ROME – A Tunisian man who was sent back home after serving a seven-year prison term in Italy on terrorism charges returned to the country on a migrant boat, Italian officials said Tuesday.
The case of Mehdi Ben Nasr is significant because right-wing, anti-immigrant politicians have long warned that extremists could blend in with the boatloads of migrants arriving on Italian shores.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement to The Associated Press that Ben Nasr arrived in Lampedusa, Sicily on Oct. 4 and was expelled again a week later.
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He had been convicted in Italy for being part of a network of Islamic extremists who recruited fighters to go to Iraq.
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After completing his sentence in April 2014, he was sent back to Tunisia, only to return 18 months later aboard a migrant boat, the ministry said.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has said he can’t exclude the risk that extremists could use the cover of the migrant crisis to gain access to Europe, but has stressed that Italy’s system of monitoring and registering migrants was effective.
Tunisian authorities didn’t immediately respond to a request for information about Ben Nasr’s status, or whether he had been placed under any form of surveillance when he was expelled from Italy for the first time in 2014.
Italy’s relations with Tunisian authorities have been somewhat strained over another case, that of Abdel Majid Touil. The 22-year-old Moroccan was arrested near Milan in May on a Tunisian arrest warrant accusing him of helping plot and execute the March 18 attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis that left 22 people dead. Alfano at the time hailed the arrest as a model of Italian-Tunisian co-operation in the fight against terrorism.
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The case, however, began unravelling from the start and appears to have completely fallen apart: Italian investigators determined that Touil was in Italy in the days before and after the attack, and that his cellphone and passport – presumably key pieces of evidence in the Tunisian investigation that could have linked him to the attack – had been handed over to the smugglers who brought him to Italy Feb. 17.
Touil denied any involvement in the attack and Italian prosecutors recently shelved their investigation against him for lack of evidence, the ANSA news agency reported.
A court last week denied Tunisia’s extradition request given that Tunisia has the death penalty. Touil may still face extradition to his native Morocco, since he entered Italy illegally, but ANSA reported that a judge refused to confirm his detention at a repatriation centre and he left with his mother.