Italian CounterterrorismJason J. Frattini
Madonna University

Table of Contents
TOC o “1-3” h z u Abstract PAGEREF _Toc405104219 h 3
Italian Counterterrorism PAGEREF _Toc405104220 h 4
History of Terrorism in Italy PAGEREF _Toc405104221 h 4
Counterterrorism PAGEREF _Toc405104222 h 5
Levels of Counterterrorism in Italy ………………………………………………………………………6
Radiclizing Italy ……………………………………………………………………………………………….7
References PAGEREF _Toc405104223 h 8

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AbstractIn the global fight on terrorism Italy has not seen a major terrorist attack in the post 9/11 world. This research focuses on the history of terrorism in Italy with discussions on the Mafia and the Red Brigade along with the struggles Italy faced in the post World War II years. Focuses on the steps the Italian government took to eradicate terrorism inside of its boarders through the deployment of special counterterrorism units, and how they set up these elite special forces. Finally discussing radicalization within the boarders of Italy and how the Italian government has been successful at keeping terrorist activity and terrorist attacks outside of the country.Italian CounterterrorismSince the year 2000, Italy has not been the target of a major terrorist attack. Many attribute this to the elite counterterrorism units that the Italian government has in place. While these elite units have thwarted many attacks, both in Italy and abroad, and uncovered terror cells hiding in the country, it is not unreasonable to say that they have been spared a major attack because of the counterterrorism measures they have in place. Italy holds many historical and religious icons of the modern world, including the seat of the Catholic Church, which many can argue would be a major target for jihadists in brining down the infidels.

History of Terrorism in ItalyAfter World War II and the fall of the fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, Italy fell into a period where power struggles became the new normal. During those few years after the war there were many different groups that reigned terror on Italy during the post war years.

The mafia has had a long standing of strong ties to a corrupt Italian government. In 1861 the Island of Sicily became part of a unified Italy, however, the long history of invading forces on the island continued to create chaos in the new Italian province. In its early history locals, to protect Sicily from those forces that were causing chaos on the island formed the mafia. After being unified with Italy, the mafia grew into its earliest form as a force that used fear to extort “protection money” from landowners in Sicily.

There were power-mongers, manly the wealthy and the politicians who fought for control of the country in the post war years. A low level civil war broke out because of the power struggle and many believe that this is where the Mafia started to gain most of its power. This group, it is rumored, empowered to the mafia by having them neutralize adversaries. While many believe that while this was going on this group would look the other way on the extortion against the landowners in Sicily.

In the 1970’s a new group known as the Red Brigade came to Italy to spread communist influence in the Country. This group was a militant organization that was meant to destabilize the Country through armed conflict. Based on Marxist/Leninist ideology there main purpose was to get Italy out of NATO and turn policies to the communist way of thinking. This group is responsible for many assassinations, kidnapping’s, and bombings through out Italy during the Cold War era. In April of 1974, the Red Brigade kidnapped Prosecutor Mario Sossi and they demanded the release of eight of their members who were imprisoned. Their demands were met and Sossi was released unharmed. However, following the arrests of more members in 1978 they kidnapped former Prime Minister Aldo Moro, demanding ransom and the release of their members, killing five bodyguards in the process. Their demands were refused, and the body of the former Prime Minister was found in the trunk of a car, in the middle of Rome, shot 11 times in the chest. Following the death of Moro, the Red Brigade assassinated seven other politicians.

Following the death of Moro and countless other politicians and influential Italians, the government decided to reorganize its counterterrorism forces to rid Italy of these groups.
CounterterrorismFollowing the death of Moro in 1978, Italian Interior Minister Francesco Cossiga argued to have special forces created to fight terrorism. This was in response to the siege Italy was under by the Red Brigade. He understood that they needed to act against this occupying force and rid the country of the threat of terror. The Minister spoke with many foreign countries to understand their counterterrorism operations, and the British SAS was found to be the model that Italy was looking for and their instructors arrived in Italy to identify the needs of the Italian government.
The GIS or Gruppo Intervento Speciale (Special Intervention Groups) is known as Italy’s elite counterterrorism group. Officially formed in 1978, today the GIS are known as Italy’s main counterterrorism group. They are under the control of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior; both ministers can active the GIS without a judge’s approval.
Levels of Counterterrorism in Italy.
While the GIS serves as Italy’s main counterterrorism unit, there are other levels of special operations that the Italian government employs to fight the threat of terrorism with in its boarders.
The first level comprises the civilian police, Carabinieri (Military), and Gaurdia di Finanza (Customs Service). Much like their American counterparts these groups are Italy’s first line of defense in the war on terror. They deal with average day to day security of the country, from normal police patrols to guarding the boarders and access to the country.

The second level comprises the special operation forces within the Police, Military and GIS. These groups are responsible for the counterterrorism security for the country and while the Police and Military special forces normally work within the boarders of Italy, the GIS can act abroad when deemed necessary.

The third level comprises the Army, Navy and Air Force special forces, these units are tasked with the global fight on terrorism and act under the direction of the Ministry of Defense.

Radicalizing Italy.

For years the debate has been how Italy has dodged a major terrorist attack within its boarders. Much can be said for the Italian Counterterrorism units that protect the country. This does not mean that the country is free from radicalization, in 1989 Ibrahim Saad Abu Zeid, an Egyptian, opened an Islamic Cultural Center in Milan, known as the Viale Jenner Mosque a Salafi-centered site run by the Jamaa Islamiya group. The US Treasury Department called the mosque “the most important base of Osama bin Laden’s network in Europe.” Ramzi Youssef the leader of the 1993 attack on the Twin Towers is believed to have studied at the mosque.
In recent years Italian Counterterrorism forces have arrested and detained multiple people with ties to this mosque, and have dismantled terrorist cells in and around the Milan region of Italy. Their success in fighting terrorism with in their boarders comes from the many different levels of special and elite counterterrorism forces.

ReferencesMomigliano, Anna. “Italy Is Safe From, and for, Jihadis.” Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy, 3 May 2018,, Paolo. “GIS and NOCS: Italy’s Law Enforcement Counterterrorism Units.” NEWSREP, NEWSREP, 13 Feb. 2016, Release – October 30, 2018, et al. “Italy: Extremism & Counter-Extremism.” Counter Extremism Project, 11 Apr. 2018,

Solfrini, Federico. “The Italian Counter-Terrorism Formula: Prevention and Repression of Radicalization.” Mediterranean Affairs, 23 Feb. 2017,


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