As early as 1989 under the former regime, Somalia has been a dumping ground for radioactive waste. The waste issue grew dramatically after the Somali civil war in the 1990s when European companies turned to Somalia, newly without a stable government, for an extremely cheap place to get rid of their toxics, such as industrial, hospital, and nuclear wastes full of radioactive heavy metals. Fees cost as little as $2.50 per ton compared to European dumping fees of $250 per ton. Such dumping causes many health hazards for locals, who have suffered from internal bleeding, skin infections, radiation poisoning, and other ailments . More information on the background of Somalia’s waste dumping problem and its effects on the population can be found in the countrywide case https://ejatlas.org/conflict/somalia-toxic-waste-dumping-somalia.
On December 20, 1992, 28-year-old investigative reporter Ilaria Alpi and 45-year-old cameraman Miran Krovatin, both working for Italian television broadcaster RAI, flew to Somalia to write a story about Italian humanitarian organizations donating money to developing countries for building roads and improving infrastructure [1, 6]. However, Alpi soon discovered that these organizations were, in fact, fronts for Italian mafia groups (with complicity and support from Italian governmental agencies), who gave Somalian warlords weapons in exchange for being allowed to dump the waste there . These waste mafia groups were estimated to control approximately 30% of Italy’s waste disposal companies . Investigating Italian diplomats in Somalia, Alpi found that various clients commissioning the mafia to export trash for them were from Italy, Russia, Germany, or the United States and included those such as former Italian prime minister Ciriaco de Mita and Russian businessman Oleg Kovalyov who had been in the KBG with Vladimir Putin. Politicians such as Gianni de Michelis and Bettino Craxi made sure that Italian peacekeeping troops turned a blind eye to the deliveries . Most of the Italian waste was shipped to Somalia on fishing vessels belonging to Somalian state-owned Somali High Sea Fishing Company, led by parliament member Munye Said Omar who hid with the boats in Yemen . These operations were run by Italian mafia group 'Ndrangheta .
Despite having very little money and supplies remaining for the rest of the investigation, Alpi continued following her leads to Bosaso, a small town on the coast of the Gulf of Aden in Northeastern Somalia . There, she and Krovatin found, documented, and filmed the ships, watching thugs unload toxic waste for burial in the desert [1, 8]. Unmarked military planes also unloaded advanced European weapons at the Bosaso port. Alpi then began investigating a complex system of arms and waste trafficking involving various warlods, Bosaso’s sultan, the Italian-Somali Chamber of Commerce, Itallian military secret service, and Swiss bankers . On March 3, 1994, Alpi and Krovatin departed for Mogadishu, hundreds of kilometers away, to submit the report on the case . However, on March 20, they were intercepted near the Amana hotel just before reaching the Italian embassy by 7 submachine gun-wielding assassins on an off-road vehicle.
Both were shot in the head and died on-scene, though their hired escorts managed to escape alive [3, 9, 12]. Most of the photographs, notes, and videofootage were never recovered .
The Italian government immediately tried to cover up the incident, but many speculated that the two were killed out of revenge for interfering in fights between Somalian warlords and Italian peacekeeping organizations [3, 7]. After significant public pressure, the Italian Parliament started an inquiry for the murder case in January 1998. The inquiry concluded that the pair was killed by a random bandit in a botched kidnapping and burglary attempt . However, this explanation was widely criticized for contradictory and non-definitive reports with little evidence and not leading to any consequences . Ordinary Somali citizen Hashi Omar Hassan was wrongfully convicted for the assassination and sentenced to 26 years in prison for the alleged failed mugging. Many suspected that Hassan, the only person convicted of the crime despite many hitmen present at the killing, was scapegoated for the crime . Alpi’s parents published a book called The Execution, which asserted that Alpi and Krovatin were silenced from revealing the arms and waste ring. Her parents accused the Italian secret services of playing a major role in the illegal trade .
In 2009, former ‘Ndrangheta informant Francesco Fonti came forward with new information claiming that Alpi and Krovatin were murdered for seeing the ‘Ndrangheta toxic waste shipments in Bosaso. He told investigators that the ship they saw carried radioactive waste from Norwayp . 20 years after their deaths, on March 20,2014, the Italian government also declassified secret files about their deaths . These released files were very cryptic messages written in military jargon and secret code, though several of the decoded messages refer to the March 1994 assassination implicating various members of the Italian military secret service. For example, in one document dated the exact day of Alpi and Krovatin’s arrival in Bosaso and marked top secret, “Jupiter” was ordered to execute
tactical move “condor” in “Bravo” to eliminate an “anomalous presence.” This was interpreted to mean that a team of hitmen should go to Bosaso to kill the two journalists, who must have managed to escape at the time before their trip back to Mogadishu . Moreover, a file on Alpi and her death were found at the home of naval engineer Giorgio Comerio, who had been accused of negotiating with Somali authorities for permission to dump hazardous waste. A chain of further investigations implicated the involvement of powerful people, which explains why the previous court decision had been so suspicious .
In 2015, Ahmed Ali Rage (also known as Gelle), admitted that Italians bribed him into giving a false testimony blaming Hassan for the killing when he was indeed innocent, though Gelle never ended up receiving the money. It was revealed that Hassan was not even in Mogadishu at the time of the murder and was tricked into coming to Italy for the court procedure. Gelle asserted that he never saw who actually fired the shots [3, 9]. The court later reversed Hassan’s conviction in 2016 and compensated him with over $3,000,000 for the 17 years of his sentence he had served so far . During this time, Alpi’s parents died without ever seeing justice for their daughter . As of 2019, the case continues to see little hope of true resolution as the courts continue to reject further filing cases demanding new investigations with the continued emergence of more and more information.
Various journalist groups, Alpi’s surviving family members, and Hassan continue to rally for a continuation of the case investigation . It is currently unknown whether the Bosaso illegal dumping operations continue to take place today, though Bahrain’s naval counter-terrorist patrols of the Horn of Africa have not observed any activist in recent years .