Italian police said Friday they have arrested a Congolese man suspected being part of a Berlin-based terror cell and of having links to Christmas market attack suspect Anis Amri.
Italian and German police dismantled a Berlin-based Islamist terror cell at the end of January after nearly two months of investigations triggered by two members being picked up at the Italian port of Ancona on Dec. 4, 2016, according to the anti-terrorism wing of Italy’s state police force.
Police believe Congolese national Nkanga Lutumba, 26, and Moroccan Soufiane Amri, 22, were planning to travel to Istanbul en route to joining ISIS in Iraq or Syria.
Their departure was delayed by a Greek ferry strike and it was during the unexpected delay that they were subject to an identity check which revealed that Germany had banned Soufiane Amri from leaving the country.
Soufiane was deported to Germany while Nkanga was detained in a center for failed asylum-seekers awaiting deportation in the southeastern port of Brindisi.
Subsequent investigations and monitoring of Nkanga’s telephone calls from the center established that the two men had been traveling with false documents and were in regular contact with other members of the cell based in the central Berlin district of Moabit.
Nkanga, a resident of Germany, was arrested in early January at a refugee center in Brindisi, southern Italy. Authorities announced the arrest on Friday to allow time for international aspects of the investigation, Italian media reported.
Brindisi Police Chief Maurizio Masciopinto told Sky TG24 TV that investigators were able to trace internet communications by Nkanga and others allegedly linked to the terror cell, despite members’ sophisticated efforts to cover their traces.
Nkanga is suspected of having been in contact with the driver in the Berlin attack, Anis Amri, who was slain in a shootout with Italian police near Milan a few days after the December attack that killed 12 people.
As part of the probe, Italy’s interior ministry said Friday it had expelled a 32-year-old Tunisian and a 27-year-old Egyptian as suspected sympathizers with Islamic extremism, based on their social media activity.
The Tunisian, who had been living in Sicily with an expired work permit, used his Facebook profile to publish content justifying Islamic violence and had contacts with extremists, authorities said.
The Egyptian, who worked in a fresh produce store, allegedly had expressed support for the Berlin market attack and expressed hope similar massacres would be carried out, the ministry said.
Expulsion is a now common tactic, reflecting Italy’s determination to spare the country from terror attacks. Since the first such expulsion in January 2015, Italy has carried out 170 expulsions, including 38 expulsions of this type this year, the ministry said.