The Italian General Investigations and Special Operations Division (DIGOS) seized an arsenal of weaponry ranging from bolt-action rifles and automatic weapons to a “combat-ready” air-to-air missile from a neo-Nazi group in a series of raids supported by police in Milan, Varese, Forli and Novara, the BBC reported on Monday.
In a statement to the BBC, police described the missile as “in perfect working order.” According to the Drive, the missile is a French-made, semi-active radar-seeking Matra Super 530F, contained within a casing that identifies it as purchased by the Qatar Armed Forces in 1980. That year the Qatari government purchased 14 Dassault Mirage F1 fighter jets from France with armaments, though Qatar’s F1s have largely been superseded in active service by Mirage 2000 jets that fire the newer MICA missiles, the Drive wrote.
The Guardian reported that police said the missile lacked its explosive charge but could be easily re-armed by munitions specialists.
Italian authorities also seized neo-Nazi propaganda and made three arrests. According to La Repubblica, the raids were the product of a year-long investigation into Italian nationals that had fought in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine government forces and Russia-backed separatists.
La Repubblica wrote that authorities claimed the suspects were trying to sell the missile for about $529,000 (400,000 euros), with Turin Police Chief Giuseppe De Matteis saying that the seizure had “few precedents for the quality of the weapons and their violent potential.” The paper named those arrested as 60-year-old former customs inspector and neo-fascist Forza Nuova militant Fabio Del Bergiolo, 51-year-old Fabio Bernardi, and 42-year-old Swiss national Alessandro Monti.
Del Bergiolo unsuccessfully ran for Senate in Gallarte on the Forza Nuova ticket in 2001, La Repubblica wrote, and was involved in a 2003 corruption scandal while working in customs. The weapons cache was found in his home, according to CNN.
Italian police have launched several recent raids on Forza Nuova, including the arrest of its Turin chief Luigi Cortese on charges of “apologizing for fascism,” as well as other neo-fascist groups including Rebel Firm and Legio Subalpina. According to a report in France-Soir (a French tabloid), however, those prior raids turned up knives, shields, ammunition, and baseball bats emblazoned “Dux Mussolini.”
It’s not clear who the suspects were allegedly trying to sell the Super 530F to, but La Repubblica wrote an unnamed “public official of a foreign country” had been among the prospective buyers.
The Super 530F is an ageing missile “compatible only with a limited number of aircraft,” per the Drive, though current operators of the F1 jet include the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Libya. The GNA has been waging a desperate and extremely violent battle against the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, who has been trying to take over the nation. Iran also operates F1 fighter jets.
It is also possible that another buyer could strip down the Super 530F for parts or seek to convert it into a ground-to-air missile, though an unnamed expert told AFP it would be “extremely dangerous and risky” to perform the latter task without specialized knowledge and equipment.
According to Reuters, police said the neo-Nazis were communicating with possible customers via WhatsApp. Forza Nuova has denied any involvement in the arms-dealing plot or having current ties with the three suspects.
In a statement to CNN, Del Bergiolo’s lawyer Fausto Moscatelli attempted to portray his client as a “weapons enthusiast” who was merely maintaining a private collection.
“My client is a collector and they sequestered weapons that were in his home,” Moscatelli told CNN. “These weapons were not registered, but they were not connected to terrorism... There was a misunderstanding with the Nazi paraphernalia, he also had fascist and USSR paraphernalia, but they (the police) only took things with swastikas.”
“The far right in this country trafficks weapons of war, and even missiles,” Maurizio Martina, the former head of Italy’s center-left Democratic Party, told AFP. “It’s an incredible, very serious event.”