Tunisia Bardo attack: Italy alarmed by migrant arrest

  • 21 May 2015
  • From the section Europe
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Photo showing Touil (far right) with other migrants arriving in Italy, 17 Feb 15
Image caption Mr Touil (far right) came ashore at Porto Empedocle in Sicily with other migrants on 17 February

On 19 May Italy arrested Abdelmajid Touil from Morocco, on suspicion of involvement in an attack on foreign tourists in Tunis that left 22 people dead.

At least two gunmen opened fire at the Bardo Museum in Tunis on 18 March.

Italy is now trying to work out what role the suspect played in the attack, and where he was on the day of the shootings.

Records show that Mr Touil, 22, entered Italy on a migrant boat on 16 February - a month before the Tunis murders. Concerning his arrival, Italy says it had no reason to treat him as a terrorist suspect.

"Neither the Tunisian nor Italian police considered him dangerous or at risk of terrorism," Italy's Interior Minister, Angelino Alfano, told parliament on Thursday.

Instead, Italy decided Mr Touil was an economic migrant. The Italian authorities quickly ordered him to leave the country. But they did not manage to enforce the order. In itself, that is not unusual. Migrants are not held in detention centres, making it easy for them to disappear from the system.

Bardo Museum attack

Image caption The Bardo museum entrance after the attack which left the nation in shock

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Language student

So it appears that Italy simply lost track of Abdelmajid Touil. His family insists that he stayed in the country, and joined his mother in the town of Gaggiano in northern Italy.

Documents show that he took Italian language classes at a local learning centre. The register shows that he was in class on 16 March - two days before the Tunis attack.

Image caption Abdelmajid Touil's mother says he was watching TV on the day of the attack

"He was a student here," teacher Flavia Caimi told Italian reporters. "We know his mother too. They [the authorities] can't say he was in Tunis on the day of the attack, unless he flew there and back."

But flying from Italy to Tunisia - and back - without valid papers would have been extremely difficult.

Abdelmajid Touil's mother Fatima insists that he was with her in northern Italy on 18 March - the day of the Tunis attack. She says they watched TV coverage of the shootings together.

"My son does not agree at all with jihad, with armed struggle," she told Italian media. "This is a mistake. We're sure that the truth will come out."

But family proof that Mr Touil was in Italy on the day of the attack will not be enough to exonerate him.

The Tunisian government has accused a network of more than 40 people of helping at least two gunmen to plan and carry out the actual attack. Tunisia may argue that Mr Touil was part of this wider support network.

Image caption A wall in the reopened museum bears the marks of intense shooting
Image caption Yassine el-Abidi and another gunman had trained in Libya, officials believe

Italy 'at risk'

It is not yet clear whether or not Mr Touil's arrest will force Italy to reassess its screening procedures for incoming migrants. So far this year, around 30,000 migrants have arrived by boat. The government insists it is aware of the potential dangers the country faces.

"I never ruled out the fact that Italy could be under risk of terrorism," Angelino Alfano told MPs, "I've always said that the alert is very high, including the use of boats to smuggle terrorists, even if we have no evidence of this."

Italy's anti-immigration Northern League party prefers not to wait for evidence.

"What must happen for something to be done about this?" asked Matteo Salvini, the Northern League's leader. "A terrorist attack? [Interior Minister] Alfano should quit," he added.

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