Pakistan-Italy Terror Funding Link: Why Shady Dealings in Brescia?
EXCLUSIVE: What does a nondescript city, Brescia, in Northern Italy, have to do with Pakistani jihad funding?
A few lines, only in the local newspapers, as usual.
An abusive center for sending, receiving and lending money with the hawala system, concealed behind an internet point, was seized in the Borgo Station in Udine by the Provincial Command of the Finance Police. As it is well known, the hawala system is prohibited by international and national anti-money laundering regulations, because it allows cash transactions without leaving a trace. And it is often, too often, used by mafia and pro-jihadi organisations to fund their activities. And, according to reports, this was the case in Udine.
It is not the first time that Pakistani citizens have been arrested for this kind of activity.
How a Small Town in North Italy Emerged as Terror-Funding Epicenter
At the end of an investigation conducted by the military of the Economic and Financial Police, it was found that behind an inactive internet point, a different kind of activity was going on in the shop: they were receiving and sending money. Suspicious money, mainly sent to Afghanistan and Pakistan, by citizens of those countries. Citizens who did not have any ‘official’ source of income. The owners of the ‘ghost’ internet point were Pakistanis.
It is not the first time that Pakistani citizens have been arrested for this kind of activity. The Udine investigations were started after a Brescia court signaled the issue to the Udine police, as a result of a local investigation. This because Brescia, a town in the north of Italy, and its province in the past ten years, have increasingly become an epicenter for money laundering and terror-funding.
There are thousands of irregular transactions for a value that exceeds 8 million euros.
Salons, Grocery Stores: Money Laundering in Unlikely Places
The latest investigations revealed a network of money launders and money transfers, often located inside shops that had nothing to do with financial transfers: hairdressers or grocery stores. According to the investigations, large sums of money were passing through these shops, money coming from drug, prostitution and ‘suspected links with the sphere tied to Islamist terrorism’.
The Brescia police found about twenty activities scattered between the capital and the province, where owners and employees carried out the transfer operations without indicating the details of those who contacted them (using fictitious identities and tax codes) and without being enrolled in the register of agents in financial activity.
Uri Attack, 2008 Mumbai Blasts: An Italian Connection
There are thousands of irregular transactions for a value that exceeds 8 million euros. Among the suspects there is also the head of the Madina Trading agency in Corso Garibaldi in Brescia, where the cell phones used in the 2008 Mumbai bombings were activated, and money started to finance attacks in India.
Madina Trading, also involved in financing the Uri attack, has never been closed. Meanwhile, the number of Pakistani immigrants in Brescia has gone up from 135 people in 1991, to the 3738 registered on 1 January 2019 — the biggest immigrant community in Brescia, mainly living in an area called Carmine.
Brescia, a town in the north of Italy, and its province in the past ten years, have increasingly become epicenters for money laundering and terror-funding.
The Janjua brothers, owners of the Madina Center, shifted the location and changed the name of their shop, but they are still free and in business, even after the Italian police found out that between 20 September and 25 December 2008, they had sent more than 400, 000 euros to Pakistan, and to people under investigation for terrorism, and after the further investigations over the money sent for Uri. This time, the investigations focused also on a series of so-called ‘Pakistani Islamic cultural centers’ active in Brescia, and mainly linked to Tablighi.
‘Society of Propaganda’ network preach the ‘true radical Islam, its members live imitating the Prophet’s lifestyle and try to bring back to Allah all Muslims of weakened faith’.
‘Brescia Pact for an Italian Islam’
The hypothesis of a huge flow of money collected by these associations and destined to jihad, and the link with Pakistan, has emerged through the broader investigation concerning the money transfers. The associations involved include Al Ummah Italia, Al Noor, Masjid Ennour Onlus, Arahma Onlus and the Tabligh Islamic Center of Beidzzole. According to the the official reports, these associations are connected to something called ‘Society of Propaganda’, a worldwide network of itinerant missionaries engaged in the door-to-door propagation of the Islamic faith and aimed at converting non-believers or converting the ‘bad’ Muslims. A network very popular apparently, especially among the immigrants.
The network, according to the investigations, preach the ‘true radical Islam, its members live imitating the Prophet's lifestyle and try to bring back to Allah all Muslims of weakened faith’. All these organisations plus many others scattered in the province, starting with Al Ummah, had signed in December 2017, the ‘Brescia pact for an Italian Islam’ — a paper stating the secularism of Italy's institutions and in which they committed to counter terrorism, collaborating with the State. Two years later, beside the terror-funding network, on Brescia walls appeared appeals — advocating blasphemy laws and the arrest of people who had allegedly written something against Muhammad’s wife.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. )
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