What has an anti-anarchist operation in Italy got to do with Berlin?
Operation “Bialystok” took place in Italy on 12 June 2020. Yet another attack on the anarchist milieu, adding to the long tradition of state attacks against rebellious structures and individuals. Main actors in this “operation” are two prosecutors and their snoops from the ROS – the “Group for Special Operations” (acronym: ROS), the only Carabinieri investigative body with jurisdiction over both organized crime and terrorism. With a clenched fist and a lot of clumsy detective work, they have been trying to establish personal connections of comrades and completely monitor “suspects” for months since the book launch of “The Anarchists of Bialystok” (which was translated into Italian in early 2018) and the arson attack against a Carabinieri barracks in the same year. This produced a small mountain of files, filled with lots of imaginative information. And yet – it may sound absurd – the result of these investigations was that on the day of the “operation” five arrest warrants and two house arrests were executed. As a result, the arrested comrades were in custody for 9 months. The last one to be released recently, Claudio, was in custody for 13 months and the mostly in solitary confinement. But if it had been up to the ROS and the Roman prosecutor’s office, the scale of this operation would have been much more drastic and larger. Because the intended goal of the investigations became clear only by the meticulous evaluation of the currently available files.
A brief recap: The focal point of Operation Bialystok was the book “The Anarchists of Bialystok,” which had only recently been published. This book is about the interventions and experiences of anarchist groups at the beginning of the 20th century in the Polish city of Bialystok. Apart from that, the investigation also dealt with alleged “conspiratorial meetings”, such as the alleged “clandestine” meeting “Dire e Sedire” (Say and Conspire) and other acts expressing solidarity with those affected by Operation “Panico” (2017-2019). Another important aspect were the “militant” biographies of the suspects, as well as the personal, supportive and “political/ideological” relations between comrades. Finally, the missing pinch of salt, which completed the soup of the snoopers, were those direct actions that had in part been signed with “FAI/FRI” – the “Federazione Anarchica Informale – Fronte Rivoluzionario Internazionale” / ” Informal Anarchist Federation – International Revolutionary Front” are an anarchist grouping that operates internationally. The approach of the public prosecutor’s office was based on the “ideological offense” or “thoughtcrime” generally imputed to those anarchists. It also served as a theoretical prerequisite for “practical offenses”. All of the alleged circumstantial evidence, relationships, public events and actions were quickly thrown into the pot and then slowly simmered by the state snoopers. The prosecution loves to spice up this soup with information from older or other investigations, and the judges are pleased with the warm dish that is served to them. In Italy, this is a well-known recipe – it is effective in the short term, but in the long term, in relation to all the operations and detentions of the past years, quite unsuccessful. For anarchists and several contexts this means that they have to take care of their prisoners and other repression work, as well as those affected (by house arrests, special surveillance, ankle cuffs, “DASPO” / residence bans at sporting events, verbal reprimands and other restrictions). Naturally, this can be nerve-wracking, but it does not break the idea of destroying this society and the desire for freedom. This can be seen, among other things, in the countless actions that take place again and again and the numerous publishing projects in Italy.
ROS investigations in recent years have generally focused on connections between individuals, structures, squats, and suspected conspiratorial relationships in Italy. This creates a worldview in which anarchists are divided into those who act during the day and those who act in the dark at night. Hence their deliberate distinction between good and bad anarchists – with the aim of creating divisions in the movement and further isolating the prisoners and defendants from it. This approach can be seen in particular with Operation Scripta Manent.
Over the past decade, several squats and infoshops/libraries in Italy have allegedly been declared terror nests, and have therefore been observed, bugged, wiretapped, and even partially evicted. Various repressive operations against the anarchist movement have taken place continuously. According to the current investigations, the nationwide and international anarchist movement seems to be very well networked and allegedly has and maintains good relations with each other. Anyone who knows a bit about the Italian “scene” and its history has probably read this summary in a similar form many times before. Nothing “new” so far: first, the ROS investigate diligently and then, when they have spun together enough material, they seek out the most ambitious anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office. The newly born DNAA is made for this – the “National Directorate for Anti-Mafia and Counter-Terrorism” consists of the nationwide anti-mafia prosecutor’s office with a total of 20 prosecutors. DNAA’ s function is to coordinate the investigations carried out by the various regional anti-mafia directorates (DDA) regarding organized crime. It is important to remember that for any prosecutor, a possible repressive strike against suspected “terrorists” is always a great opportunity for a career jump. In general, it seems that the special units/ROS call the shots, i.e. they determine which “evidence” is sufficient for which charge. The prosecution seems to be more of a means to an end. Thus, all that is missing is the appropriate judge who is to approve the operation, which they usually do without much hesitation. In the course of these proceedings, the entire (solidarity) environment is often accused as well, since it is also suspected and considered to be part of a “terrorist network”. As the saying goes, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.
