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Italy's Fifth Column By: Lorenzo Vidino
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, November 20, 2003

Even as Italy has come under attack in Iraq, some radical Italian leftists have begun collecting money to ship to the terrorists.

Last Wednesday’s massacre in Nassaryia, in which 19 Italian troops lost their lives, marked the largest number of casualties suffered by the Italian army since 1945. In Italy, where the word “patriotism” is often pronounced with a condescending grin and the national flag is nowhere to be seen, the tragedy provoked an unprecedented sense of unity, as thousands of citizens laid wreaths in front of the headquarters of the Carabinieri.

The Italian government’s reaction was predictably strong. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been one of the firmest allies of the Bush administration since 9/11, and despite strong internal opposition, one of the few European leaders who supported the war in Iraq. After expressing the government’s condolences to the families of the victims, Berlusconi announced that Italy will not recall its troops. In fact, 50 members of the Tuscania, an elite unit, left for Iraq on Thursday morning.

Like America on 9/11, Italy found its unity amidst the rubble of Nassaryia. Or at least, most of Italy did.

Interviewed by the Italian newspaper Libero on the day of the attack, Leonardo Mazzei, leader of an organization called Iraqlibero (Free Iraq) said: “[The soldiers] went to fight a war and they found war. The armed Iraqi resistance against Western invaders is legitimate and sacrosanct. We find this climate of mourning unity ridiculous. And it is unacceptable that [Italian President] Ciampi called this a terrorist act—it was an act of war.” Mazzei’s words came as no surprise to those who have followed the deranged actions of his group. Iraqlibero has been extremely active in supporting “the legitimate Iraqi resistance,” organizing massive anti-war protests and posting bulletins on their website about the evils of the “imperialist occupation.” 

In early September, the beautiful town of Assisi—birthplace of Saint Francis—served as a venue for the Anti-imperialist Camp, a one-week meeting organized by militants from Italy's extreme Left. United under the banner of anti-Americanism and "anti-imperialism," an odd mix of neo-fascists, anti-globalization advocates, radical Islamists and hard-core leftists (the type who still worship the effigies of Lenin and Mao) gathered to proclaim their support for the Iraqi “resistance.” But the organizers of the Camp decided not to limit their support to sympathetic statements. They also collected funds, using a poster bearing the slogan, “10 Euros for the Resistance, Free Iraq,” and the picture of a Palestinian child lobbing a Molotov cocktail as a means of soliciting donations.(One wonders what a Palestinian child has to do with the Iraqi resistance.) Given the success of the initiative, Iraqlibero decided to continue its fundraising efforts on its website, where it provides a bank account (courtesy of demon capitalism) and a toll-free number.

According to the website, the money collected will be donated to the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), an organization led by Jabber al Kubaysi, one of the founders of the Iraqi Baath Party. The man in charge of collecting the funds for INA is Awni Al Kalemji, who, in the ‘60s, collaborated with Palestinian militant George Habash to start a movement that later led to the creation of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). INA was made up mainly of Iraqi dissidents, but in November 2002, the Iraqi government met with INA’s leaders to reach a reconciliatory agreement. Desperate for allies, Saddam’s regime decided to make peace with all opposition groups, as long as they did not support the Americans. The results of this policy can be seen on a daily basis in Iraq, where dozens of loosely connected groups use hit-and-run guerrilla tactics against allied forces.

This unusual hodgepodge of Italian militants provide material support to an organization that is fighting against allied (that is, Italian) troops. Unlike charities whose assets have already been frozen for supporting terrorism, Iraqlibero does not even make an attempt to disguise the real destination of its fundraising efforts, and openly admits that it is collecting money for violent activities directed toward killing its fellow countrymen.

While Italy should not tolerate such activities—which clearly compromise its national security—the problem touches America as well. Iraqlibero’s website posts a list of supporters of the group that have signed up for the massive pro-Resistance protest scheduled to take place in Rome on December 13. Several of those listed are from the United States. Moreover, the Anti-imperialist Camp in Assisi registered the presence of several members of al Awda, a radical organization composed of pro-Palestinian ultra-leftists headquartered in Connecticut. In another example of the new unholy alliance between Islamist and leftist radicals, al Awda has organized several events in the United States and Canada where speakers have advocated the use of violence against Israel.

The Italian and U.S. governments should not tolerate an organization that raises funds for a guerrilla movement that is killing Italian and American forces. The activities of the members of Iraqlibero follow within the most basic definition of treason and as such should be considered.   

 Lorenzo Vidino is an attorney and a terrorism analyst at the Investigative Project, a Washington DC-based counterterrorism research institute.

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