Handing over Italian mafia boss: Tahrir al-Sham’s “security assurances” to West

Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, (R) leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and Bruno Carbone (L), main drug supplier to Naples’ Camorra Mafia (modified by Enab Baladi)

Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, (R) leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and Bruno Carbone (L), main drug supplier to Naples’ Camorra Mafia (modified by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim

The Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) in northern Idlib city came to the fore after handing over Bruno Carbone, the right-hand man of Naples’ Camorra mafia, to the Italian authorities, as a civilian front, despite the presence of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which has a key military influence in the region.

Carbone’s handing over opened the door to talk about the possibility of achieving political or other gains for the Salvation Government and the extent to which the process is considered positive or negative, especially after accusations that the HTS-held Idlib region has become a haven for wanted persons and fugitives.

In grip of Salvation Government

The interior ministry of the Salvation Government announced that it had handed over to the Italian authorities the leader and heir of the Camorra mafia and one of the internationally wanted persons, Bruno Carbone, 45, after he was arrested last March by (HTS) border guards while crossing into northwestern Syria.

Mohammad Abdul Rahman, Salvation’s interior minister, said in a video recording on 16 November that after the investigations, it was revealed that Carbone was involved in criminal activities, on top of which was drug trafficking on an international level for many years.

Carbone intended to cross into the regime-held areas, according to the minister, who indicated that the international fugitive was involved in murders and heads an armed gang in Italy.

After collecting data and information, the ministry of the interior began working on procedures for handing him over to his country’s government in order to complete the case, as the minister thanked the Turkish side for providing the necessary facilities.

The minister’s announcement came a day after numerous publications that talked about Carboni’s extradition to Italy, most notably what was published by the General Director of Information in the Salvation Government, Mohammad Sankari, on 15 November that Carbone had been extradited to his country.

Diaa al-Omar, spokesperson for the General Security Service in Idlib, said on his Facebook account that the security apparatus arrested Carbone, who claimed he is a Mexican and escaped his country because of a fine imposed on him as a punishment for trading counterfeit Rolex watches.

The media office of the General Security Apparatus explained to Enab Baladi that the case of Carbone’s arrest is supervised by the Salvation Ministry of Interior and that the spokesperson’s page, which published information about the Italian, is unofficial.

Idlib or Dubai

The extradition of Carbone to Italy was questioned regarding the part of his arrest in Idlib, especially after a previous announcement that he had been arrested in the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE security services arrested businessman Domenico Alfano at the airport in December 2019 on suspicion of being Bruno Carbone, but they released him in January 2020 after being held in jail for 32 days.

Carlo Nordio, the Italian Minister of Justice, issued a statement on 15 November in which he thanked his Emirati counterpart, Abdullah al-Nuaimi, for arresting Carbone after the wanted man arrived in Italy on the same day.

“This latest arrest testifies to the consolidation of judicial cooperation between Italy and the UAE,” Nordio said, according to The Guardian.

The head of the Special Investigation Group against criminal organizations in the Italian city of Naples, Lieutenant Colonel Danilo Toma, confirmed the arrival of Carbone from Dubai, according to The Washington Post.

The Italian police stated that the member of the Camorra mafia was arrested at Rome’s Ciampino Airport after he was extradited from the UAE, without any mention of his arrest in Syria.

While the Italian newspaper IL Foglio indicated that the UAE may be the mediator in the delivery of Carbone from Syria.

Who is Carbone?

The Italian Bruno Carbone is one of the most wanted by the European Union, and he is accused of participating in a criminal organization engaged in illegal trafficking in narcotics and psychotropic substances and drug trafficking. He is sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Carbone was active in Colombia, the Netherlands, and Italy and is a known drug dealer.

In 2018, after a search warrant issued by the province’s Anti-Mafia Directorate, security services confiscated 240,000 euros in cash at Villa Giugliano in Campania. The house, which is located in Italy’s Lago Patria region, was registered as the property of Carbone’s ex-wife.

“Security and administrative model”

The Salvation Government, the HTS political umbrella, has carried out many years of extradition of foreign citizens of different nationalities, French, Canadian, Japanese, Italian, and others, who have been subjected to kidnapping cases without specifying the kidnapper.

The Salvation played a role in these operations, despite the presence of Tahrir al-Sham and its security and military grip on the region, and the presence of the General Security Apparatus responsible for many operations to pursue wanted persons, which denies its affiliation with Tahrir al-Sham.

Political researcher Firas Allawi believes that the Salvation Government is trying, prompted by Tahrir al-Sham, to provide assurances to the international community and regional countries that it is not a military grouping that follows a specific ideology but rather an integrated administration.

Allawi told Enab Baladi that this step indicates that the (Salvation) government is capable of being a good security model in the region, especially with the apparent failure of its counterparts in the north and in the regime-controlled areas.

Areas under the control of the Salvation Government include Idlib governorate and parts of Aleppo’s western countryside, Latakia countryside, and the al-Ghab Plain, northwest of Hama.

These areas are witnessing a state of “security discipline” compared to the areas controlled by the regime and the areas controlled by the opposition’s Interim Government in the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo and the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain.

Allawi pointed out that the HTS approach towards its endeavor to be a partner in any upcoming process requires it to make many concessions as well as credentials, as it is considered a successful political, administrative, and security body that can be relied upon.

