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Triggered by the Charlie Hebdo incident in France, Pakistani terrorists of “Group Gabar” had established a potent pan-European network

The Pakistani “Gabar group” took this picture in Paris with the Charlie Hebdo HQ 2020 jihadist Hassan Zaher Mahmood, 2 months before the stabbing (Image Courtesy: Twitter/@MatteoPugliese)

The French national anti-terrorism prosecutor, Jean-Francois Ricard, a few days after an attack that traumatised France yet again went into specifics and revealed some chilling details about how terrorism had established deep roots in Europe.

He specifically pointed to  Zaheer Hassan Mahmoud, a 25-year-old born in Pakistan who had seriously injured two journalists with a cleaver in front of the old headquarters of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, “had passed through Italy". The French prosecutor made this revelation on September 25, 2020, opening a trail of investigation involving Pakistanis, which is yet to be fully uncovered. Five years before Mahmoud’s attack, terrorists linked to Al Qaeda had killed twelve people and injured eleven others.

Less than two years later, investigators have taken 14 people, almost all Pakistanis, into precautionary custody as they are linked to Zaheer Hassan Mahmoud, the attacker of two journalists, apparently assuming they were associated with the Charlie Hebdo publication. The arrests took place after a court of Genoa, Italy, riding on an investigation by the Genoa District Anti-Terrorism Directorate, along with the Anti-terrorism Offices of Spain and France. The entire pan-European effort was coordinated by Europol's ECTC – European Counter Terrorism Centre. 

Most of the detainees arrested have moved between Emilia Romagna, Spain, and France, but one of them lives in the Chiavari area, which falls within the administrative and legal jurisdiction of Genoa.  

With the busting of the pan-European cell, six people were arrested in Italy and one in Spain. Out of these two have been arrested in Genoa, one in Florence, one in the province of Reggio Emilia, one in Bari, one in Treviso,  and one in Spain.

Since the summer of 2021, the investigators have documented numerous meetings between the suspects who, periodically, have reached Italian territory, especially in Fabbrico, in the province of Reggio Emilia, thus making Italy , the Gabar Group’s, logistical base.

The breakthrough came at the end of September 2021, with the arrest of Ali Hamza, a 19-year-old Pakistani in Lodi. The detention was based following a European arrest warrant issued by the anti-terrorism prosecutor of Paris. Hamza was suspected of being linked to the Charlie Hebdo bomber—in fact, his job was to video graph the event, once it was successful.

In February 2022, Spain arrested five people,  of which at least two were in contact with the current suspects and all attributable to the Gabar Group.

The terrorist cell, according to the investigations, was ready to buy weapons and was recruiting associates in Italy: "In two months we will buy weapons", says the head of the Italian cell and the "maestro", a 33-year-old Pakistani called . And, again, "now we have to go to every city and find those 10 people I need .., the more we are, the better ..", they say to each other as they look for a place to stay: "Let me work for two months, and then we find our ‘Tana’ and let's make the Gabar group here in Italy ".

And in fact, according to the investigating magistrate, the man who passed through Chiavari provided his participatory contribution to the terrorist association "… starting from April 2021, promoting the formation of a cell sitting and operating in Italy, through the recruitment of associates, the identification of a den (so-called Tana), the purchase of weapons, offering hospitality to associates, maintaining relationships and contacts with people at the top of the organization ".

In Paris, investigations began immediately after Mahmoud’s cleaver attack on September 5, 2020. Assuming that the editorial office of the periodical Charlie Hebdo was still in the building near the Bastille, in rue Nicolas Appert, and not in a secret and guarded place, Mahmoud seriously injured two people with a cleaver. The victims were journalists, yes, but from the "Première ligne" agency.

The 25-year-old confessed to the French investigators that he had acted because Charlie Hebdo the magazine had republished the cartoons on Muhammad that had appeared in 2015. But because of the failed attack, six people were arrested.

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