Last week the Italian Parliament approved a government-sponsored mass pardon which has led, so far, to the release of more than 5,000 inmates (reportedly half of them illegal immigrants). As predicted by many, some pardoned prisoners committed new crimes within a few hours of their release and ended up in prison again. From a counterterrorism perspective, what is troubling is that a small number of the pardoned prisoners are individuals with proven links to terrorist groups:
Abdelhamid Remadna: designated by the UN, top recruiter for the Abu Doha/GSPC network, worked as a secretary at the infamous Islamic Cultural Institute of Milan, which he used as a base to send hundreds of militants to al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan (I reported dozens of pages of Remadna's phone conversations with top al Qaeda trainers in Afghanistan in my book). Arrested in 2001, was serving a 7-year and 9-month sentence before being pardoned. According to reports in the media, he is currently in an illegal immigrants' detention center awaiting deportation.
Djamel Lounici: Naples-based top leader of the Algerian FIS in Italy, sentenced to 8 years for arms and false documents trafficking in May 2005.
Ahmed Nacer Yacine: Lounici's right-hand man, serving a 4-year and 8-month sentence. Well known to the Italian public for a sermon he gave in September 2001 praising jihad against infidels that was aired by the Italian state television.
Lased Ben Heni: Libyan veteran of Afghanistan involved with GSPC networks in Germany and Northern Italy. Arrested in 2001, Ben Heni was serving a 6 year sentence. After the pardon, Italian authorities attempted to deport him to Germany, but German authorities refused to grant him entry, alleging that his asylum had been revoked. Ben Heni now finds himself in a legal limbo, a complicate situation that Italian authorities have to solve as soon as possible. Yet it is unlikely that many countries will volunteer to host the Libyan, given his radicalism. In March 2001, in fact, Italian authorities taped Ben Heni saying to a fellow militant: "I have made a decision, to fight them [the infidels], but unfortunately when you belong to a group you can't carry out operations by yourself, at least until you decide to sacrifice yourself [die as martyr], in that case the sheikhs think about it.…A decision must be made, I want to die as a mujahid, there is too much planning; I only ask to fight them, so that I don't have to answer to anybody." In the same conversation Ben Hedi also expressed his desire to carry out the attack that the GSPC Frankfurt cell failed in December 2000 (allegedly against the Strasbourg Cathedral): "I don't need an army, but just two people, as long as they have brain and training, especially in the language [i.e., they know how to talk in code], the training must be based on this. They have to be committed and to go ahead without having anything to lose or to gain. Let me complete the operation…I'll do it like the group in Germany, so at this point all I need is one person and a 10-liter barrel."
Individuals convicted for terrorist activities were specifically excluded from benefiting from the pardon. Yet the four abovementioned men, as other individuals involved in terrorist activities who have been pardoned, had been convicted for common crimes (arms smuggling, document forging), given the impossibility of charging them for terrorism under the old (and now amended) legislation. The Italian government short-sighted move can potentially have serious repercussions on the security not only of Italy, but also of other countries.