police stand guard next to a building where French anti-terrorist
forces conducted raids, in Argenteuil, west of Paris. Photo / AP
A huge gun-running operation masterminded by the Sicilian Mafia is
being investigated by senior police officers for potential links to
“terrorist activity across Europe and beyond”.
prosecutors in Catania are investigating the possibility that Cosa
Nostra is supplying assault weapons to organised crime syndicates from
north Africa and firearms into the hands of extremists in western
Decommissioned guns legally procured from the same
Slovak dealer, Afg Security, which supplied the “mass casualty” weapons
used by Islamists in the Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks of
January 2015, as well as the failed terrorist attack on a TGV in France
last August, appear to have ended up in the hands of the Mafia.
Nostra members paid £33,000 ($62,000) for 160 deactivated weapons that
experts could make lethal in moments. Last month a Catanian couple were
arrested over the haul. They belong to the “Ceusi” Mafia clan, a family
tied to Catania’s dominant Santopaula clan.
The Catanian Mafia
in turn works closely with the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, an international
criminal network whose mastery of the cocaine market means it has a
turnover of £44 billion, greater than McDonald’s and Deutsche Bank
Italy’s second most wanted Mafia boss, Ernesto Fazzalari of the ‘Ndrangheta, was arrested after two decades on the run.
Anti-Mafia prosecutors in Catania have told the Observer
that a number of assault rifles due to be flown from Catania to Malta
in June last year appear to have been destined for a prominent Egyptian
people-smuggler in Alexandria.
Intercepted telephone calls are
understood to have documented conversations between members of Cosa
Nostra over the transfer of money from Egypt to Sicily, ostensibly for
The investigators’ principal
concern is that the weapons may fall into the hands of extremists. “The
Egyptian citizen was previously arrested in Italy for belonging to an
organisation dedicated to human trafficking in the Med. We’ve been
investigating possible connections with terrorist organisations,” a
carabinieri source said.
Organised criminals are increasingly open to trading with extremists, complicating the battle against terrorism.
smuggling activity around Alexandria has, according to Europol
briefings, intensified anxiety that Islamist militants based in the
Sinai could also attempt to reach Europe via the Mediterranean.
believe that some of the 160 AK-47s obtained by the Mafia in Catania
may have ended up with Europe’s web of black market intermediaries who
supply firearms to the criminal underworld.
“We have not
found all the weapons yet. The investigation is ongoing but the danger
is that they have been distributed by criminal intermediaries and have
found their way into the hands of potential terrorists,” said a senior
specialist with Europol.
Ballistics experts are
aware that petty criminals and drug dealers usually require small
pistols they can conceal, while terrorists want assault weapons to
inflict maximum damage.
officials have been perturbed by recent signs of an ever closer
relationship between organised criminals and Islamists. At least one
London terrorist cell is known to have sourced a firearm, silencer and
ammunition through a London criminal contact.
Tarik Hassane, 22, was convicted last April of conspiring to kill on the streets of the capital.
weapons found in Catania were sold legally by Afg Security but
illegally reactivated in Sicily by removing a metal pin hammered into
We know Isis has a very commercial eye. They need to raise revenue
months after the guns were found in the Sicilian port – a year ago – a
British gang attempted to import the biggest haul of “mass casualty”
weapons found on the UK mainland, firearms that were also bought from
the same Slovak dealer, Afg. The cache of 22 Kalashnikov-style assault
rifles and nine machine guns was found by police in a motorboat off
But Europe’s senior officers also believe
that organised criminals are increasingly open to trading with
extremists, a development that further complicates the battle against
Robert Crepinko, head of Europol’s
European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC), which was set up to dismantle
the proliferation of criminal networks orchestrating people-smuggling,
said that it was possible that British criminals might be working with
extremists in north Africa and Egypt.
Asked if Europol was
examining ties between criminal groups in the UK and Europe and
Islamists in Libya, Crepinko responded: “That is a fair assumption. It
will remain a very busy area of law enforcement.”
Libya, it is estimated that between 400,000 and 1 million migrants are
waiting to cross to Europe, the first stop often being Sicily. Acquiring
intelligence inside the war-racked country is difficult, but at least
five jihadi groups – including al-Qaida Libyan affiliate Ansar al-Sharia
and Isis (Islamic State), which recently lost control of the port of
Sirte – occupy territory there.
Morris, executive director of police services at Interpol, said they had
not collated any direct evidence of Isis being involved in sending
migrants to southern Europe, they could not discount it.
“We know Isis has a very commercial eye. They need to raise revenue, so I would certainly say it’s a distinct possibility.”
prosecutor Rocco Liguori added: “It is very possible, because they
traffic arms from Italy to this area controlled by Isis.”