Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Italy interior minister Salvini says Qatari missile seized in neo-Nazi was meant for him

Italy's Interior Minister was told by the secret service of an assassination conspiracy against him

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini addresses a news conference at the end of a meeting with key economic players to discuss the forthcoming 2020 budget, at Viminale Palace in Rome REUTERS
Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini addresses a news conference at the end of a meeting with key economic players to discuss the forthcoming 2020 budget, at Viminale Palace in Rome REUTERS

Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, has said a Qatari missile seized in a raid on a neo-Nazi weapons smuggling cell this week was linked to a plot to assassinate him involving Ukrainian paramilitaries.

The Italian police said on Tuesday that a plot against Mr Salvini, the head of the country’s right-wing Lega Nord party, had been among several strands of inquiry they had pursued while they investigated individuals connect to paramilitary networks in eastern Ukraine. Investigations into the assassination conspiracy eventually hit a dead end.

But Mr Salvini, who has become a figurehead of the Italian far-right with the potential to become the country’s next prime minister, has indicated the plot was far more serious and information he provided to authorities played an important role in uncovering the huge arsenal.

"I reported it. It was one of the many death threats that come to me every day,” Mr Salvini said on Italian TV on Tuesday.

“The secret services talked about a Ukrainian group that tried to kill me. I'm glad it served to uncover the demented arsenal," he added, while speaking on Italian channel RAI.

In the wake of the arrest of three men in possession of the arsenal of weapons, including the French-made Matra air-to-air missile that appeared in Italian police pictures with “State of Qatar” stamped on its packaging, further details have emerged.

Along with the missile, a cache of dozens of small arms, knives and Nazi memorabilia was found in northern Italy. The 26 guns, 20 bayonets and 306 gun parts had originated from Germany, Austria and the United States. Some 800 bullets of varying calibres were found alongside the weapons.

The missile was uncovered in a hangar in an airstrip in Pavia, northern Italy. Other military hardware was discovered at the scene including an aircraft cockpit with aircraft rocket pods, which had not been equipped with rockets, clearly visible in police images.

Investigators have clarified that one of the three men held in connection with the operation, disgraced customs official and former right-wing Italian Senate candidate Fabio Del Bergiolo, was identified as they worked their way through the far-right network. Bergiolo was caught trying to sell the Matra Super 530F with a 30 kilogramme warhead on WhatsApp.

Bergiolo’s accomplices, Fabio Bernardi, a 51-year-old Italian national, and Alessandro Monti, a 42-year-old Swiss national, were both confirmed to have past criminal records. However, police said they were a number of steps removed from the former fighters from Ukraine with which investigators began their inquiries.

The head of Italy’s elite counter-terror police, Carlo Ambra explained telephone communications were intercepted between a Ukraine paramilitary fighter and an arms expert who proposed the purchase of the missile. As a result, no fighters currently residing in Italy that travelled to fight in the eastern Ukranian region of Donbass are involved in the ongoing investigation.

Sixty-year-old Bergiolo has been identified as a former airport customs official who was dismissed in 2003 for committing fraud. As a result of his prior criminal convictions he was not eligible under Italian law to hold a weapon collector’s permit and, as such, was not allowed to own any firearms let alone the massive arsenal the group had amassed. Further searches of the hangar where the missile was found are planned as the investigation continues.

Doha has offered no explanation as to how the missile made its way to Italy and came to be in the hands of a neo-Nazi cell. In a statement to Reuters, Qatar said the missile was one part of a larger weapons sale to a “friendly” nation 25 years ago. The nation was not identified.

"The authorities in Qatar have immediately started an investigation alongside the respective Italian authorities and the authorities of another friendly nation to which the Matra missile was sold 25 years ago," a foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

"Qatar is working very closely now with the pertinent parties including Italy to unveil the facts and it is very concerned as to how a missile sold 25 years ago ended up in the hands of a third non-state party," the spokesperson added.

Updated: July 18, 2019 07:55 AM

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