Alhag Hazam

Alhag Hazam

On 4 November 2016, the Juvenile Court of Brescia pronounced a summary judgment against the Syrian citizen Alhag Hazam or Haj Mjhem Hazem, born in 1998, inflicting on the convicted minor a three-year prison sentence and condemning him to expulsion from Italy upon expiation of the sentence.

Hazem was convicted of several charges.
On the basis of art. 497bis of the Penal Code, he was charged of being found in possession of a false document valid for expatriation, specifically an Austrian passport issued by Austrian authorities in the name of Kami Fowsi. The document was entirely counterfeit as it was issued on a non-original support, without security elements and with non-compliant printing techniques, and also with the aggravating circumstance of having drafted it in Italy.

He was also found guilty of the crime referred to in art. 495 for repeatedly declaring a false identity to the Border Police at the Orio al Serio airport and to the Judicial Authority, and for lying about his age.

The main and most serious charge, though, was associated with art. 270bis and pertained to his involvement in the international terrorist organization called ISIS.

Specifically, he had come from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, and then arrived through Greece to a refugee centre in Austria, always accompanied by other subjects trained in subversive actions, including Syrian citizen Faowaz Alali (who is detained at the time of writing). Afterwards, he arrived to Italy where he purchased a counterfeit Austrian passport, in order to reach Malta, a most likely place of sorting towards further EU destinations, while holding in his mobile phone contents of propaganda and affiliation to ISIS, some photographs reproducing weapons, as well as war footage.

Let’s briefly revisit the timeline of events.

On 18 November 2015, personnel of the Border Police at Orio al Serio airport in Bergamo arrested Alhag.

On 28 November 2015, Haj Bandar, born in Syria in 1993, Alhag’s self-proclaimed brother, appeared to the Border Police of Orio al Serio, showing a photocopy of the suspect’s passport and stating that Alhag was a minor who was born on 10/10/1998 in Homs (Syria), indicated in the document with the name of Hazem Haj Mjhem.

From a radiographic examination, the young man’s bone age was found to be fifteen years and six months.

Following this assessment, the Judge of Bergamo, with a sentence dated 30 November 2015, transmitted the file to the Public Prosecutor at the Juvenile Court of Brescia.

The PM requested and obtained the application of precautionary custody in prison with an order issued by the investigating judge on 1 February 2016.

The accused had been arrested together with Faowaz Alali. The two, subjected to routine checks while they were about to board the flight to Malta, showed passports which were evidently counterfeit.

The mobile phones in the possession of the two subjects were seized and, from the first viewing of the material in memory, photographs and short videos emerged, depicting war scenarios, assassinations, armed men and symbols attributable to the well-known terrorist organization called ISIS.

More in-depth investigations were then launched by the District Anti-Terrorism Directorate at the Prosecutor’s Office in Brescia, during which both suspects were interrogated.

During the interrogation numerous photographs were shown to Alali, found on the phone he was using, and Alali declared that in some of them he was himself portrayed while holding a machine gun and wearing the uniform of the ISIS policeman; in others his sons were portrayed with headgear depicting the ISIS flag and some others immortalized the corpse of one of his brothers.

He claimed that he had lived in Syria until 2013, before moving to Raqqa, which was later conquered by ISIS. In 2014 he joined ISIS police unity, then escaped and moved to Turkey, from which he then decided to move to Malta, where some relatives lived. The journey, undertaken together with Alhag, who also wanted to go to Europe, had unravelled from Turkey, then through Greece and, following the Balkan route utilized by refugees coming from the Syrian area, in autumn 2015 he arrived in Vienna. After obtaining the false passport, they traveled from Vienna by train to Rome, and they moved to Bergamo, where they were finally arrested while about to board the flight to Malta.

Hazem, also questioned, declared that in 2013, when the bombings in Syria had begun, he had moved with his aunt to Saudi Arabia, where his other relatives were, and that he remained there for about two years, carrying out various jobs with poor earnings.

He also declared that his brother Bandar Mejham Hassan, who lived and worked in Malta, had invited him to join him there and had provided him with money. His brother had entrusted him to Alali for the journey.
He stayed in Turkey for about 7 to 10 days, then they embarked with two other Syrians towards Greece, and the destination of the journey was Austria. During the journey he had always been physically close to Alali.
The Syrian passport he was in possession of had remained in the custody of his aunt. A white-skinned person who spoke Arabic had arrived in Austria and handed him his new fake Austrian passport.

