Nabil Azam

Nabil Azam, also known as Abu Ali, was born in Morocco on March 8, 1979, and was living as a homeless person in Italy. Azam came under the scrutiny of the Carabinieri’s “Operation Masrah” beginning in early 2008, as he was suspected of being associated with a cell affiliated with al-Qaeda in Andria, led by the Imam Hassen Hachemi Ben Hosni.
According to the preliminary investigation judge, the cell was a gathering of people united by the same mindset and religious ideology, often expressing their readiness and willingness to reach conflict zones and do martyrdom. The Islamic Center and Hosni’s call center served as hubs for ideological indoctrination, utilising web searches and the analysis of militaristic and terrorist materials. Alongside Azam, the other members in the group identified by the police were Elkhaldey Faez, Nour Ifaoui, Romdhane Ben Chedli Khaireddine, and Hamdi Chamari.
The extensive wiretapped conversations reveal Azam as the most radical among the group, fixating on notions of death and martyrdom. He frequently lectured on Islamic fundamentalism, particularly influencing individuals like Samii who were undergoing radicalisation. Azam’s vehement anti-Western stance and readiness to sacrifice in conflict zones for the Islamic cause were shared among the group, indicating a close bond. Notably, he respectfully referred to Hosni as ‘Sheikh’, highlighting the latter’s leadership role and even sought his assistance during encounters with the police.
Anti-Western and anti-Semitic sentiments were prevalent in Azam. Particularly concerning were his conversations with Chamari, Faez, and a certain Soufiane, a traveling Imam, throughout 2009, where Azam expressed strong anti-Semitic views, hinting at a desire to continue Hitler’s actions against Jews. He also expressed readiness to join the fight in Palestine, believing diplomacy to be futile. Even Italians were not spared in his anti-Western rhetoric, as hatred was often manifested in conversations with Chamari and a certain Noredine Ben Noredine, especially after the L’Aquila earthquake in April 2009, where the defendant demonstrated contentment that God had decided to punish Italians. All these anti-Western rhetoric and religious fanaticism are considered as God’s will, implying certain lifestyle choices based on the ideological imagery manifested through violent radicalism, willingness to martyrdom, and a violent and terroristic nature that considers martyrdom necessary for the Islamic faith. These beliefs are rooted in al-Qaeda’s teachings and Bin Laden’s communications, as the terrorist was revered by the entire group who would call him ‘Sheikh’. This ideological extremity is evident in Azam’s disinterest for friends, family, money, and a normal terrestrial life, as expressed in a conversation with Abdelsalam and Noredine in January 2009, where he discussed going to Palestine to die as martyrs for the cause, frustrated by his inability to do so and by being in a country, Italy, where Muslims are in a minority.
Hosni’s call center played a pivotal role in Azam’s radicalisation journey. Video and data surveillance indicate that from March 2009 to September 2009, Azam frequented the center extensively. There, he engaged in activities such as watching and downloading propagandist videos on jihad, military training, and religious indoctrination. Additionally, he closely followed Bin Laden’s communications, often sharing his admiration with other defendants. Among the materials accessed were speeches by Sheikh Bar Lamshari, inciting jihadism against infidels; interviews featuring al-Zawahiri, and footage depicting the Gaza conflict, Hezbollah, al-Shabaab fighters, and training camps across Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Iraq. These videos and sermons sparked discussions and were shared within the group, as evidenced by various phone conversations involving Azam, Faez, and Chamari.
Therefore, it could be asserted that Azam’s radicalisation journey was marked by anti-Western and anti-Semitic sentiments, coupled with an aversion towards Muslim nations allied with the US. This process was further characterised by membership in a group where each member openly shared interest in engaging in conflict zones to do jihad, discussing tactics such as explosives and firearms procurement while being cognisant of associated risks and taking precautions. Radicalisation also entailed isolating oneself from friends, family, and society at large, spending time exclusively with like-minded individuals. This fostered the formation of a micro-community detached from external influences, allowing for the unrestricted practice of their interpretation of Islam. Consequently, the radicalisation process became a psychological, motivational, and emotional spiral, wherein religious doctrines were internalised to such an extent that death is embraced while life was perceived solely as a means to achieve martyrdom.
Hosni’s call centre and Islamic Centre served as safe havens for Azam and the other homeless defendants, enabling them to move within Italian territory by presenting falsified documents supplied by Hosni or by providing false information to the police to avoid detection in the database. Court documents disclose that Azam first came under the radar of the Questura of Trapani on June 2, 2004, when he illegally entered the EU. Subsequently, in 2007, he was apprehended by police in Paternò (CT) and was ordered to leave Italy. Later, on March 24, 2009, Azam was stopped and searched by the police at Hosni’s call centre, where he was found in possession of documents under one of his aliases. He identified himself to the police as Azam Nabil, a homeless Moroccan man. However, the police database revealed multiple aliases associated with Azam. Azam informed Hosni about the police search and was reassured by the Imam. It was also discovered that in 2009, Azam had obtained fake documents from a man named Abdessalem Boudiz. While there is no evidence indicating the necessity of these counterfeit documents for Azam to leave Italy for conflict zones, they were still essential for evading police scrutiny and sustaining employment in Italy.
On February 6, 2013, the preliminary investigation judge of Bari ordered pre-trial detention for Azam, although he was never arrested. He was charged under art. 270 bis of the Italian Criminal Code for involvement in a terrorist network in Andria, engaging in proselytism through propagandistic videos, audios, and documents, espousing anti-Semitic and anti-Western sentiments, and facilitating illegal immigration through the use of false documents. On March 15, 2013, Ifaoui received a phone call from Azam, informing him that he was in Tunisia.