A crucial precedent was the operation “Scripta Manent” in 2016 (“Verba volant, scripta manent” means something like: The words fade away, the writings remain). These investigations included the local Anarchist Black Cross group in Rome and the solidarity meetings of “A testa alta” (“With head held high”). The latter were publicly announced meetings about the situation of Nicola and Alfredo, who had claimed to the knee shots against Atomic Industry Manager Adinolfi and had received heavy prison sentences for it. The latest verdicts in this trial were in the second instance. Anna Beniamino was sentenced to 16 years and 6 months. Alfredo Cospito to 20 years. Nicola Gai to 1 year and 1 month . Alessandro Mercogliano was cleared of all charges. Marco Bisesti was sentenced to 1 year and 9 months for “incitement to crime”. The sentences for “subversive association with the aim of terrorism and undermining the democratic order” were confirmed repeatedly for Anna, Alfredo and Nicola. They referred to the publications of “Croce Nera Anarchica” magazine and the website, as well as to the administration of some other websites that had been accused in the trial. As far as the repressive precursor that was decisive to further investigate the anarchist movement. All in all, the Italian repressive authorities consider this a successful trial. It created a kind of foundation for many further investigations.
Let’s return to the present and the “Bialystok” trial. As usual, the prosecution and the ROS in particular have been ambitious and inventive. Based on the abbreviation FAI/FRI = Informal Anarchist Federation/Revolutionary International Front, it was obvious to the state snoopers that there could be an international network. But where to begin? During the investigation in Italy, an attempt was made to extend the case to France, but there were no local people who fit the bill on an “ideological” and “practical” level in the view of the investigators. Although there were some solidarity actions in France with those affected by Operation Scripta Manent, especially after the call “Per un giugno pericoloso” (“For a dangerous June”) in the summer of 2019, it seems that the clues were too few to continue sniffing in the direction of “France”. Therefore, South America was targeted, since every now and then anarchists from there travel to the Italian capital. This time Greece was less in the focus, although still some journeys of Italian anarchists had been noted and highlighted in the files. Now, however, for the Italian authorities, the big sting appeared! Somebody known to the police – who was under surveillance at the time (beginning of September 2018) and who was already being investigated in the course of the “Scipta Manent” case – was invited to Berlin for an information event on “Repression in Italy”. This event took place in mid-September 2018 and subsequently triggered a whole series of repressive measures by the Italian cops. A Berlin-based person was found who was in telephone contact with the Italian person under surveillance. After some research by the snoops, it seemed clear to them that this contact person could be interesting for them. She fit the pattern, because she had lived in Italy for many years, speaks Italian and German fluently, hangs out with anarchists in both countries and seemed perfect for the house of cards of the Italian cops because of her “militant” biography. The key moment that should initiate further investigations came from an action of the “Amad Ahmed FAI cell” in Wedding, one month after the information event with the Italian comrades in Berlin. The spun connection between the intercepted phone call, the information event and the attack in Wedding, strengthened the investigators’ suspicion that the suspect in Berlin must speak a similar Italian dialect as Alfredo Cospito (who is considered by the state to be the “ideological leader” of the FAI/FRI). This suspicion was based on a sentence in the statement of responsibility of the “Amad Ahmed FAI/FRI cell”. Here they addressed Alfredo directly with the suspicious sentence: “Even if we don’t speak the same dialect, Alfredo, we still understand each other…”. According to the ROS, it can be concluded that the authors speak Italian and that they come from an Italian region close to, but not the same as, Alfredo. And so the Italian anti-terror units continue to tinker with their house of cards.
