Mohy Abdel Rahman

Abdel Rahman is an Italian citizen of Egyptian origins, born in Cairo on November 27, 1958, but living in Foggia with his wife Michela Vincenza Barbarossa. In March 2018, Rahman was arrested for terrorist association and apology of terrorism and placed under pre-trial detention imposed by the preliminary investigation judge of Bari. He was charged with art. 270 bis of the Italian Criminal Code for having hosted an ISIS member, Eli Bombataliev, in his cultural association Al Dawa in Foggia. Bombataliev used the association for proselytism and propaganda activities towards other members while the defendant also engaged in proselytism and propaganda aimed at minors. Rahman was also charged with art. 414 for having performed an apology of terrorism online by sharing documents praising ISIS.
In April 2018, the Court of Review of Bari reviewed the pre-trial detention order as the defence party contested the charges and the precautionary measures. During police interrogation, Rahman denied knowing Bombataliev’s true identity, admitting that there was no criminal intention behind hosting him in Al Dawa. He also refuted allegations of imparting indoctrinating material to children and defended the presence of images and files related to ISIS on his devices by claiming that he was merely documenting himself. The defence party also challenged the charge of apology of terrorism as the police found no document that could prove the defendant’s affiliation to ISIS.
However, there is mounting evidence that proves Rahman’s guilt to the crimes ascribed to him. According to court documents, Rahman radicalised through the internet and is an ISIS follower, as testified by the oath to the Caliphate found on his device and confirmed by the defendant himself in a conversation about the calendar introduced by Daesh. Other materials included documents and videos inciting jihad against non-believers, training and fighting, or glorifying IS-perpetrated martyrdom; audios praising ISIS or Koranic writings posted by ISIS’s record label. The possession of these documents is not a crime per se but their dark web origin and possession prove Rahman’s ideology. Therefore, it is hard to believe that he was not aware of Bombataliev’s true identity when he hosted him since February 2017 to help him renew his residence permit.
Bombateliev had also been hosted in Foggia by Rahman in 2014 and thus must have been aware of the Chechen’s frequent travels to Syria and Belgium. By offering him a stay in Al Dawa, Rahman allowed Bombataliev to conduct propaganda and proselytism towards regular members of the centre such as the Mustaqi and Sadraoui brothers. Moreover, although Rahman denied his friendship with Bombataliev, police found the same ISIS-related materials about training and enlisting on both their devices acquired from the same sources: the Al-Bayan radio station and a website frequently used to retrieve Daesh-related propaganda. Even suspicious WhatsApp chats exchanged between the two men seem to hint at Rahman’s knowledge about Bombataliev’s identity as terrorist, as the former translated and explained for the Chechen a hadith about killing non-believers.
The defendant was also charged with conducting apology of terrorism on Twitter since October 2014. The Court of Review disproved Rahman’s statement about sharing compromising files by error because they were sourced from the dark web. And although his profile only had 13 followers, the judge deemed the defendant’s actions as proselytism and propaganda, as the aim was to induce followers to adhere to ISIS. Apart from sharing official ISIS documents, the defendant posted propagandistic videos and links about the terrorist association, leveraging on the religious sentiment, justifying terrorist acts and the use of violence against non-believers.
The most worrying charge against Rahman, however, was the propaganda and proselytism conducted on WhatsApp and during lessons to young children in his cultural association, Al Dawa, in February 2018. Via three WhatsApp groups, the defendant would share, amongst other things, links taken from Al-Bayan, ISIS official propaganda channel; executions of Christians by ISIS; messages of hatred towards Curds after the 2015 Kobane Battle.
Amongst those who received these links there are his niece and nephew, Eva and Gianluca Barbarossa, as well as his brother-in-law Mario Cavallaro, all Islam converts. To further confirm the defendant’s proselytism there is a conversation between Gianluca, Mario and Rahman about a fatwa authored by a famous islamist fundamentalist. When it comes to children’s lessons, audio surveillance conducted by the police within Al Dawa seems to confirm Rahman’s propaganda.
The defendant held seminars with children of migrant parents about the history of Islam. In his teachings, however, he twisted the interpretation of events by using a language and examples typical of ISIS propaganda, mentioning the superiority of Islam, hatred towards Christians, Jews and non-believers. He talked about going to paradise following a death in battle as martyrs or the concept of Bay’Ah, the oath to the Caliphate. His propaganda seemed effective, as audio surveillance reveals that children began to understand the concept of Muslim superiority with respect to non-believers, Italians included, and that this superiority justifies acts of violence as legitimised by the Koran.
In April 2018, the Court of Review of Bari confirmed the pre-trial detention, as all the evidence gathered pointed out at the defendant’s guilt. Police also froze Rahman’s bank accounts linked to Al Dawa, as these assets were out of proportion with his declared income in the period 2011-2017, hinting at the religious obligation of zakat as the source of money then handled in an unclear manner. The judge believed that a house arrest would allow Rahman to continue his propaganda online, as soon after police seized his property he bought another computer and recovered his contacts with the terrorist association, suggesting the risk of recidivism. There was also a danger of escape, as Rahman had relatives in Egypt and other countries that would facilitate his disappearance.
In December 2019, the Assize Court of Bari confirmed Rahman’s sentence to 5 years in prison. The conviction was also upheld in the Court of Appeal and subsequently in the Court of Cassation.