ROME (Reuters) – Italian police said on Saturday they had arrested a Chechen man suspected of being a militant of Islamic State and involvement in attacks in the Chechen capital Grozny in 2014.
The 38-year-old man is accused of crimes of international terrorism and is now in prison in the south Italian town of Foggia, a police statement said.
The man, called Eli Bombataliev according to a court document, is believed to be linked with 2014 clashes in the capital of Russia’s southern province of Chechnya, in which media offices and a school were burnt and which left at least 20 dead, the police said.
The investigations started out of a collaboration with Belgium, where the man was part of a network of people who recruited foreign fighters.
“The moment (he) left (Russia) he started wandering in Europe, counting on the fact that he had a refugee status… he then reached Syria where he fought between 2014 and 2015,” prosecuting magistrate Giuseppe Gatti, who worked on the case, said in a televised news conference.
Some 450 people have left Belgium to fight in Syria and Iraq, the highest country contribution in Europe on a per capita basis. Returning Syria fighters have also been involved in militant attacks in Belgium, France and elsewhere in Europe.
Bombataliev, based at an Islamic cultural center in Foggia, was involved in indoctrinating and radicalizing potential new foreign fighters, the document added.
The police also expelled from the country two Albanian brothers, aged 26 and 23, and a 49-year-old Russian woman, who then later became Bombatiliev’s second wife.
All three were being indoctrinated and trained by Bombataliev.
“He frequently told his wife that he could not have a family because he was ready to sacrifice himself, and was waiting for an order to do so,” prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe told reporters.
The police added that the investigations were led by the country’s special operations police as part of a broader effort to search for foreign fighters from Chechnya.
(Reporting by Giulia Segreti; Editing by Stephen Powell)