Abderrahim Moutaharrik is a champion kickboxer who was allegedly involved in plans to target the Israeli embassy in Rome in December 2015.
Moutaharrik was arrested along with three other suspected Islamic State militants in Italy during a recent anti-terrorism operation. According to police in Italy’s capital, the kickboxer received instructions from ISIS to carry out an attack in Rome during the Holy Year celebrations that started in December 2015.
According to Milan prosecutor Maurizio Romanelli, the 28-year-old male from Lecco in northern Italy is an accomplished kickboxer who has competed both in Italy and overseas. While he is an Italian national, Moutaharrik is of Moroccan descent and has been listed online as Switzerland’s welterweight national champion for 2013 and 2014.
As reported by the International Business Times, an image released by Italian police showed the kickboxing champion wearing boxing gloves, a keffiyeh, shorts, and a black shirt styled after the Daesh flag.
— IBTimes UK (@IBTimesUK) April 28, 2016
Romanelli said Moutaharrik received instructions to carry out attacks in Italy from a Moroccan national who used to live in Bulciago, near Lecco, who moved to conflict areas with his wife and three children around a year ago.
“This is a new profile, because it was not a generic indication, but an indication given to a specific person who was invited to act within the territory of the Italian state,” Romanelli said.
An arrest warrant has been issued by Italian authorities for the alleged terror instigator, who has been identified as Mohamed Koraichi, 31, along with his Italian wife, Alice Brignoli, 39. Reportedly, Brignoli changed her name to Aisha after converting to Islam.
A disturbing photo was released by police showing the couple’s three sons, aged 6, 4, and 2 years of age, dressed in camouflage gear and making an IS-salute by pointing a finger skywards.
The police said Moutaharrik and his wife, Salma Bencharki, 26, were also planning to take their two children, aged 2 and 4, to ISIS-held territory, and the kickboxer was then to return to Italy alone to commit a terrorist attack.
During the recent arrests, Bencharki was held along with her husband, Moutaharrik, as well as two other people, a 22-year-old Moroccan man by the name of Abderrahmane Khachia, who is the brother of an ISIS fighter killed in Syria, and a 23-year-old woman named Wafa Koraichi, the sister of Mohamed Koraichi. According to the Times of Israel, the two other suspects are still at large.
Italian interior minister Angelino Alfano said they were all part of the same Islamist cell and “had very bad intentions.”
Reportedly, Italian authorities tapped phones and recorded conversations between three of the suspects, and in one taped conversation, Moutaharrik was heard to tell Khachia that he wanted “to hit Israel in Rome.”
It was this conversation that led investigators to believe Moutaharrik was plotting to attack the Israeli embassy in Rome. However, as pilgrims were flocking to the Italian capital for the extraordinary Jubilee called by Pope Francis, the pontiff was also considered a target.
One of the suspects was also heard to say, “I swear I will be the first to attack them in this Italy of crusaders, I swear I’ll attack it, if the Vatican God willing.”
In another conversation, the same suspect spoke of seeking to attack the Israeli embassy and mentioned contacting an Albanian man to get a gun.
While authorities said there was no evidence to show the attacks in Rome were imminent, ISIS has often issued propagandist threats against Rome and the Vatican, as this is considered a target of high symbolic value for Islamic State.