Antonio Nicaso: Mafia Helped Italy Prepare for Terrorism

During Christmas, more visitors head to the Vatican, which requires the addition of extra security. In fact throughout Europe, law enforcement is on heightened alert this holiday season.

Antonio Nicaso

It was around this time last year that in Germany a terrorist rammed a truck into pedestrians at a Berlin holiday market, killing 12. In recent years, Paris, Brussels, Barcelona, and Nice also have been attacked by terrorists.

The Vatican, however, was targeted specifically this year based on a chillingly specific threat: ISIS has called out for  "lone-wolf" terrorists to do their part to spill "Christmas blood' at the Vatican."

NPR Special correspondent Christopher Livesay recently reported on what Italy learned about deterring terrorism from years of tracking the Mafia. 

"Italy has remained remarkably unscathed," NPR noted. Has Italy learned a few tricks as the birthplace of the world's foremost organized crime groups?

In Rome, special correspondent Christopher Livesay recently interviewed Antonio Nicaso, an Italian author, professor, speaker, and law enforcement consultant. An expert on the Ndrangheta, he's written 30 books, including one on the onetime powerful Cosa Nostra boss of Montreal, Vito Rizzuto, called Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Rizzuto's Last War (with Peter Edwards).

Christopher Livesay:

Christmastime has arrived, a holy season for the Catholic Church and the thousands of faithful who turn out to see the pope. Added visitors means added security, and for good reason.

The Swiss guard, charged with protecting the pope, has said it’s just a matter of time before the Vatican is attacked. But while London, Paris, and other European capitals have been targeted, Rome has been spared.

In recent days, ISIS has called on lone-wolf terrorists to weaponize their vehicles in order to shed Christmas blood at the Vatican. ISIS videos have made similar threats on the pope, declaring, “We will be in Rome.”

That’s gotten these visitors on edge.

Antonio Nicaso:
The mafia helped Italy to prepare for terrorism, because the Italian government used the same system that they utilized for decades to deal with organized crime, building intelligence and controlling the territory.

Christopher Livesay:
He says it’s also in the mafia’s best interest to deny terrorists access to weapons, weapons they’d need to buy on the mafia-controlled black market. An attack would raise heat from police, and that’s bad for business.

Antonio Nicaso:
The idea that violence is the only way to attract media and police attention makes criminals to avoid any kind of violence, so, practically, they don’t like people to come in Italy and eventually do something, because that will increase the presence on the territory.

Christopher Livesay:
You could say the mafia has helped Italy prepare for terrorism accidentally.

Antonio Nicaso:
Italy invested a lot in intelligence. And that is what makes the Italian police well-considered worldwide.

Christopher Livesay:
That means undercover agents, wiretapping, sharing information across all levels of law enforcement, and swift action in the face of potential threats.

So far this year, Italy has deported almost 100 people for reasons of — quote — “religious extremism.” That seems rather aggressive.