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June 28, 2013 No.
989

The Making Of A Foreign Jihadi Convert Fighting in Syria: Giuliano Ibrahim Delnevo – Part I

Introduction

Giuliano Ibrahim Delnevo, a 24-year-old Italian convert to Islam from Genoa, was killed earlier this month fighting alongside rebels in Syria; he was identified by the Italian passport recovered from his body. He converted to Islam in 2008, taking the name Ibrahim, and in 2012 entered Syria via Turkey and joined rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Delnevo's father was informed of his son's death on June 13, 2013, via a phone call from Syria.

Personal History

Giualiano Ibrahim Delnevo was born in Genoa, Italy. Over 6'2" tall, he was a martial arts expert[1]; his elder brother, Martino, a marine engineer,[2] resides in Germany.[3] His parents – Eva Guerriero, a retired French teacher, and Carlo Delnevo, also a teacher who describes himself as a "practicing Catholic"[5] – have been divorced for nearly a decade.

Up until 2010, when he finished high school studies at Istituto tecnico Einaudi-Galilei, Delnevo lived in the elegant residential Castelletto neighborhood of Genoa with his father. Then he moved to live with his mother in a renovated apartment in the historic center of Genoa,[5] and his father moved to the Carmine neighborhood of the city. One of his high school teachers described him as someone who did not like to study.[6]

Delnevo enrolled in the Faculty of History at a university in Genoa, but never took an exam and dropped out.

A few years ago, Delnevo married a Moroccan woman, in an Islamic ceremony in Casablanca, Morocco. He would say that his wife was a niqqabata, that is, she wore a niqab. According to his father, Delnevo had met her online.[7]


Giuliano Ibrahim Delnevo[8]


Delnevo as a child[9]


Delnevo's father Carlo
[10]


Corso Paganini in Genoa's Castelletto neighborhood in Genoa, where Delnevo lived with his father.[11]

Delnevo's Conversion To Islam

Following his fourth year of high school (in Italy, high school is five years), Delnevo's brother Martino found him a summer job in a boatyard in the seaport city of Ancona; there he met and became friends with a group of Muslim immigrants. One, a Syrian physician, was described as the "leader" of the group.[12]

According to his father Carlo, after meeting the immigrants, Delnevo decided to convert to Islam;[13] he explained his son's conversion as follows: "In Italy, he had few opportunities; he did not want to study, and he failed an exam to become a carpenter. Maybe if he had had the right opportunity, he would not have found himself on a path with no way of return."[14]

In 2008, Delnevo converted, taking the Islamic name of Ibrahim; his good friend from Genoa, Andrea Lazzaro, described as a former "punk," converted as well, taking the Islamic name of Umar. The Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera mentions that Delnevo and Lazzaro, now 24, had been spotted at events organized by the right-wing fascist movement Forza Nuova,[15] known for its anti-American and anti-immigrant positions. Before converting to Islam, Lazzaro had allegedly been sympathetic to Forza Nuova. It was also reported that Andrea had been seen with a circle of the neo-fascist National Front movement; this circle was based at a bookstore in the Genoa city center.[16]


Photo on Andrea Umar Lazzaro's Twitter profile[17]

Lazzaro said that he and Delvano had embraced two different paths, and refused to be interviewed on the death of his friend. However, he mentioned that when they decided to convert, they "did not want to follow the crowd." He said: "We were looking for a link with the transcendent that would go beyond our produce-consume-kick the bucket [life]."[18] Andrea is active on Twitter (@UmarAndrea), mainly in English, and has a blog called Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama'ah – Italia (http://sunnita.wordpress.com/). On Twitter, he describes himself as a "salafi-sufi": "al-Delianowi al-Kalabristani thumma al-Genovabadi, al-Hanafi al-Deobandi, al-Chishti/Qadiri/Naqshbandi" – that is, originally from Delianuova in the southern region of Calabria and from Genoa, belonging to the Hanafi school and the Salafi Deobandi trend, and at the same from to the Sufi schools of al-Chishti/Qadiri/Naqshbandi. Delnevo himself had been observed going to the mosque in Sufi garb.

Lazzaro is also administrator of an Italian-language forum on Islam, islam.forumup.it, on which he uses the name of Aurangzeb 'Umarzai. He lists his interests on this forum as "Islam, Fiqh Hanafi, Deobandi Maslak [conduct], Tasawwuf [behaving like a Sufi]," and states that he resides in "Genovabad _______Madhhab [school]: Hanafi-Deobandi." In 2011, the Genoa edition of the Italian daily Repubblica reported that Lazzaro was the new imam of a new "mossala," or place of prayer, in Genoa.[19]

Genoa Imam: "You Italians, Always Exaggerating; Eventually We Had To Eject The Italians [From The Prayer Hall]"

Despite his strong faith, Delnevo was not part of the life of the Islamic community in Genoa. He would attend prayers at a prayer hall in Vico Amandorla, Genoa, near his mother's house, with other three Italian converts.[20] He would also attend another prayer hall in Vico Vegetti, where several Italian converts went to pray.[21] However, according to media outlets, he had not been seen at these locations for nearly a year.[22] An imam, Muhammad, in Vico Amandorla, said that Delnevo had angered him with a video that the latter posted on the latter's YouTube channel, called "Liguristan TV" (Genoa is the capital of Liguria) in which Delnevo criticized important Saudi religious leaders who recommended that believers not go to fight in Syria[23].

