For some time now the atmosphere in the upper echelons of the Viminale [Interior Ministry] has not been a relaxed one, as it has not been in the upper echelons of the intelligence services and among the various security apparatuses. Now, however, the disquiet has turned into tension.
If concerns ahead of the arrival in Rome of US President Bush, on 4 June, were not enough, the latest analysis and assessment reports give one to understand that the risk of an attack is not just hypothetical. And that the fact that there are no specific warnings does not, by itself, represent a reassuring element.
On the contrary, the worsening of the situation in Iraq — the ‘political’ seizure of our fellow Italians, and the attacks in Al-Nasiriyah — the messages via Internet, or the videos from the various international terrorist bases lead one to form the concrete notion that Italy is also increasingly a chosen target for an attack by Islamic extremism.
As for the timing, the range of possibilities includes all the events which are to have international repercussions. Starting with the visit by US President Bush, on 4 June, and up to the European elections on 13 June.
These are the ‘new assessments’ which have been passed to Interior Minister Beppe Pisanu by the intelligence services. Why such a concerned alert, in the absence of specific warnings? “The latest investigative and intelligence leads — explained one intelligence source — can be related to the operation in Florence which led to the detention of four Islamists, who, however, were planning attacks to be carried out in Iraq.
The absence of specific warnings cannot lead us to underestimate the imminent risk. Nor does the argument still hold that no weapons have been found in any of the judicial investigations, or in any of the anti-terrorism operations, and [terrorism] prevention operations, which have been successfully carried out in the last few years.”
A source at the anti-terrorism department added: “On 11 March in Madrid individuals who, however, had been investigated went into action.” If these were the only worrying elements, the current alert would be nothing new, since it rests on assessments expressed in the aftermath of Madrid’s 11 March. In reality, the possibility mooted in the latest reports is that the alert derives from the worsening of the situation in Iraq, not only because the risk for the Italians is no longer a hypothetical one, but because “widespread rancor against people from the West is rising.”
It is as if one perceived an awareness among the upper echelons of the intelligence services and the anti-terrorism department that ‘continuous monitoring’ of places at risk, the mosques, is itself no longer enough: “Today — the anti-terrorism source confirmed — the possibility cannot be ruled out that something big is being prepared in these circles too.” In these reflections the Vatican, a Church which has taken a front-line position against the war, continues to be regarded as a possible target.
Rome is already experiencing worries in the run-up to 4 June, when President Bush is to arrive. Yesterday Interior Minister Beppe Pisanu gave the following reply to a question regarding whether a special security plan had been set in place for 4 June: “Special plans have been set in place for the last 2 weeks at least. And I am certainly not going to publicize them.
The same model as always will be adopted: guaranteeing that everyone has the right to demonstrate peacefully. Last year we provided guarantees so that 6,700 protest demonstrations could pass off smoothly. I do not believe that there will be another 6,700 in one day. We will see the ones which do take place.”
According to the intelligence reports from the various [local] branches of the DIGOS [(state police) Division for General Investigations and Special Operations] which have filtered into Rome, it is imagined that “at least 1,000” demonstrators will try, acting outside the marches, to “attack the symbols of imperialism” (from gasoline pumps to the various McDonald’s outlets).
These demonstrators identify with various groups ranging from the Disobedience Movement to Euro-Opposition, and, from the geographical point of view, may involve the Veneto region, Milan, Bologna, and Turin, as well as Rome. But there are also concerns over the march: The hypothesis is that organized fringe groups may detach themselves so as to carry out assaults on various targets.