By David Willey
BBC News, Rome
A bitter row has broken out in Italy over a decision by a Milan judge to dismiss international terrorist charges against five Islamic fundamentalists.
Italy has been a supporter of the US-led war in Iraq
The men, detained in Italy last year, were accused of recruiting guerrillas and suicide bombers to go to Iraq.
But a judge said they could not be prosecuted under new anti-terrorism laws as they were self-styled guerrilla fighters, not terrorists.
Justice Minister Roberto Castelli sent inspectors to examine the ruling.
Alarm bells rang in the justice ministry as soon as the verdict was pronounced on Monday.
The minister has threatened disciplinary action against the judge, Clementina Forleo.
The reaction to her judgement was immediate. Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said the decision gave him the shivers. Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said the judgement was incredible.
His predecessor, Franco Frattini, now deputy president of the European Commission in Brussels, said Italy now risked becoming a free zone for extremists.
The judge herself said she was calm and had only followed her conscience and applied the law. Members of the alleged Islamic cell could not be prosecuted for violent acts or as guerrilla fighters in the context of a war.
"They cannot be classified as terrorists," she said.
A national debate has begun in Italy on the semantic difference between a terrorist and a guerrilla fighter. On one side there is the National Association of Magistrates, who are standing four-square behind their colleague in Milan and defending the independence of the judiciary.
On the other, there are the incredulous politicians who see Italy's anti-terrorist laws, brought in after 11 September 2001, being shot down in flames.
Turin's La Stampa published a front page cartoon showing President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi crying over the coffin of the latest Italian soldier to die in Iraq.
The dead soldier says: "Don't cry Mr President, I was killed by the resistance, not by terrorism."