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Italy Pushes For Greater EU Cooperation In Combating Terrorism

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After the terrorist attacks in France and Belgium, European countries increased surveillance of potential suspects. Often, in each country kept that sort of information to itself. Now one European country with a long history of fighting terrorism and organized crime is trying to change that.

As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, Italy is pushing EU countries to work together more closely to fight Islamist extremism.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: In late April, six Moroccans suspected of planning terrorist attacks in Italy were arrested in Milan. For a year, investigators had monitored every phone call and digital communication between the suspects and contacts in Syria. Prosecutors say the investigations show that Italy has gone from a place of recruitment and transit for foreign fighters to terrorist target.

Carlo Bonini, a reporter who covers terrorism for the daily La Repubblica, says the investigation also shows how in the last decade, Italy has achieved a high degree of intelligence expertise in monitoring international extremism.

CARLO BONINI: Our police, our carabinieri, have specialized branches in Islamic terrorism and lots of specialists speaking fluently Arabic. Also, the kind of recruitment changed dramatically. People are directly recruited from the universities, which was an extraordinary revolution.

POGGIOLI: From the late-'60s to early-'80s, Italy experienced a bloody wave of domestic terrorism. Ultra-leftist groups like the Red Brigades kidnapped and assassinated individuals, while several neofascist groups carried out indiscriminate bombing campaigns. Hundreds of people were killed. Italy has also tackled the powerful and violent Sicilian Mafia and other organized crime groups.

Major inroads were made when investigating magistrates pooled their resources to follow the money through complex international laundering schemes. Dozens of mafia bosses were tried and sentenced to long prison terms. Close cooperation and coordination among law enforcement agencies led to the creation of a national anti-mafia and antiterrorism prosecutor.

Franco Roberti, currently in that post, says his office has uncovered how organized crime and jihadi groups cooperate in drug trafficking.

FRANCO ROBERTI: (Through interpreter). The Islamic State and groups like Al-Nusra, Al Shabaab and Boko Haram move and behave like mafia clans. They finance themselves through drug trafficking, extortion and kidnappings, typical mafia activities. Then they launder their illegal profits in legal businesses, multiplying their profits.

POGGIOLI: Roberti has just published a book whose Italian title is "The Opposite Of Fear," in which he makes a strong appeal for cooperation and information sharing among European law enforcement agencies.

ROBERTI: (Through interpreter) Faced with transnational crime, we have to work together as a united front. That means no professional envy, no one claims to be the only one expert in this field. We all have to share our knowledge with all our partners. This is fundamental in combating terrorism.

POGGIOLI: Up to now, there's been little trans-European cooperation in this area. But Roberti hails the European Parliament's approval this month of new regulations bolstering the EU's law enforcement agency Europol. It will now be easier, he says, to set up specialized units to respond immediately to emerging terrorist threats and increase security for European citizens.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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