ROME/LONDON // The third man identified as one of the London Bridge terrorists was an Italian-Moroccan who was arrested last year on suspicion of trying to reach Syria, Italian sources said on Tuesday.
Youssef Zaghba, 22, was the son of an Italian mother and a Moroccan father who had separated, and was registered as an Italian living overseas, said Daniele Ruscigno, mayor of Valsamoggia, near Bologna.
“In fact he never lived here. The only member of the family that lived here was the mother, who was known but has not been seen around for some time,” Mr Ruscigno said.
According to Italian media reports, Zaghba was born in Fez and lived mainly in Morocco but had recently spent time working in Britain, most recently at a London restaurant.
The AGI news agency said Zaghba was intercepted at Bologna airport last year as he was about to board a plane for Turkey with only a small backpack, his passport and a one-way ticket to Istanbul. Italy’s anti-terrorist force, DIGOS, believed he was trying to join ISIL militants in Syria. His mother was said to have told police last year that he had asked her for money to travel to Rome before he left on his attempted trip to Syria.
It is thought police found ISIL propaganda videos on his mobile phone but failed to find sufficient evidence of links to terrorism to justify prosecuting him.
As holder of an Italian passport he could not be expelled under the kind of administrative order Italy routinely uses against suspected Islamist militants from Morocco and Tunisia, and so he was released.
According to AGI, Digos notified the British and Moroccan authorities of Zaghba’s status as a potential militant. But British police have said Zaghba was “not a police or MI5 subject of interest”.
Outrage is already growing in Britain over the revelation that one of the other London attackers was a known extremist who had slipped through the net. But authorities admitted on uesday that their hands were often tied in tackling even known threats.
Khuram Shazad Butt, 27 and born in Pakistan, was known to the police and MI5, the domestic intelligence service. He even featured in a television documentary entitled “The Jihadis Next Door”.
The other attacker, Rachid Redouane, 30, who claimed he was Moroccan and Libyan, was not known to the British police or intelligence services. Nor was there any intelligence to suggest a plot to attack.
After three deadly attacks in less than three months, police said they could hardly keep tabs on 3,000 people on the terror watch list and 20,000 who have been on the intelligence radar in the past, even with sweeping new surveillance laws, particularly for online communications. Monitoring just one person a day requires about 20 officers.
London police chief Cressida Dick said the recent string of attacks in Britain, which has claimed 34 lives since March, was “unprecedented in my working life” but risked becoming the new normal. “We in this country have faced a terrorist threat throughout my life — it changed and morphed and we will change and adapt to what appears to be a new reality for us,” she said.
She warned that while police had managed to foil five attacks in recent months, it was possible they were witnessing the start of a wave of copycat assaults by freshly emboldened home-grown radicals.
“Undoubtedly when people see something which appears from their perverted point of view to be successful, some people will be inspired by that,” she said.
Terrorism expert Otso Iho of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre said that as ISIL — which said it carried out the three attacks in Britain — loses territory in iraq and Syria, it will turn its attentions to the West.
“It is seeking to project its influence and maintain its relevance by inspiring, encouraging, and — though there does not appear to be evidence of this in the latest UK plots to date — directing attacks in Europe and elsewhere,” he said.
Policing and police numbers has become a flashpoint of the British political debate as the country prepares to go to the polls on Thursday. Police officer numbers have been cut by 20,000 in recent years and notably during Mrs May’s six-years as home secretary (interior minister). jobs, mostly during her six years as interior minister under previous prime minister David Cameron.
* Agence France-Presse