ROS then made several requests to the Roman prosecutor’s office to submit so-called “European Investigation Orders” (EIO) to Berlin: The first EIO – was a query of the investigation file on an arson attack in Berlin-Wedding in October 2018, for which a FAI/FRI cell had claimed responsibility. The second EIO – at the beginning of February 2019 – aimed at confirming the actual residence of this alleged German contact person and requested the criminal record and other entries and data sets. Their next move – in mid-February 2019 – was to issue an European arrest warrant against the contact person for an outstanding prison sentence in Italy, with the aim of transferring the convicted person from Germany to Italy. There was a note in the investigation files by the ROS, who hoped that the extradition or the so-called “internationalisation” of the arrest warrant would provide them with more information about the connection between the Italian FAI/FRI and its alleged Berlin branch. However, their strategy did not work. The individual, who had now become a suspect (under §270bis – Subversive Association with the Purpose of Terrorism and Undermining the Democratic Order), is a German citizen and could therefore object to extradition. For the time being, extradition to Italy is not possible as long as the suspect is in the Germany. After this setback, a third EIO – June 2019 – would be sent to the public prosecutor’s office in Berlin. This time, they requested a “body search” and a house search of the newly suspected person, as well as their flatmates. The Roman Inquisition’s wet dreams were about to be shattered once again. The Berlin public prosecutor’s office did not comply with the EIO and justified its rejection with the fact that the arson in question and the FAI/FRI are not classified as “terrorist” and that there is a lack of concrete accusations against the suspect. The fabrications of the ROS are apparently so ridiculous or “adventurous” that even their German colleagues were not convinced. Remarkably, because of this disagreement between the inquisitors, their prosecution briefly comes to a standstill. However, files do reveal that the “Berlin suspect” was wiretapped and geolocated by the ROS in the period between December 2018 and February 2019. Who might have given them the authority to do this?
According to the Italian authorities, all these repressive measures should have taken place a year before the actual execution of Operation Bialystok. Had they succeeded in arresting the suspect in Berlin, or had presumed evidence been found during a house search, this would likely have led to an independent operation at an international level. Now, however, on December 14, 2020, the trial of those accused in the “Bialystok” case has begun. Investigations against those accused to date have been completed and nothing has happened in Berlin so far. However, this does not mean that the pigs are not still tapping phones and/or observing people as part of the previous investigations. In any case, one of the top pigs of the ROS, Commander Lieutenant Colonel “Luigi Imperatore”, will certainly be disappointed that he was not allowed to expand his battlefield for the time being. It is doubtful that there will be a conviction at all in the current trial against the comrades, since the evidence so far – oh wonder – has not held up and has been partly refuted. The judge is calling the witness “Imperatore” on the second last day of the trial to testify, among other things, about the alleged German connection, since this is considered an investigative hypothesis.
It would not be surprising if Berlin and/or other countries were targeted by the authorities in the next wave of repression – on the contrary, this must be expected. The advantage is that with this announcement, the movement, as well as possible people who fit into the scheme, could prepare for possible state attacks. During the unauthorized search of the suspect in Berlin, cell phones, computers, USB sticks, hard disks, publications on the topic of anarcho-insurrectionalism (specifically the text “Der Autismus der Aufständischen” – “The autism of the insurgents”) and prison correspondence with Italian prisoners were to be searched. But this should not lead to the panicked burning of some brochures, nor to the termination of the correspondence with the prisoners. With trickery and cunning, everyone should try to make it as difficult as possible for the authorities to uncover our communications and relationships.
Finally, the question arises what the authorities in Germany make of all this. It is possible that some LKA (State Criminal Investigation Office) peeps are now pissed off that the Italian authorities simply pass on sensitive files (don’t worry, some text passages were also blacked out by the censors! 😉 ). Maybe they are also pissed that ROS are tapping mobile phones on German territory just like that, or that they are investigating on their own. On the other hand, the Italians will be annoyed that all this information has reached Berlin. And if these couple of lines should cause official squabbles, well, that can only be pleasing. What is clear is that the people who live in Berlin and who potentially fit into this convoluted scheme of the cops are now forewarned.
Finally, it must be explicitly said that this text is neither a general distancing from methods and forms of organization from an anarchist perspective, nor does it give a damn about the legal categories of “guilty”/”innocent”. No! This text is about showing how repression is working at the moment and how the state can and does carry out strategic retaliation against its enemies. Even if “Italian conditions” (massive and broad repression against the anarchist movement) have not (yet) been achieved in Germany, the Roman Inquisition could be interpreted as an omen for the direction in which repression can develop… In recent years and months, there have been a number of state raids, crackdowns and §129 trials, in which the state snoopers have tried to map out networks to crack down on an entire movement or milieu.
The evaluation of the files and the trial days so far published herewith has a purely analytical approach up to this point and wants to stand alongside the text published by some of the defendants at the end of January 2022, “Current status of measures and proceedings for Operation Bialystok”. To conclude this almost perspective-less text, it is appropriate at this point to quote the words once written by a comrade: “To attack means to strike, to destroy, to torch, to blow up, to kill, to uproot, to sweep away from the face of the earth, if only the small reality we can grasp before our eyes.”
Blow upon blow against the authorities!