Italy Considers Sending Undercover Police Into Prisons to Combat Terrorism

Italian terrorists
Inmates rest at a workshop, where mannequins are produced by prisoners working for the Giotto cooperative, at a state maximum security jail in Padova. Dario Pignatelli/REUTERS

Italy is to consider allowing agents to go undercover in jails to gather intelligence as part an anti-terror package which will be discussed next Wednesday, eight years after the country banned the secret service from being allowed in prisons.

However, in light of the attacks carried out by Islamists in Paris, the country is now considering overturning the ban as intelligence services focus on penitentiaries as hot spots for the potential radicalisation and recruitment of Islamic fundamentalists.

Earlier this week Copasir, Italy's intelligence agency called for more protection for their undercover agents who are already working against terror suspects according to the Italian news agency Ansa, citing interior ministry sources. It was also reported that Copasir had called for a "significant increase" in the resources available to them, arguing that they need new equipment and staff to combat the increased threat.

The Italian police officer's union has also warned of the lack of resources, saying that they cannot meet the increased security demands being made on them, pointing out that their job will become more difficult due to the planned closures of security stations on borders.

The Italian border force has called to "strengthen and optimize" border controls, but the union described the request as a "leg-pull", saying that the government were planning to close offices at ports and airports.

Another law which will be discussed next week would make it illegal for Italians to fight for the Islamic State. Domenico Manzione, the Italian under secretary of state for home affairs told press on Wednesday: "We all have a problem in Europe of the so-called returning fighters from war zones. We have it less than other European countries but since the phenomenon is there, the government is seriously considering approving a decree law… that would deal with this subject."

Also included in the anti-terror package which focusses on the problem of Italian citizens going to fight abroad are calls to confiscate terror suspects' passports, jail terms of up to 10 years for those who do go and fight and making it illegal to organise for people to go abroad to do so.

These measures mirror movements from other European governments to combat terror more effectively following the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

This week French prime minister Manuel Valls approved a motion for €425 million to be spent on new anti-terrorism measures - creating 2,680 new jobs over three years which will all be "dedicated to the fight against terrorism".

There were also terror-related arrests in Belgium, Austria and Berlin last week, although the security forces made clear that these were separate incidents and not connected to each other.

According to Ansa, a 30-year-old Albanian man was arrested at Catania airport in Italy earlier this week after using a boarding pass for a flight to Bucharest to get through airport security but then attempting to board a flight to London with a ticket bought online. When searched by police, the man was found to have false identity documents and pictures of himself holding a Kalashnikov rifle on a USB drive.