Muslim Hate in Italy


16 August 2005

Italy to expel 700 suspected militants

ISN SECURITY WATCH (16/08/05) – The Italian police on Monday said they had arrested more than 100 suspected Muslim militants and planned to expel hundreds more in a massive “anti-terror” sweep made possible by new legislation granting broader powers to police.

More than 141 suspected militants have been arrested, and officials claim to have questioned 32,000 suspects since the introduction of new anti-terrorism legislation last month.

In late July, the Italian parliament passed legislation granting greater powers to police and making it easier to detain people on suspicion of membership in a militant group. Civil liberties groups have harshly criticized the legislation.

The move comes only weeks after one of the suspects in the failed 21 July attack on the London transport system, Hussain Osman, was detained in Rome. Osman is among 701 people Italy plans to expel or extradite for alleged involvement in terrorist activities.

The arrests also coincide with warnings from Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu, who said that though there was no specific evidence of an impending attack, the risk was real and had forced Italy into an intense and prolonged state of alarm in the wake of the July bombings in London and Egypt.

Pisanu said security had been stepped up around more than 13,000 “sensitive targets”, mainly airports, train stations, ports, museums, art galleries, embassies, and places where large crowds gather.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also issued warnings, saying: “A possible terror attack looms over us, but we’re doing everything we can through our secret services. We are on maximum alert.”

The interior minister, know for his hard-line stance against illegal immigrants, stressed that the public should not confuse the threat of Muslim terrorism with Islam or Muslim culture. He called for a continued dialog with “moderate Muslims”.

Pisanu also said Italy’s decision to deploy troops to Iraq to support the US-led occupation forces had nothing to do with perceived terrorist threats in Italy, despite threats that have specifically mentioned Italy’s involvement in Iraq.

Italy currently has 3,000 troops deployed in Nasiriya in Iraq.

Muhammad al-Masaari, the editor of the conservative Muslim website al-Tajdeed, warned that Italy was “certainly at risk [of an attack] while it remains in Afghanistan and Iraq”.

“Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi loves money, and he will realize that following the Americans in their military expeditions is not profitable,” he said, adding that withdrawing from Iraq would not solve the issue unless the step was followed by a similar decision on the Afghanistan deployment and all other military missions Italy is involved in.

Civil rights groups speak out

Italy’s new anti-terrorism legislation allows police to detain suspects for up to 24 hours, eases restrictions on internet and telephone surveillance, and clears the way for DNA samples to be taken without consent.

The legislation also makes it a crime to train people to prepare or use explosives without government authorization, and offers incentives for those who provide authorities with information about terrorist activities.

But the measures have drawn criticism from civil liberties groups.

Amnesty International (AI) told ISN Security Watch it was “deeply concerned that the new measures approved by the Italian government violate internationally recognized human rights laws and standards” and that the “current expulsion procedures for over 700 individuals may result in cases of refoulement,” or persecution in their home states.

“Amnesty International would like to remind Italy of its obligations under customary international law to respect the principle of non-refoulement, i.e., the prohibition on sending anyone to a country or territory where that person would be at risk of serious human rights violations,” an AI spokesperson told ISN Security Watch.

Two people are being held for possession of false documents, while others are being held for a number of minor offences. The Interior Ministry said none of those arrested had actually been charged with terrorist activity.

In the meantime, Italian officials said authorities would stage mock operations across the country next month to test the nation’s ability to respond to a terrorist attack “with the aim of maintaining public order, of ensuring swift aid, correct information, and prompt start of investigations”, the ministry stated.

In Rome, Mayor Walter Veltroni , while appealing for calm, admitted that the locks to the entrances of 49 subway stations had been changed as a precaution, but was quick to stress that the city was operating normally.

“Rome is serene, full of tourists, despite all those proclamations on magazine covers that indicate it as one of the targets of terrorism,” the mayor said.

(By Theodore Liasi in Rome)