point of the so called Islamic State group, who administered numerous IT channels and widespread the contents of the jihadist propaganda, teaching how to manufacture home-made bombs and instigating users to perpetrate terrorism crimes against humanity, also offering substantial help to whosoever intended to join the jihadist cause.

The investigation started from a notification issued by the intelligence, shared at CASA – Committee for Counterterrorism Strategic Analysis, according to which a young Italian of Arabic origin allegedly intended to commit an unspecified attack against the school “Deganutti” in Udine.

But who is B.A.? And how did he end in the Islamic State network?

B.A. was born in Italy from a family of Algerian immigrants who grew him up according to the traditional principles of the culture of their country of origin; this made the integration of the entire family group in the North of Italy social context, difficult.

The above is a key issue to better understand which were the mechanisms that triggered B.A.’s radicalisation process, which most of the times starts from a generic, psychological, social, cultural discomfort. Often, young immigrants of second-generation join the radical Islamist ideology; they were born, grew up and educated in a western country, most of the times by families bound to a popular religion, but who feel like strangers because of the so-called double absence, that is they do not feel completely part of their own original culture and at the same time they do not feel integrated in the country in which they live.

This frustration, associated to a personality marked by intelligence and self-confidence, but with a poor empathy and a high self-control and emotional detachment, lead these people to look into the web for the answers to their solitude; they try to gain importance and to play a role in the society through the tasks that are electronically assigned them by the “Islamic State teachers”.

The structure of the Minor proceedings made it possible to balance the needs for security and for ascertaining the crime, with the boy’s rehabilitation, in order to give him an alternative based on the compliance with legality. Indeed, in the phase preceding the trial, the Prosecutor entrusted a psychologist, together with a mentoring[1], with a professional support to B.A., in order to correctly interpret the religious aspects mentioned in the propaganda. During the proceedings, the defendant asked to enter the so-called probation; thus, the boy was assigned to the Social Service for Minors in Trieste, with the task of arranging an ad-hoc project based on the defendant’s needs and rehabilitation; B.A. had partially recognised his responsibility, confirming his conduct, but underestimating its dangerousness, and reiterating his own interest in the Islamic State group as a mere curiosity.

The programme started in May 2019 and lasted twelve months; its performance included many experts who, according to one’s competence, contributed in managing B.A.’s reintegration into society and de-radicalisation: in particular, the Judiciary, law enforcement, psychologists with the help of the mentoring, social workers all worked with the synergy of a multiagency.

The guidelines issued by the Judiciary had the primary objective to make the radicalised subject understand and elaborate the seriousness of his conduct, the dangerousness of his activity, not only as to security and public order was concerned but also as to life, health and people’s safety.

Together with the psychotherapeutic support program and the attendance at a school, B.A. started to carry out some activities in favour of disabled people and victims of violence inside intercultural aggregation centres: by giving support to weak and/or disabled subjects from different social, national or religious background, or to people who suffered from migration traumas, he managed to face cultural prospects and social dynamics which were different from his own, so as to learn the value of tolerance and non-violence as a way to recognise his own values and to develop a feeling of belonging to the community.

Moreover, these activities gave him the opportunity for a sound socialisation and for the reactivation of emotions, which were “anesthetized” by the social isolation and by the deep involvement in the propaganda material posted by the Islamic State group.

In June 2020, at the end of this process, the Judiciary issued[2] a judgement of dismissal due to extinction of the offence, considering that “the above processes led the defendant to acknowledge his own past experience and to frame it in a more coherent understanding; the stable trend of the defendant towards legality and a substantial commitment to base his own life on education and self-support through work, so as to concretely assume a future conduct based on the respect of himself and of other people”.

[1] Expert of jihadist narrative, in particular, in the case under review, it was a so-called former, that is a person who had already joined a violent extremist group and who managed to rehabilitate himself.

[2] Sentence issued by the Tribunal for Minors in Trieste n. 59/20 dated 9/6/2020 lodged on June 19, 2020.


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