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Terror attacks: Di Natala (intelligence expert), “a group of lonely wolves” at the service of the “liquid Caliphate”

The attack in Spain was not perpetrated by a lonely wolf but by a group of wolves radicalized by an Imam, all youths, siblings, ready to kill and be killed, but unable to create sophisticated explosive devices. It’s a factor of tactic weakness for ISIS that however cannot count on a fertile recruitment ground. They are youths at the service of what has now turned into a “liquid Caliphate.” Interview with Leandro Di Natala, analyst at Esisc

(Foto: AFP/SIR)

Terrorism will be a “long-lasting phenomenon that we will have to learn to coexist with and against which we need to fight together. It’s important not to fall prey of the terrorist goal of polarizing our societies and to prevent new proselytes”, said Leandro Di Natala, Italian analyst at the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center (ESISC), with headquarters in Brussels. We asked him to shed light on what happened in Catalonia – as much as possible given the ongoing investigations – as increasing evidence shows that the terror attack on the Ramblas was a deliberate attack that had been planned and coordinated for months. “We are not facing a lonely wolf  but a group of wolves”, the expert promptly remarked. “A veritable network with a dozen members.”

What are the new elements that have emerged compared to other attacks carried out in Europe? According to investigations carried out so far (still ongoing) the terrorists did not undergo specific training and their means have proved unsuccessful; in fact some of them were found dead in the house that blew up in Alcanar. This episode must have hastened their decision to carry out the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, but it also led them to use poorly sophisticated devices. However, the involvement of three different cities, with a network comprising a dozen members, all of them youths, recruited and radicalized by an Imam, is an element of novelty.

The evolving scenario shows that the perpetrators were rather naïve. Is that the case? It’s still to early to analyse the overall picture at length, given the current state of investigations. However, the fact that they were preparing gas canisters shows that there wasn’t an expert in explosives among them capable of manufacturing veritable explosive belts such as the ones used in the Paris and Manchester attacks. In the latter, the terrorist had been trained to develop the

Explosive known as “Mother of Satan”

in Libya, loaded with thehighly unstable TATP explosive, whose use requires expert training.

Does this mean that it’s increasingly difficult for terrorists to manufacture and access weapons and explosives? Could it be described as a sign of weakness? 
Certainly, in this case the lack of experts capable of manufacturing explosives was a strategic factor of weakness. Moreover

The terrorists’ advantage is the scope of the recruiting grounds with people willing to do anything, to kill and be killed.

It’s a very hard job for security services to identify, follow and monitor all suspects. Another advantage for them is the use of vehicles that in their hands become low-cost deadly weapons. Since the attack in Nice, almost 80% of the victims of European terror attacks were caused by the launching vehicles against crowds.

In 2016 Abdelbaki Es Satty, the Moroccan Imam from Ripoll, had spent three months in Belgium in the town of Vilvoorde, near Brussels, an area marked by a high jihadist presence, just as Molenbeek. Could there be an organized European network? Do the terrorist members of the network know one another? In the current state of affairs we can’t rule out the possibility of internal contacts. It’s equally evident that we are faced with a trans-national phenomenon, with the circulation of people and communications. What we know for sure is that the Islamic State is no longer marked by the trait that had distinguished it from its opponent Al Qaida, namely, the ownership and administration of a physical territory. Thus it has every interest in keeping up the pressure of these attacks on the West, thereby showing its potential supporters that it remains the major terrorist group. Even though they are losing territories,

their Caliphate, which was once territorial, is developing into a liquid Caliphate that continues to exist despite the military defeats by means of self-made terrorists that act alone or with a group.

It has often been said that compared to France, Belgium and Great Britain, Italy and Spain weren’t primary ISIS targets. Why strike against Spain? 
That’s not true. Albeit viewed as secondary targets, Italy and Spain have always been terrorist targets. In order to understand the reasons for the attack in Spain we need to consider the Jihadi mentality whereby Spain is still a part of al-Andalus, namely the Muslim province that from the 8th to the 15th Century AD, after the Reconquista, was an integrating part of the Islamic Caliphate, under Islamic rule in Europe for centuries. Thus striking against Spain is consistent with Jihadist ideology, and highly symbolical.

Was Spain adequately prepared to address the terrorist threat or was it taken by surprise? Law enforcement authorities had been alerted, but as previously mentioned we are facing a phenomenon with a huge scope and liquidity. The enemy is an ideology that manages to recruit hundreds of people, some of whom above suspicion. Moreover, it would be unconceivable to lock down the life of a city like Barcelona or impede mass movement and tourism on the Ramblas or at the Sagrada Familia. It is equally impossible to control everyone and everything. We are facing supporters and potential terrorists whose numbers are hard to monitor and that are not closely connected to one another. In the case of Spain there were 4 pairs of siblings, and when there are blood relations the terrorist cell is even stronger and impervious. However, there is an aspect that is extremely important: the exchange of information, prevention with efficient intelligence procedures coupled by active participation of Islamic communities that are called to contribute with reports and ideological forms of commitment, namely, constantly reiterating that all forms of violence and terrorism go against the Koran.

Is the threat against Italy released on the SITE portal credible?  Italy has been indicated as a possible Jihadist target for a long time. Thus the threat against Italy is extremely credible and plausible. The danger does exist and we must never lower our guard.

Italy’s capital is the city of Rome, a symbol of the Western world that is home to the religious leader of the Catholic Church, which, from the Jihadist perspective, is the head of the “Crusaders.”

It is evident that unfortunately all of this makes Italy a terrorist target, and security services are aware of it.

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