Nour Ifaoui

Nour Ifaoui, also known as Moungi, was born in Tunisia on December 5, 1979, but was living as a homeless man in Italy. Ifaoui 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 judicial documents, 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 Nabil Azam, Elkhaldey Faez, Romdhane Ben Chedli Khaireddine, and Hamdi Chamari.
Within the group, Ifaoui was one of the main members who often shared his hatred towards the West while expressing his willingness for martyrdom, as he was “training for jihad” to then leave for Syria or Yemen, as recorded in various wiretapped conversations with group members. Ifaoui would also talk to Hosni on the phone about sermons that would then be used to indoctrinate people, and in September 2009, he received a text from Hosni referring to Bin Laden’s recent declaration, implying that divine intervention would determine the outcome between America and its adversaries. One of these individuals was a Muslim convert, Vincenzo Leonetti, and Ifaoui was involved in his recruitment within the group and proselytism. They had several conversations about Islamism, and Leonetti would also lend his phone to the group for contacting individuals of interest, as his phone was considered secure. The court documents also reveal a certain animosity from Ifaoui towards Italians, called ‘dogs’ and ‘bastards’ in a phone wall with Sami, Azam, and Noureddine. The latter and Ifaoui expressed satisfaction that Italians were seemingly being punished by God following the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila. 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’.
Hosni’s call center and Islamic Centre played a pivotal role in Ifaoui’s radicalisation journey, serving as safe havens for Ifaoui and other defendants and also as logistic headquarters of the cell, as revealed by a phone conversation between the defendant and Hosni in February 2009. Hosni was also vital in enabling Ifaoui and other homeless defendants to move freely within Italian territory by presenting falsified documents provided by Hosni himself. In fact, Ifaoui told Hosni in 2008 and 2009 that he needed counterfeit documents to apply for seasonal jobs in Italy – in 2009, he was employed as an agricultural worker for the olive season – while also avoiding police scrutiny. In fact, court documents reveal that Ifaoui was arrested in June 2008 because he had failed to comply with the order of the Police Commissioner of Lecce from June 2007 to leave Italy. Ifaoui was also the person people needing fake documents went to, as testified by a 2008 phone conversation with a man named Abu Majda.
Video and data surveillance indicate that from March 2009 to September 2009, Ifaoui frequented the Hosni’s Islamic Centre extensively. There, he engaged – alone or with other members – in activities such as watching and downloading propagandist videos on jihad, military training, and religious indoctrination. In particular, amongst the material accessed, there were videos that criticised the passive stance of Arab countries towards the war in Gaza, accusing them of letting Palestinian die; videos of Imams criticising Judaism; videos showing terrorist attacks; videos criticising the American way of life, and sermons of al-Zarqawi. All these videos and sermons would then be commented and shared amongst the group.
It could be asserted that Ifaoui’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.
According to court records, Ifaoui was also allegedly involved in terrorist financing, as demonstrated by a phone call between Azam and a man named Khaled in January 2009. They talked about a sum of money taken by Ifaoui intended for the purchase of weapons. Moreover, Ifaoui had sent €1,700 to Hosni, which was collected by a Moroccan man associated with Islamic Relief the following day. Ifaoui also had contacts with the terrorist Mohamed Ben Ali. In a conversation with Hosni, the defendant asked whether Ben Ali could find him a job. Court documents state that Ben Ali was aiding illegal immigration in Italy by finding jobs for migrants through his cooperative career center, ‘General Service’.
On February 6, 2013, the preliminary investigation judge of Bari ordered pre-trial detention for Ifaoui due to his possession of fake documents and his connections in his home country, rendering him a potential fugitive. 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.
Ifaoui was arrested on April 30, 2013, and his computer was also seized. Within the laptop, police found a series of audio files which revealed the defendant’s appreciation for jihadist ideology and its themes of death, martyrdom, jihad and antisemitism. Amongst these files there were religious songs about jihad against Jews and Christians; suicide attackers and martyrs; various videos about Bin Laden’s speeches and the fight against the United States; a video about a sniper who allegedly killed dozens of marines in Iraq; a song about the genocides in Chechnya, Kosovo and Palestine; a eulogy of Ahmed Yassin, and various antisemitic sermons.
During the interrogation, the defendant tried to justify the possession of these files by saying that he had downloaded them out of curiosity, but his claim was dismissed by the judge who attributed them instead into Ifaoui’s jihadist radicalisation process. Moreover, some of these files were also found within Hamdi Chamari’s computer, confirming that the defendant circulated them within the group.
On September 24, 2014, the Tribunal of Bari sentenced Ifaoui to 3 years and 4 months in prison, taking into account his lack of prior charges, despite his failure to demonstrate any remorse for his actions. Meanwhile, despite the circumstances, Ifaoui continued to maintain contact with other members of the group, including Faez and Chamari, as evidenced by their communication in April 2014.
On October 27, 2015, the Appeal Court confirmed the sentence. The judge confirmed the existence of an organised, albeit rudimentary, cell with clear criminal intent. Its members were engaged in recruiting and radicalising individuals for jihad, united by shared religious beliefs. Nevertheless, the judge noted that none of the group members had carried out their intended terrorist actions, thus preventing the realisation of their terroristic aims.
On July 14, 2016, the Court of Cassation overturned Ifaoui’s conviction because no crime was committed according to art. 270 bis. The judge determined that the indoctrination intended to incite individuals to engage in jihad did not amount to a terrorist act since no such actions were carried out; none of the individuals involved actually traveled to the conflict zones. Additionally, the judge acknowledged the group’s limited capabilities, stating that there was no evidence indicating their concrete ability to execute their plans or pose a threat to Italy.