Italian police have uncovered a Qatari air-to-air missile among a huge arsenal of weapons and Nazi memorabilia in a raid that targeted a far-right weapons smuggling cell in the north of the country and arresting three men.
A police statement released in Turin named one of three men held in the operation as Fabio Del Bergiolo, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Italian Senate, running for extreme-right party Forza Nuova in 2001. Police have also confirmed the recovery of a French-made Matra missile that had been in the possession of the Qatari armed forces. A picture of the advanced weapon in its original wooden crate stamped State of Qatari was published by the authorities.
La Repubblica reported that the Qatari missile had been deactivated but was otherwise in perfect working order. According Police Chief Giuseppe De Matteis the seizure had “few precedents for the quality of the weapons and their violent potential". It is believed to be the first time that a missile of the Matra’s destructive power has been found in possession of extremist groups in Western Europe.
The Matra Super 530 is a medium-range air-to-air missile with an operation range of 37 km. It also reportedly carries a 30 kg warhead. During their investigations police uncovered that the suspects had attempted to sell the missile over the WhatsApp messaging platform.
The dawn raid on the weapons cache was the culmination of a year of investigations with Italian anti-terror police eventually being led to the right-wing groups orbiting Turin that ranged from soccer supporters to the militant neo-Nazi cell. Law enforcement were ultimately able to block the sale of the arms following a previous investigation into Italians who had joined pro-Russian fighters in the conflict in Ukraine.
"The police investigation ... came into being because of the activities of some Italian fighters with extremist backgrounds who had taken part in the armed conflict in the Ukrainian region of Donbass," the police said in a statement.
The suspects were named as Del Bergiolo, 60, an Italian customs officer, Fabio Bernardi a 51-year-old Italian national and Alessandro Monti, 42, from Switzerland. The Matra missile was uncovered in a hangar owned by Monti. Del Bergiolo had attempted to sell the Qatari weapon for about € 470,000. Among potential buyers for the missile police said an official for an unnamed foreign government had indicated interest in the purchase.
Dozens of other weapons were discovered in the possession of the group including 26 guns, 20 bayonets and 306 gun parts originating from Germany, Austria and the United States. According to Reuters the arsenal also contained 800 bullets of various calibres. In pictures released by authorities, the huge arsenal of weapons appears alongside memorabilia from Nazi Germany including a street sign bearing Adolf Hitler’s name, and two swastikas, the symbol used by the Nazi party during Htiler’s rise to power and then during World War Two.
Forza Nuova, the right-wing political party with which Bergiolo was affiliated, have attempted to distance themselves from the suspected arms dealer calling reports in the Italian press false news.
"The false news of people belonging to the Forza Nuova involved in the searches in Lombardy and Piedmont, with the consequent seizure of various weapons,” Salvatore Ferrara, regional coordinator of Forza Nuova in Lombardy said. “If one of the arrested was a candidate on the lists of Forza Nuova back in 2001 (18 years ago!). We affirm that on the contrary none of the people involved has been a militant of Forza Nuova for years,” he added.
According to the Italian news agency ANSA, in July three mercenary fighters were charged in Italy for fighting alongside pro-Russian forces in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, the first time in Italian court had ever handed down such charges.
The men, identified as Italian Antonio Cataldo and Albanian-born Olsi Krutani, received terms of two years and eight months. Moldovan citizen Vladimir Vrbitchi was jailed for one year and four months for his role in the Ukrainian conflict.
Once again, the arrests were made following police investigations into far-right groups. This time the suspects were found to have connections to extremists in Liguria in northwest Italy. The three were accused of conspiring to recruit and finance combatants in Ukraine and were among a total of 15 suspects investigated in the case.
In excess of 10,000 people have been killed in the internecine conflict in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists have battled Ukrainian forces for control of the east of the country. Fighting in the embattled eastern region erupted in 2014 when armed pro-Russian protesters took control of government buildings in a bid to separate from Kiev.