Da The New York Times del 01/08/2005
Originale su http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/01/international/europe/01imam.html

Muslims in Italy Unsettled Over Increased Scrutiny

di Elisabeth Rosenthal

ROME - As reports of the second wave of London attacks hit the news, Imam Khaldi Samir clicked nervously at his office computer, in the Alhuda Islamic cultural center on the outskirts of Rome. Bombs in London, he knew, produce fallout for him here.

With Italy stepping up surveillance after the earlier July 7 London bombings, 10 plainclothes police officers with a search warrant had already turned up one morning at 7 at the imam's home in Latina, south of Rome. During a three-hour raid, while his children slept, they searched the home he shares with his Italian wife, and then downloaded numbers from his cellphone.

They explained that they were looking for clues related to the London bombs, said the imam, who preaches to about 800 mostly poor immigrant worshipers in the Centocelle district. The search warrant did not indicate that the imam himself was suspected of a crime. Instead, the police politely explained, the search was "preventive" - the warrant stating he might have "unknowingly" had contact with people connected to terrorism.

[On Friday, the fourth suspect in the second set of attacks in London was arrested by the Italian police in the cultural center's neighborhood, although it is not known if he ever went to the center.]

An official at the Ministry of the Interior said that he did not know details of the raid but that it was part of "an ongoing process."

Five other leaders of the Italy's Muslims were searched the same day, the imam said.

"The state is punishing its best links to the Muslim community; we never expected that the Italian state would do something like this," said Mr. Samir, 37, a soft-spoken man. "Every day I stress the need for moderation and integration, but these searches bring into question my credibility in our community. People will say, 'This is your payback for your moderation.' " He said such actions "radicalize" youth.

As antiterrorism officials across Europe are intensifying their hunt to root out sleeper cells, they walk a delicate line between thwarting terrorists and radicalizing Muslims.

Approximately 1.5 million Muslims are in Italy, a vast majority of whom are immigrants who have little chance of getting citizenship, even after years of living here.

Italy has adopted several new antiterrorism provisions, which include new registration requirements for Internet cafes and cellphone users, new limits on pilot's licenses, and quick expulsions for foreigners who are considered to be a danger to national security or who assist in terrorist activities.

But the search of the imam's house was legal under the old rules, which already gave judges wide leeway in issuing warrants. "What if I had reason to believe that a terrorist had gone to your house and was worried he left something, some documents or even a suitcase?" said a senior Italian antiterrorism official, who, as is the practice with Interior Ministry officials except the minister, spoke on condition or anonymity, explaining the search.

In 2001, the police searched the Alhuda center, which also includes a prayer hall. Last year, they searched the home of Ben Mohamed Mohamed, the center's president.

After the London bombings, the Italian government has not only beefed up security measures, but also tried to reach out to Muslims. On a recent afternoon, Rome officials invited Muslim leaders to a meeting to convey a message of coexistence:

"Rome is a city that is open to everybody," said Giuseppe Mannino, chairman of the City Council. "You are our brothers." He shared the podium with Mahmoud Hammad Sheweita, imam of Rome's only legal mosque, the Grand Mosque.

Mr. Samir and Mr. Mohamed, representing the underside of Italy's Islamic culture, listened from the rear.

Unlike the Alhuda center, where young men wander in and out all day, the Grand Mosque is only open to worshipers on Fridays. For the rest of the week, its primary function is to serve as liaison between Islam and the government. From there Mario Scialoja, a former Italian diplomat and convert to Islam, who is head of the Italian branch of the World Muslim League, meets with Islamic ambassadors and lobbies Italian politicians to allow Muslims better access to citizenship and religious education for Muslim children. He said only 4 percent of Muslims in Italy even attend a mosque regularly.

While he has noted some acts of intolerance since the London bombings, he praised Giuseppe Pisanu, the interior minister, with whom he meets regularly, and called Italy's new antiterrorism proposals "very responsible."

But his official version of Islam seems to have little resonance or even connection with Imam Samir's prayer hall, where the language of social interaction and services is Arabic, not Italian.

In part because Italy does not formally recognize Islam as a religion, Alhuda cannot have a proper mosque and its worshipers must work on holy days. As aliens, most cannot vote.

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