Alhag already knew Alali back in his village, where he was a barber; another brother of his, Mohamed, had died about ten months earlier; his family had already been transferred to Raqqa and his brother had been recruited into the ranks of ISIS and then killed by the Syrian army. His parents did not work and were supported mainly by Alhag’s other brother in Malta.

The suspect indicated in his brother the person in a military uniform with the ISIS flag depicted in the photos on his cellphone; he also admitted that he had downloaded an audio from the internet, which the interpreter declared to be a proclamation for recruitment into the ranks of the ISIS, and another video praising the Islamic State.

From the investigations emerged both the close connection existing between the two subjects, who undertook the long journey from Turkey and shared all the stages up to Italy, in much closer terms than the normal connection between simple migrants, and the link between them and the terrorist group ISIS.

A relevant element, admitted by Alali, was his belonging to the Islamic State police force, given the discovery of numerous photos in his cell phone that testified to this. Photos of Alali’s children, portrayed on one occasion with a headband attributable to al-Nusra terrorist group and another with a black headband with ISIS symbols, denoted not only his full approval and sharing of the aims of the terrorist organization, but also signalled his progressive transition to a much more rooted and radical organization.

The photos also included snapshots of victims of bombings, his own brother’s body, the phases preceding an execution and the charred body of a dead man. Since these were images that cannot be classified as simple “family memories”, the purpose of their conservation, taking into consideration the risk that the possession of images with such clear references to ISIS entailed on European territory, had a legitimizing and accreditating function with the subjects he would reach at its final destination.

Inconsistencies and contradictions emerged in the reconstruction of the trip carried out by the two suspects. Alhag, during the parallel interrogation on 21 November 2015, declared that he was not aware of the stages of the journey, but that he followed Alali and other Syrians who, exchanging communications via chat or interlocutors, received directions for the continuation of the journey. “Faowaz our sheikh”, the entry with which Alali was saved in Alhag’s address book, supported the accusatory assumption according to which Alhag had in fact been entrusted to Alali during the journey to Austria and Malta.

From the statements made by both Alali and Alhag, the figure of the “Somali” emerged as the organizer. Reportedly, the false passports had been provided to them by a Somali national, who had then accompanied them from Vienna to Rome. Once in Milan, the three then took a bus to Orio al Serio airport.

The judge of Bergamo identified the Somali Ali Awil Khadar as “belonging to an international organization that operated in the trafficking of migrants and which, in addition to procuring counterfeit documents on short notice, had solid foundations in Italy and had a consistent economic capacity.”

Alali Faowaz’s choice of carrying photos of his children bearing the symbols of ISIS definitely didn’t match with the usual characteristics of people seeking asylum.

All those elements brought out an alarming circumstantial framework against a subject who, linked to the ranks of ISIS by his own admission, was headed to Malta, a probable place of sorting of subjects who, under the guise of refugees, would then be sent to other European destinations, demonstrating his belonging to the terrorist organization and its presence in Europe (and in Italy) correlated to the pursuit of its objectives.

In addition to all these accusatory elements, Alhag was also using a cellular device connected to an untraceable public network, which could be used as a device for sending and receiving data/voice regardless of the presence of a SIM card for traffic. The user had also protected multimedia files with passwords. Such peculiar characteristics and sophisticated functions could have been configured only by an expert.

In addition, content depicting military training, armed combat, war scenarios, photographs and videos with extremist content were found, including many audio files praising jihad and the killing of infidels, among which the most eloquent reads “The Prophet Muhammad says: the best of the martyrs are those who fight in the front row, they are those who don’t even turn their heads.”

During the interrogation, Alhag changed his version numerous times and confused and contradictory was also the account given by the minor regarding his family’s movements between Syria and Saudi Arabia and his decision to move away from his family in order to undertake the journey to Malta. Being a minor, the Maltese authorities would have accepted his brother’s request to host Alhag, if the legal matter had been clarified, and would have been ready to return his seized passport and provide him with a visa to enter the island.

Extremely significant was that Alali’s name was listed in the minor’s cellphone as “our sheikh”, a term which, although literally meaning “elder”, in its original meaning identified the head of the tribe to whom the leadership of the group in battle was usually entrusted, and today evoked a typical characteristic of Islamic extremist cells: the fact that every group, even if small, must have a leader.

Alhag’s conduct appeared uniquely indicative, on an objective level, of the minor’s actual inclusion in ISIS and, on a subjective level, of his conscious and voluntary adherence to its terrorist precepts.