Italian neo-Nazis and Ukrainian foreign fighters secured destructive weapon

Analysis: The alliance of Italian neo-Nazis with sophisticated networks could spell a dangerous new future in Europe.

Police stand by a missile seized at an airport hangar near Pavia, northern Italy, following an investigation into Italians who took part in the Russian-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, in Turin, Italy, Monday, July 15, 2019. Police in northern Italy have detained three men, including one tied to a neo-fascist Italian political party, after uncovering a huge stash of automatic weapons, a missile and Nazi propaganda. (Tino Romano/ANSA via AP)
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Police in Italy have said there are “few precedents” for the discovery of such a large and destructive cache of weapons as experts warn the alliance of far-right nationalist with sophisticated and far-reaching networks holds grim portents for Europe.

Italian police said they discovered the huge arsenal of weapons including dozens of small arms, knives and a Qatari air-to-air missile armed with a 30kg warhead after trawling through extreme-right networks around Turin in northern Italy.

The investigations led them from soccer hooligans to former fighters in Ukraine and eventually to an unsuccessful candidate for Italy’s Senate. Fabio Del Bergiolo, a disgraced customs officer who stood for the far-right Forza Nuova in 2001, was found to be trying to sell the missile on WhatsApp.

Forza Nuova has disavowed Del Bergiolo following the news of his arrest but it is not the first time right-wing political parties in Italy have been linked to pro-Russian fighters in Ukraine. In 2018 reports by Buzzfeed linked the figurehead of Italy’s mainstream far-right Matteo Salvini, the country’s interior minister and possibly its next prime minister, to mercenaries fighting in Donbass.

Raffaello Pantucci, the Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, told The National the arrival of the far-right to mainstream Italian politics could only serve to embolden its violent fringes.

“Suddenly those people start to look like what you are seeing in the mainstream. The narratives that they advance, the things they say become much more normalised and it means that therefore they become more acceptable and this has all kinds of dangerous consequences,” Pantucci explained.

Against the backdrop of a more extreme national rhetoric, Pantucci said, elements of a “nightmare scenario” could be coalescing in Italy. “The worry is that the extreme right will mobilise in the same way as violent Islamist before and with links to foreign battlefields, access to equipment and large networks,” he explained.

Salvini was linked to foreign fighters in Eastern Ukraine through his aide Gianluca Savoini. Court documents showed Savioni was in contact with a 25-year-old Italian man, Orazio Maria Gnerre, who was under investigation for supporting far-right foreign fighters in the Ukraine.

Italian Police handout shows a large arsenal of weapons, including an air-to-air missile, that they say they seized in raids on neo-Nazi sympathisers, in Turin, Italy July 15, 2019. Polizia di Stato/Handout via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Earlier this month the first three defendants from northwest Italy were convicted for financing and recruiting mercenaries in Donbass. Pantucci explained how far-right neo-Nazi ideologies had aligned with the aims of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“From an ideological perspective there are those that think this is one of the great battles in Europe that is taking place, where the Christian world comes under threat and they need to be involved in fighting against it,” he explained.

For decades, the far-right has been scattered, Pantucci said, and viewed with little real capability. The discovery of a Qatari missile in perfect working order in the hands of such men could signal the beginning of a new kind of far-right threat in Europe. “If this is the beginning of this articulation, with this kind of equipment then we really have to start worrying,” Pantucci explained.