Unlikely Friends: ISIS and The Italian Mafia Working Together to Bring Oil Into Europe, Report Says

Italian vessel in the Mediterranean
A military vessel sails at sunset off Trieste, northern Italy, on July 12, 2017. Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty

A new and nefarious connection between criminal networks and jihadi groups is potentially emerging across the Mediterranean, according to Italian police.

Authorities in Rome are investigating links between the country's mafia criminal organizations and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), suspecting them of possibly working together to smuggle oil into Europe.

The police force has discovered quantities of oil in the country that exceed the amount some Italian refineries can hold, according to an article in the print edition of Italian newspaper La Repubblica. They believe the contraband oil was imported from Syria and Libya, both countries where ISIS militants maintain a presence.

The report cites a confidential February 2017 report of the Special Police Headquarters of the Guardia di Finanza, a law enforcement agency that reports to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

An anonymous source told the newspaper that the oil "should not have been there" at the refineries. "We don't know if ISIS or other non-fundamentalist traffickers are behind it because traces disappear thanks to fake intermediaries," the source said, according to The Times, which cited the Italian report.

Italy has been at the forefront of the migrant crisis in Europe, accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees, particularly those who have traveled on perilous journeys from North Africa.

The instability has allowed criminals to capitalize on the crisis, with mobsters reported to be capitalizing on corruption to siphon off large sums of government and NGO aid from Italian migrant centers. The same appears to be happening with the power vaccuum in Libya, a former Italian colony a half-day's sail across the Mediterranean sea from the country's "toe."

In order to illegally smuggle the oil into Europe, La Repubblica reported, tankers would stop in the Mediterranean, meeting other tankers where the oil would be transferred. They would turn off radios to prevent detection.

ISIS held Libya's central coastal city of Sirte for more than a year. The country's myriad militias have come into possession of several oil refineries and oil ports. However, authorities are yet to conclusively prove that ISIS came into possession of oil in the civil war-torn country.

In Syria, ISIS took control of large amounts of the resource from oil fields in eastern Syria during the three years that its caliphate was at its strongest. It became a lucrative illicit revenue stream for the group.

But the militant group's resources are dwindling as it suffers a series of defeats on the battlefield. It lost the northern Iraqi city of Mosul last month to a coalition force led by Baghdad and supported by the U.S.-led coalition. It is now besieged in its de facto capital of Raqqa, losing more than half of the city in less than two months.