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Italy expels Moroccans, Syrian as terror fears mount

Security ramps up after vehicle attack in Barcelona; warning from Islamic State group says that Italy is next on its hit list
Authorities in Rome are increasing guards at tourist spots, including the Spanish Steps (AFP)

Italy said on Saturday that it had deported two Moroccans and a Syrian on security grounds, raising to 202 the number of potentially dangerous militants expelled since January 2015.

The announcement came as security was raised after vehicle attacks in Barcelona and elsewhere, and a widely reported warning from the Islamic State (IS) group that Italy is next on its hit list.

Administrative expulsions, which are not subject to any appeal, are one of the main planks of Italy's strategy for preventing the kind of attacks suffered by other European countries.

Retired Italian air force general Leonardo Tricarico, who is now the president of the Intelligence Culture and Strategic Analysis Foundation, told public broadcaster RAI that Europe will remain at risk as long as its leaders don't cooperate to fight fundamentalist terrorism together, Xinhua reported.

Italy, according to Tricarico, has so far been spared through a combination of anti-terrorism know-how accumulated during years of fighting domestic terrorism and of capable leadership, Xinhua reported.

"What is missing is international collaboration, which is still in a very precocious phase," the Italian general said.

Sicily decided on Saturday to introduce barriers preventing vehicular access to six pedestrianised areas of the island's capital Palermo, reflecting fears of truck attacks.

Additional barriers are to be placed on potentially vulnerable locations in Milan, a meeting of regional security officials decided.

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The prefecture for the Rome region approved an increase in the number of guards for its major tourist sports and said it would step up monitoring of trucks moving around the capital.

The latest individuals deported included a 38-year-old Moroccan said to have been radicalised while in prison for minor crimes.

His status was bumped from medium to high risk after he and other prisoners were seen enthusiastically celebrating a Stockholm truck attack in April that killed five people.

The Syrian, who also operated under a false Tunisian identity, was arrested in 2015 for involvement in illegal immigration and placed under house arrest at a centre for asylum seekers in southern Italy.

There, he was caught celebrating the attack in May that killed 22 people, many of them children, at a concert in the British city of Manchester.

The suspect, whose age was not released, had managed to avoid the fate of two previous expulsion orders issued in 2011.

The third man expelled was a 31-year-old Moroccan whose expressions of support for IS were thought to be linked to a psychiatric disorder for which he received compulsory treatment after being arrested for theft. 

The interior ministry said all three had been flown back to their respective countries of origin.

Italy is regularly threatened by IS propagandists. SITE, a private intelligence group that monitors militant organisations, said on Saturday it had picked up fresh online messages promising that the country would be next to be targeted.

Italian officials stress that they have yet to be alerted to an imminent, credible threat on its territory or against the Vatican.

A government panel said in a report in January that Italy was less exposed than neighbouring countries to the risk of attacks carried out by homegrown radicals.

Although Italy has not yet suffered a militant attack, one person died and 1,500 were injured in a stampede caused by a bomb scare in a crowded Turin square in June.