Imam Muhammad told Il Corriere della Sera that he imagined that Delnevo would have ended up this way. According to the newspaper's report, Imam Muhammad had told Delnevo to find another outlet for his anger. "You Italians, always exaggerating. Eventually, we had to eject the Italians [from the prayer hall]. Here we pray, we teach Arabic to children, and we seek to avoid extremism. There was something wrong with that guy and his friends. Now, it looks cruel to say it, but he had nothing to do with Islam."[24]

It was reported that Delnevo sporadically attended the main Islamic center in Via Sasso in Sampierdarena, a major port and industrial area of Genoa. Salah Hussein, the center's imam and secretary-general of the Islamic community of Liguria, Salah Hussein said that Delnevo "did not attend often, but we must also say that coming to [this] mosque is not mandatory; in Genoa there are other places to pray. No one in these months told me about him and about his decision to go to fight in Syria. His [decision] was surely a strong one, but I'd never discussed this issue with him."[25]

Imam Salah Hussein also noted that when he saw Delnevo's photo in the newspapers, he recognized him immediately, even though "his name didn't ring a bell." He said that Delnevo had captured his attention on the few occasions that he had attended the center, because he was dressed "as a Sufi"; he noted, "I remember he was wearing a white tunic and a turban."[26] He added that Delnevo had not followed "a traditional path of religious education."[27]

Former Italian Ambassador To Saudi Arabia And Islamic Convert: "Giuliano Complained That He Had Not Managed To Find Work In Italy"

In 2012, Delnevo met privately with Dr. Alfredo Faysal Maiolese, former Italian ambassador to Saudi Arabia who converted to Islam during his tenure there, and who is also from Genoa. Dr. Maiolese said: "He told me that he had just returned from the Turkey-Syria border. He was in two refugee camps, but he did not find the right contact, and did not manage to enter [Syria]. He complained that he had not managed to find work in Italy; he said that his studies were useless. He had a strange light in his eyes. I told him to calm down; Islam means to give aid, not to shoot. He told me that he just needed to organize better himself; the next time would have been the right one. I never saw him again."[28]

Delnevo was investigated by the Genoa public prosecutor's office, along with four individuals from North Africa and another Italian (not from Genoa) for recruitment with terrorist aims. According to media outlets, he had been under investigation since November 2009, when he went to London to attend a Koranic study group and declared that he wanted to become a fighter for Islam.[29]

Joining The Rebels In Syria; Giuliano: "I Feel A Little Bit Like Che Guevara"

According to the father, Carlo Delnevo, prior to his son's last departure for the Middle East, he picked up a pair of his son's jeans from the floor and found a boarding pass for a flight to Turkey in the pocket. Then, in late 2012, he tried to call his son to arrange a meeting with him. He was unsuccessful for several days, and when his son finally answered the phone, he said, "Dad, I'm in Antioquia [Turkey], I'm going to fight in Syria."

It was Delnevo's mother, Eva Guerriero, who took him to the airport on November 28, 2012; he told her that he was just going to Turkey. "He told me that he was going to go to Turkey, and that was all. He had also gone the year before, and had come back 10 days later. But I felt that this time it was going to be different. He wanted to go to Milan to tour the downtown area; I told him that we could have taken the bus from Genoa, without wasting too much time. What an idiot I was. That day, I saw him to bow down and pray before going to the plane. He was trembling with emotion."

The next day, his mother decided to take the same flight and follow him, to try to bring him back. She kept looking him for three months; she had no address, only his cell phone number. At first, he did not answer his mother's phone calls. She said, "I then discovered that he passed from the highest mountain […] He asked to join a group of fighters but was refused. Eventually he found his qatiba [unit]. He told me that this [i.e. fighting in Syria] was his place, his duty. To help people, who were suffering, who were being exterminated, he was recounting horrible things. 'They need me,' he explained to me, when I finally managed to talk to him. 'But I need you too,' [I said]. And I remembered that the day before his departure, we watched a movie about Che Guevara together: 'I feel a bit like him,' he'd smiled. His comrades were his brothers. I never found him again."[30]

Delnevo's mother believes that she was once very close to him, in Reyhanli, a Turkish town near the Syrian border, and again in Kilis, also near the Syrian border – she was certain that he was there the same day that she was. "He was a generous guy. A bit coglione [stupid] out of too much love. It was not easy to be with him after he converted, but he believed in it, and he wanted to help other people. He was a romantic hero."[31]

Delnevo's Recruitment

There are several hypotheses as to how Delnevo was recruited to join the fighters in Syria. According to the Genoa-based newspaper Secolo XIX, he could have been "recruited" in Morocco, a country that he often visited. He could have been recruited through possible contacts with Sharia4Italy, a radical Islamic movement established by a 21-year-old Moroccan national who was arrested in Brescia, in northern Italy.