Police forces in a street in Idlib city - 15 March 2022 (the interior ministry of the Salvation Government)

Police forces in a street in Idlib city – 15 March 2022 (the interior ministry of the Salvation Government)

Positive or negative move?

Arresting Carbone in a narrow geographical area, the mafia man who is wanted across Europe by the Department for Disarmament Affairs in Italy and by the European Law Enforcement Agency (Europol), has created a division between those who considered it a positive step to control security and those who considered it a negative matter as it is a breached area and a refuge for wanted persons and fugitives from crimes and misdemeanors.

Charles Lister, the prominent analyst and senior fellow at Middle East Institute, said on Twitter, “I’ve worked on Idlib for 11 years now and thought I’d seen just about everything. But seeing a former al-Qaeda affiliate arrest one of Europe’s most wanted fugitives, a mafia chief, and then move to ‘extradite’ him to Italy?”

The Italian newspaper IL Foglio mentioned two indicators that make the presence of Carbone in northwestern Syria a possible option.

The first is that the region is one of the axes for drug trafficking in the country, whether it comes from the areas of the regime or in which some factions are involved in its work, and the second is related to the protection that Carbone expected to find in the area, according to the newspaper.

Researcher Allawi said that what makes the repercussions and effects of the extradition process negative or positive is the outcome of the investigation provided by the HTS and its ability to benefit from this step.

He explained that the region is fragile in terms of security, and this is what makes the entry of outlaws like Carbone a natural matter in areas witnessing conflicts and wars.

What is meant by the security-fragile region is not only the area under the HTS’s control but rather the geographical area that extends from Iraq to Turkey and from Iraqi Kurdistan to Jordan.

“Therefore, its reflection may be negative on the region and positive on the areas under the control of Tahrir al-Sham,” Allawi added.

What is the reward?

Reports are usually circulated about financial gains or ransoms that the first party receives in exchange for handing over people to the parties they come from or that pursue them with any process of extraditing wanted people or releasing abductees.

The statement of the Salvation’s interior minister did not mention any compensation or gain for the extradition of Carbone, just as previous “handing overs” did not include any information about compensation, whether reward or ransom.

The local factions of the Syrian opposition are accused of earning huge amounts of money in exchange for the release of the abductees, but the value of these deals was kept secret, and some of them were denied by some armed groups.

On 15 November 2015, the al-Nusra Front, former al-Qaeda’s Syria wing, released Vanessa Marzullo and Greta Ramelli, the two Italian aid workers who were kidnapped in July 2014 in northern Syria.

Media reports stated that their release was conditional on the payment of a ransom.

At the time, the al-Nusra Front announced that the kidnapping came in response to Italy’s participation in the international coalition’s airstrikes on a number of al-Nusra Front’s sites with air strikes in northern Syria.

The Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni (then foreign minister), denied paying a ransom for the release of the two Italian volunteers, saying that “the ransom is only speculation.”

The absence of a statement or clarification from the al-Nusra Front regarding the ransom, and the Italian official’s denial of paying it, did not prevent leaks from some local websites, which mentioned the payment of 12 million US dollars for the release of the two women.

Enab Baladi has previously monitored deals to release Syrian activists and fighters from kidnappers affiliated with extremist factions at an average value of 100,000 US dollars per person.

Previous handing-over record

In May 2019, the Salvation Government announced the extradition of Italian Alessandro Sardini to his country after he was released from captivity by the kidnapper, a “gang that practices kidnapping and financial extortion,” without specifying its identity.

Meanwhile, the British Daily Mail newspaper reported that Sardini stayed with the al-Nusra Front (Tahrir al-Sham) for about three years before his release in 2019, in exchange for a financial ransom, without mentioning its value.

The Salvation Government handed over the girl child Yasmine, who is of French origin, to her country’s embassy in Turkey in December 2018 after she was kidnapped by French jihadists in Idlib. Her kidnapping dates back to 2017.

In October 2018, the Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda was released after the absence of information about him for about two years, and he entered Turkey after an operation led by Turkish intelligence in cooperation with Qatar.

Fingers were pointed at the al-Nusra Front because the Japanese journalist was kidnapped in the al-Nusra-controlled Jisr al-Shughour region in the countryside of Idlib, but Tahrir al-Sham denied its involvement in kidnapping the journalist when he was released.

The Salvation Government handed over Canadian citizens to Turkey, in February 2018, after coordination with the Canadian embassy, ​​and stated that the Canadians, Shan and Julie, entered by smuggling from Lebanon to the Syrian lands, passing through the areas of the regime, and arrived at Qalaat al-Madiq in the western countryside of Hama, with the intention of crossing to Turkey from Syria, through smugglers in the border areas.

The Italian, Sergio Zattoni, was kidnapped in Syria in 2016 by unidentified armed groups, and he was released on 6 April 2016, in a complex intelligence, investigative and diplomatic operation, according to a statement by the Italian Foreign Minister’s office at the time.

Areas under the control of the Salvation Government include Idlib governorate and parts of Aleppo’s western countryside, Latakia countryside, and the al-Ghab Plain, northwest of Hama.

The HTS is still listed as “terrorist,” and its leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani is still wanted by the United States, with a reward of up to 10 million US dollars for anyone who provides information about him.

Tahrir al-Sham manages the area administratively and serviceably through the Salvation Government. The General Security Apparatus is also active in the area to deal with security files.


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