London terrorist Youssef Zaghba constantly monitored by police in Italy, but let into UK at least twice

Nick Squires
Youssef Zaghba, aged 17,  in Morocco - Handout

An Italian terrorist who took part in the London attacks entered Britain at least twice after being put on a security watch list, even though he was under constant police monitoring in his own country.

Youssef Zaghba is believed to have even been stopped and questioned at Stansted airport earlier this year, but still allowed to enter the UK.

Italian authorities said they had done everything they could to raise their concerns about the 22-year-old to Britain’s intelligence agencies.

Youssef Zaghba  Credit: Handout

Zaghba’s mother said she had personally urged Italian police to warn authorities in the UK, where her son was living, after he was arrested at an Italian airport trying to get to Syria.

Valeria Collina told the Telegraph that her son had travelled from Italy back to London two or three times since he was held at Bologna airport in March 2016 saying he was going to become a terrorist.

Italian authorities have said they informed MI6 in Rome and also marked him as a suspected foreign fighter on an international border control alert system called the Schengen Information System.

The Home Office last night refused to comment on why Zaghba had been allowed into the UK.

Damian Green, a former Home Office minister, said the information-sharing system should have been enough to stop Zaghba at the border.

Lucy Moreton, general secretary of the Immigration Services Union, said it would have needed “multiple failures” for Zaghba to have entered on his own passport.

The three London attackers, left to right, Khuram Shazad Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba Credit:  LONDON METROPOLITAN POLICE/ HANDOUT

An alert should have appeared on border control screens when his passport was scanned at Stansted, but officials and police should also have been alerted in advance when he appeared on any passenger list.

Police and MI5 have said Zaghba had not been a “subject of interest” under investigation.

Zaghba’s mother said she was appalled by her son’s role in Saturday’s rampage on London Bridge and in Borough Market that killed eight.

She said she did all she could to avert his slide towards extremism.

Valeria Collina, Zaghba's mother, said she had urged Italian authorities to warn Britain about her son Credit: Chris Warde-Jones

“When he was arrested at Bologna airport, the police called me. I told them everything and asked them to detain him,” Mrs Collina said at her modest flat in the village of Fagnano in the countryside of Emilia Romagna in northern Italy.

Mrs Collina, who converted from Catholicism to Islam 26 years ago, said: “I told the Italian police everything I knew and asked them to pass that onto the British authorities.

“But because the Italian police found nothing incriminating, they had to let him go. They could not have done more.”

When Zaghba was asked by an Italian border control officer at Bologna airport why he was travelling to Istanbul, he said: “To become a terrorist”.

After his arrest, Zaghba was released for lack of evidence, and travelled between Italy and London at least twice between March last year and January this year.

At a glance | The London Bridge attackers

On the second occasion, he is believed to have been questioned by officials at Stansted Airport, but despite his prior arrest and bizarre remark about wanting to become a terrorist, was allowed to go on his way.

However the Italian authorities kept a close watch on him after his arrest last March.

 “Every time he came to Italy he was met at the airport by special operations police officers and they would then come to the house to ask him questions about what he was doing,” his mother said.

 Giuseppe Amato, a prosecutor who dealt with the case, has also said that he “was always followed by special operations police”.

 Zaghba and his older sister, Kaouthar, were born and raised in Fez but moved to Italy with their mother after her marriage to a Moroccan man broke down.

 Youssef Zaghba’s radicalisation is thought to have begun in Fez but intensified after he moved to London in 2015. He read “strange things” on the internet and fell in with “the wrong people”, his mother said.

 He found work in a fast food outlet in east London, where he is believed to have befriended another of the London Bridge attackers, Khuram Butt. He also worked latterly at an Islamic television channel in London.

 His mother said she last spoke to him on the telephone last Thursday and had no inkling he was about to commit a terrorist atrocity.

"I didn’t see anything that suggested he would do something like this. In fact he seemed calmer and happier than he had been. He told me he had moved to a new house and that it had a lovely little garden with trees.”

 The last time she saw him face to face was in January, when he came to Italy from the UK.

 “We had discussions about religion, about Wahhabism and Salafism, but there was never anything about jihad,” said Mrs Collina.

“It is an atrocious thing, what he did. It has no sense in any religion or ideology.

“I read that the imams in Britain have refused to give him a funeral and for me that is the right thing to do.

“There are no words to express what I could say to the families of the victims. I understand in my heart the pain these people are going through. If it’s right to ask forgiveness, then I ask forgiveness.”

 Her son was a calm, studious boy growing up in Morocco, she said. “He was a very sweet child, very affectionate. He would play football in the courtyard with the other kids and he did well at school.”

 Zaghba’s sister said her brother disapproved of her Western, liberal outlook, her friends and her clothes.

 After leaving school he enrolled in an IT course at the University of Fez, but interrupted his studies to move to London to earn money.

His mother had planned to fly to London next week to see him.

“I have a ticket for the 16th,” she said.

“He told me he had bought a second hand car. He was pleased. He was going to pick me up at the airport.”

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