The terror threat in Italy is very high, although it is a different kind of danger, one that’s not necessarily tied to direct actions against the population. In recent years, we noticed how our country has become a transit point rather than a real target. Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel – the Nice promenade attacker – and Anis Amri, perpetrator of the Berlin attack, passed into Italy unmolested. The Amri transit was even more sensational because it cost him his life, killed by two police officers during their routine patrol. Even Khalid el Bakraoui, one of the Brussels suicide bombers had traveled from Treviso spending one quiet night in Venice.

Various terrorists’ movements, collected by Italian investigators in partnership with other European Law Enforcement agencies, have resulted in the discovery of new sleeper cells ready to strike European soft-targets. The Italian government has increased its countermeasures: the recent Christmas celebrations in Milan, Genoa, Rome and Turin have been marked by a considerable Police and Army presence. The sight of the first anti vehicle barricades located around the place provoked curiosity and concern.

In addition to regular patrols, experts have noted some of Carabineri’s counter-terror personnel, never before seen. By 2016 the Arma dei Carabinieri had activated new counter-terrorism response teams that are not comparable to G.I.S. (Gruppo Intervento Speciale)  or American Police SWAT. They’re named A.P.I. (First Intervention Team) and the S.O.S. (Operative Support  Squad). Unlike G.I.S. (Special Forces Tier 1)  the A.P.I. units – 18 in total, divided in 16 provincial capitals – patrol the town, blending among the population, giving a tangible sign of their presence.

They aren’t “regular” Carabinieri  and their training is run by the G.I.S. specialists and Tuscania paratroopers. The Carabinieri’s A.P.I Officers have been seen wearing special equipment for facing a sustained gunbattle and using tools much more advanced than normal municipal patrols. They are equipped with special suits, tactical vests ballistic helmets, bulletproof shields and Beretta AR 70/90 assault rifles. The patrols travel on armored vehicles like the Subaru Outback, Forester or Land Rover. These new First Response units depend directly on the Carabinieri’s Provincial Command which sends them to most sensitive targets.

Image courtesy of Infodifesa

The S.O.S. – 13 in total – depend directly on the Carabinieri’s General Command: these are mobile support teams of 12 to 24 carabinieri, divided into patrols from 3-4 officers. Unlike the A.P.I. that operate at the provincial level, the S.O.S have a headquarters and are deployed as needed.

Together with the Police, Guardia di Finanza and the Army, Italy deploys a top level Counter-Terrorism device, however it is difficult to assess whether it is really effective. There is no doubt that Carabinieri’s A.P.I. and S.O.S. ensure considerable “stopping power” against terrorist actions, however they cannot be everywhere. Lately the terrorists have increased their unpredictability. Despite the Interior Ministry, keep your guard up. Serious gaps persist in several areas. It’s became clear that uncontrolled immigration to our coasts turned Italy in a special transit point for all the terrorists that want to reach other destinations. Obviously there’s no direct link between the two phenomena; international terrorism uses this dangerous and not so safe infiltration method.

Image courtesy of Brindisi Sera

The Italian Law Enforcement’s tools are limited and – as often happened – the officers have to beware in using them. These two special units are a small but very important measure, because it has been proven – in Paris, Brussels and Berlin – the police inability to manage multiple attacks in different places and with the same efficiency. The hope, of course, is that Italy will continue to remain protected from sensational incidents; not so much because it is considered a safe space for terrorists, but because the intelligence and law enforcement can do their duties.