Police in Italy recovered Nazi paraphernalia, guns and a missile during a Monday operation that was part of a year-long investigation of “Italian fighters with extreme ideologies.”
One of the three suspects taken into custody had been flagged for trying to sell an air-to-air missile that was located in the northern Italian city of Pavia, authorities said in their announcement. The weapon did not have an explosive, police say, but was still usable. Authorities also found assault rifles, bayonets, pistols and nearly 1,000 cartridges and other munitions.
Turin Police Commissioner Giuseppe De Matteis called the raid “a significant seizure, with few precedents in Italy,” France 24 television reported. He added that “we have some idea about what the seized equipment could be used for but will not speculate.”
The Italian newspaper La Repubblica named the arrested suspects as Fabio Del Bergiolo, a former customs officer who once ran for office as a member of the far-right Forza Nuova party, Swiss national Alessandro Monti and an Italian named Fabio Bernardi.
Del Bergiolo was a “weapons enthusiast” and “collector,” his lawyer, Fausto Moscatelli, told CNN. “These weapons were not registered, but they were not connected to terrorism,” he said.
Moscatelli also claimed that “there was a misunderstanding with the Nazi paraphernalia.” His client “also had fascist and U.S.S.R. paraphernalia, but [the police] only took things with swastikas,” he added.
Forza Nuova distanced itself from Del Bergiolo in a statement to CNN, saying that he ran years ago and that none of the suspects had been members of the party.
Authorities said the suspects attempted to sell the missile, believed to have been made by the French company Matra, over the messaging service WhatsApp, Reuters reported.
The raid was born out of a year-long investigation of Italian extremist fighters who were believed to have “taken part in the armed conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine,” Italian police said.
The raid was carried out by the Digos law enforcement division in Turin, which investigates terrorism and other domestic crimes, in cooperation with police in four other northern Italian cities.