Palestinian Arrested in Italy on Suspicion of Planning Chemical Attack, Reports Say

The man, who is suspected of having ties to Islamic State, was allegedly planning to poison water pipes with a toxic substance

FILE PHOTO: A police officer guards the entrance of the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican's embassy to Italy, in Rome, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018.
Andrew Medichini,AP

A Palestinian man was arrested on the Italian island of Sardinia on suspicion of being affiliated to the Islamic state. Police suspect he was planning to carry out a chemical attack or poison pipes transporting drinking water, representatives of Italian law-enforcement agencies said during a press conference in Rome. 

The 38-year old, Alaji Amin, has a residence permit that allows him to legally reside in Italy, but is originally from Lebanon and holds Palestinian documents, police said. He was arrested by an Italian special anti-terrorism unit after he left his home and entered his van in the Sardinian town of Macomer.

Amin has reportedly lived in the center of Macomer for several years, but police said he never left his house to work and nevertheless had an income.

Amin moved to Sardinia to be with his partner, a Morroccan woman he met on social media. Neither she nor the couple's three sons were aware of Amin's intentions, police said.

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According to La Repubblica, the suspect tried to buy Methomyl, a highly toxic pesticide, online. Police confirmed that he recently tried to buy poisonous substances online. Amin's cousin, who lives in Lebanon, once tried to poison a water tank used by the Lebanese army, said italian authorities quoting information obtained from a Lebanese police department.

The suspect has been described as a lone wolf in initial reports by the media. Police said his internet searches and online behavior show he was fascinated by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and interested in "jihad". 

The suspect is currently being held in police custody. Italian authorities from the Anti-Mafia Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor's Office said in a press conference in Rome that the operation was launched due to suspicious activity by the suspect.

Amin withdrew 5,700 euros ($6,430) from his bank account and according to police who were monitoring him, he was desperate to find his passport, which he had lost. This information convinced police that it was preferable to act quickly, authorities said.

Amin’s arrest reportedly caused a lot of commotion in the normally quiet Italian town. Locals reportedly believed a bank robbery was underway since the arrest happened close to a bank, in the center of town

The mayor of Macomer, Antonio Onorato Saccu, said to the Italian news-agency ANSA that the town “never had problems with non-European foreigners, apart from a few over the top individuals who were reined in.”

Italy, with a population of nearly 2 million Muslims (about half that of France), has yet to experience Islamist terrorism. Its contingent of foreign fighters – the radicals who travel to war-torn Syria or Iraq to join the Islamic State or similar militias – has barely reached 130, the Interior Ministry says.