Brussels attack, from Lassoued to Anis Amri: ‘lone wolf’ terrorists who passed through Italy

The killer of yesterday’s attack in Brussels has had a history in our country but he is not the only one

Abdesalem Lassoued, the suspect in last night’s attack in the center of Brussels in which two Swedes were killed, also had a past in Italy. The most recent traces of the 45-year-old Tunisian in our country date back to two years ago, precisely in Genoa. A photo on his Facebook profile, where he identified himself as ‘Slayem Slouma’ and which has now been obscured, portrays him in Piazza Della Vittoria, in the center of the Ligurian capital. Then in 2016 the alleged attacker was identified by the police in Bologna.

Lone wolves, who are they?

The past in Italy is an element that Lassoued has in common with some of the Islamic extremists, ‘lone wolves’ as investigators have defined them, who in recent years have brought terror to Europe, bloodied the cities of Germany, Belgium and France. From Aprilia to Naples to Lampedusa, these terrorists lived in our country for some time, in some cases facilitated by a network of contacts, and then struck hundreds of kilometers across the border.

From Lassoued to Benrabah and Aoussaoui: the terrorists who passed through Italy

The last terrorist, before Lassoued, with known ties to Italy was Lakhdar Benrabah, the attacker who attacked three police officers with a knife in front of the Cannes police station on 8 November 2021. The man had landed in Cagliari in 2008 and had held an Italian residence permit issued by the Naples police headquarters since 2018. According to the French media, he had entered the country legally in 2016 and was unknown to the police: he was not followed because he was suspected of radicalisation, not classified as ‘S’ and therefore not considered a risk to state security.

About thirty kilometers from Cannes, in Nice, on 29 October 2020 three people were killed in a knife attack in the Notre-Dame basilica. A woman was beheaded and the sacristan slaughtered. To go into action was Brahim Aoussaoui, a Tunisian in his early twenties who landed on Lampedusa on 20 September of that same year with a few dozen compatriots. After a brief passage in the island’s hotspot, the young Tunisian was transferred to the quarantine ship ‘Rhapsody’ where he remained until 8 October. The next day he was transferred to a migrant center in Bari, from which, after receiving the deportation order, he clandestinely reached France.

He also landed in Lampedusa in 2011 Anis Amri, the Tunisian killer who five years later committed a massacre in Berlin by throwing his van into the crowd walking through the streets of the Christmas market. After his arrest for aggravated threats, personal injury and arson, he ended up in Enna from Ucciardone prison and stayed in Aprilia. Hence the trip to Germany, with an expulsion decree in his pocket. In the hours following the massacre, the terrorist arrived in Turin and then moved towards Milan. On 22 December 2016 he was killed in a firefight with two policemen near the Sesto San Giovanni station.

Same year, but in France, July 14th Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel driving a lorry, he rushed at full speed into the crowd near the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, killing 89 people, including six Italians. The man regularly came to Italy to bring food to Syrian migrants, at least according to what one of his alleged accomplices told investigators. Bouhlel himself, just under a year after the massacre on the seafront in Nice, was checked at the Ventimiglia border, identified and allowed to pass as there was no element on him that would make him considered a dangerous person.

He landed in Sardinia coming from Algeria, however, Khaled Babouri, the attacker who on 6 August 2016 attacked two policewomen with machetes near the police station in Charleroi, Belgium, shouting “Allah hu Akbar”. The attack was claimed the following day by ISIS through its propaganda organ Amaq.

He also had ties with Italy Ahmed Hanachi, the Tunisian who stabbed two girls to death on October 1, 2017 at the Saint-Charles station in Marseille. Hanachi, married to an Italian, spent some time in Aprilia (Latina), where he lived at his in-laws’ house. The two then broke up and the man abandoned Aprila and Italy. A few days later the police arrested Hanachi’s brother in Ferrara.