NAPLES, Italy—Below the white wrought iron balconies and green shutters that one expects in this city, at street level the Sheik Narghile Arabian Bar and Restaurant advertises belly dancing and Arabic cuisine in bright lettering on its darkened windows. It seems out of place among the ice cream parlors and pastry shops. But, then, décor is the least of the problems associated with this building.
The landlords are Annamaria Fontana, 62, a former local councilwoman who has been known as the Dark Lady since she converted to Islam more than a decade ago, and her husband Mario di Leva, 68, who has gone by the name Jaafar since he converted to Islam in the late 1980s.
They, along with their son Luca di Leva, were arrested last week for trafficking arms and helicopters to Iran and the so-called Islamic State in Libya. Another man, Andrea Pardi, who manages a helicopter manufacturing firm, was also arrested. Ali Mohamud Shaswish from Libya is named in the warrant as well, but his whereabouts are unknown. The di Levas and Pardi have all protested their innocence.
The arrests underscore law enforcement concerns in Italy and throughout Europe that organized crime is deeply in bed with the terrorists who threaten random acts of violence either directed or inspired by ISIS. Those worries multiplied after police discovered that Anis Amri, a Tunisian who murdered 12 people in a truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, had spent time in Camorra country.
Catello Maresca, head of the Naples anti-mafia and anti-terrorism unit says it was able to trace a number of specific weapons and well equipped helicopters to the four Italians and Libyan, including nearly 14,000 M14 semi-automatic rifles, a military use air ambulance that was converted for assault use, MI-17 Soviet assault helicopters, and at least three Italian A129 Mongoose attack helicopters. Even though some of the weapons never left the port because of a logistics snafu, investigators say the defendants are still charged with trafficking the entire inventory because of their intent.
The couple and the Libyan suspect are separately accused of trafficking several Soviet-made weapons to ISIS in Libya, including a cache of anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles. And the couple alone are accused of exporting nearly €1 million ($1.08 million) worth of spare parts for helicopters to Iran between 2011 and 2015 in defiance of the United Nations embargo on such exports.
Investigators say they also intercepted a number of calls and conversations relating to negotiations to supply Iran with the necessary materials for ammunition production. The police records include information about several trips the pair made to Iran and include a number of photos showing them arm in arm with former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Both Fontana and Di Leva have been previously suspected of involvement with several Camorra crime family clans in the area. Fontana, during her time as a councilwoman, also reportedly worked as an informant for Italy’s secret service, but her services became questionable when she converted to Islam. The question has also been raised in the press as to whether she worked with the Iranian secret services.
When the couple were arrested, the authorities carried out 10 raids simultaneously in Rome, Naples, L’Aquila, and Salerno that netted documents and other materials.
Authorities with Italy’s anti-Mafia and anti-terrorism division, which is one and the same, say they were first tipped off to Fontana and Di Leva back in 2011 when they investigated a Somali man who was seeking out weapons from the Camorra to train insurgents in Somalia. They had apparently been under surveillance since then.
They raised suspicion again on July 22, 2015, a few days after four Italians working in the oil development sector were kidnapped by ISIS in Libya. According to police working on the investigation, Di Leva sent a WhatsApp message to his wife that said, “Hey, they kidnapped four Italians in Libya,” to which she replied, “Already done, old news. I’m already in touch. They have the ones where we went. I’m already working on it calmly and with caution.”
Two of the kidnapped Italians were killed in a firefight in March 2016 that led to the liberation of the other two. Authorities will not yet say if they are investigating Di Leva and Fontana for involvement or knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping.
Investigators are also watching several other people who have been radicalized in Camorra territory, who they say may also be affiliated with the arms trafficking, which, along with drug trafficking, is a multi-million euro business for the Camorra and other criminal gangs. Investigators tell The Daily Beast that they expect more arrests in the coming days.
The Arab restaurant on the ground floor of the building where the alleged traffickers lived, which has been open for less than a year, is still open. It is run by Carlo di Stefano, who says the business has nothing to do with the people it rents from, even though the name “Luca” is listed as the manager on its Facebook page.
Di Stefano says it was just by coincidence and mutual contacts that they found the location to open their vegetarian, Moroccan and Middle Eastern belly dancing bar, which is apparently so busy it was impossible to get a reservation this weekend. “We won’t comment on the arrest,” Di Stefano told The Daily Beast. “But it has nothing to do with us or what we do.”
A trafficking trial against the couple and the others could start some time later this year.