Delnevo's mother said that her son joined up by himself, and that he was a lone wolf. "From what he told me, he was the only Italian among the rebels. Those who say [that he received training at a] training camp are talking nonsense; in Morocco, he lived with his wife, he was a shepherd, I was there with him for a long time and I know this. He went one time to England, and he attended a peaceful Sufi mystic center. If he had been trained, if he was part of an international network, he would not have been rejected [by the group of fighters] when he went to Turkey."[32] She also rejected the labelling of her son as a terrorist. "A terrorist, why? The international brigades that fought in Spain against Franco, were they terrorists?"[33]

Umberto Marcozzi, 24, a friend of Delnevo from Ancona, Italy and another Italian convert to Islam, told media that Delnevo had decided to join the rebels in Syria during a trip to Chechnya, which he had undertaken with "humanitarian aims."[34] In Chechnya, he met a "group of fighters" and at that moment decided to join the fight in Syria. According to Marcozzi, Delnevo entered Syria via the Turkish border, climbing over barbed wire to do so.[35] An email, that Marcozzi received from Delnevo read:

"Insh'Allah, we will win! Do you know that here miracles happen? Martyrs have a perfume. Planes are knocked down with prayers. Brother, no one but Allah is helping us: We have old weapons taken from the army, [some] even homemade. [The news about] the West helping us is all nonsense: we shoot at these pigs with small homemade small rockets fired from [pieces of] recycled tube, but, hamdulillah, Allah is terrorizing them and allows us to proceed. Your prayers are very important."[36]

Secolo XIX also reported that 45 to 50 individuals from Italy, or more, had joined the rebels in Syria, among them one woman, and that some are of Arab origin while others are native Italian. It added that the fighters from Italy, who are mostly from the north of the country and form Rome, are situated primarily in the north of Syria, in particular in Deir Ezzor and Aleppo.[37]


* A. Mahjar-Barducci is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] Il Corriere Mercantile (Italy), June 21, 2013

[2] http://www.cottusinfo.com/Profile/-2037521868

[3] Repubblica (Italy), June 19, 2013.

[4] Repubblica (Italy), June 19, 2013.

[5] Repubblica, June 19, 2013.

[6] La Stampa (Italy), June 19, 2013.

[7] Repubblica (Italy), June 19, 2013.

[8] Image source: Secolo XIX (Italy), June 19, 2013.

[9] Image source: Giuliano Ibrahim Delnevo’s facebook page. Photo posted on November 20, 2013.

[10] Image source: Secolo XIX (Italy), June 24, 2013.

[11] Image source: flickr.com

[12] Dagospisa.com, June 20, 2013.

[13] Repubblica (Italy), June 19, 2013.

[14] Repubblica (Italy), June 19, 2013.

[15] Il Corriere della Sera (Italy), June 19, 2013.

[16] Dagospisa.com, June 20, 2013.

[17] Image source: https://twitter.com/UmarAndrea

[18] Il Corriere della Sera, June 19, 2013.

[19] Repubblica, June 24, 2011.

[20] La Stampa, June 19, 2013.

[21] Repubblica, June 19, 2013.

[22] Il Corriere Mercantile, June 22, 2013.

[23] Il Corriere Mercantile, June 22, 2013.

[24] Il Corriere della Sera, June 19, 2013.

[25] Secolo XIX (Italy), June 18, 2013.

[26] Huffingtonpost.it, June 18, 2013.

[27] Huffingtonpost.it, June 18, 2013.

[28] Il Corriere della Sera, June 19, 2013.

[29] Il Corriere della Sera, June 20, 2013.

[30] La Repubblica, Genoa edition, June 27, 2013.

[31] La Repubblica, Genoa edition, June 27, 2013.

[32] La Repubblica, Genoa edition, June 27, 2013.

[33] La Repubblica, Genoa edition, June 27, 2013.

[34] Huffingtonpost.it, June 18, 2013.

[35] Huffingtonpost.it, June 18, 2013.

[36] Huffingtonpost.it, June 18, 2013.

[37] Rai, June 18, 2013.