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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August 2005, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Italy prepares for new terrorism
Italy has adopted tough new anti-terror laws amid heightened fears that the country - a member of the US-led coalition in Iraq - could be the next target of radical Islamists. The measures include a total ban on the full-face veil, or burqa.

The BBC's David Willey reports on Italy's response to the London bombings, as a suspect arrested in Rome awaits an extradition hearing.

A police officer patrols the street near Milan's Islamic centre
Police patrols have been beefed up since the London attacks
Italians are a tolerant people. Since the days of the Roman Empire they have been welcoming visitors - veiled or unveiled and wearing every possible type of headdress - from all over the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

"I think that everybody should respect everybody," commented one Italian man in Rome.

"If somebody wants to bring the burqa or do whatever they like, as long [as] they don't give problems to other people, they should be free to do what they want."

After last month's London bombings, the Northern League political party - junior partners in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition - used the latest attacks as an excuse for tightening the rules.

It was they who insisted on including new rules on women's dress, which they knew might cause offence to Muslims in the latest package of anti-terrorism measures.

It has been a crime since the days of the Red Brigades and the shootings and bombings of the 1970s to conceal your face in public, so the police cannot identify you easily. And now the penalties have been doubled.

"Here in Italy we are quite used to the terrorist danger because in the 1970s with the Red Brigades, we had many threats," says one woman.

"We all know that there is a security plan, but I think that they would attack wherever they want."

'Completely integrated'

More than a million Muslims now live and work in Italy.

It is a relatively small proportion of the total number of inhabitants in a country with roughly the same population as Britain. But the numbers continue to grow fast.

Mario Scialoja is a retired Italian ambassador to the United Nations who converted to Islam nearly 20 years ago.

Ninety-five per cent of the Muslim community in Italy is composed of immigrants who are not yet Italian citizens
Mario Scialoja, Muslim World League
He now holds a senior post as Italian representative of the Muslim World League.

"Religion has little to do with the hostility against immigrants, against foreigners, against people who are different - intolerance and so on," he says.

"Really Islam let's say can be a factor, but not a very important one. I know Muslims living in Italy of Lebanese origin for example, who are completely integrated."

Mr Scialoja believes there is an urgent need to train local imams who can speak Italian and understand Italy's predominately Christian culture.

"All these so-called imams in the local prayer halls are people belonging to the local community who are just chosen by the local people - among those who know best the Koran, who can deliver a sermon on Friday and so on," he said.

"In many of these prayer halls, the imam on Friday delivers a sermon which is not really what should be desired."

New fears

Yet Islamic fundamentalism has not so far been much of a problem in Italian mosques.

Members of the Muslim community outside the Rome mosque
More than one million Muslims live and work in Italy

"Ninety-five per cent of the Muslim community in Italy is composed of immigrants who are not yet Italian citizens.

"There is a huge political problem. The Italian Muslim community is very recent and is still a kind of crazy quilt of groups of different nationalities which do not talk to each other," Mr Scialoja said.

Foreign tourists I talked to this week using Rome's underground railway seemed unfazed by the risk of possible copycat attacks here.

But they also seemed very much aware that international terrorism respects no frontiers.

"It's wrong but I think somehow I think it was coming," a South African man told me.

"You learn to live with it - it's just part of how the world turns. We learnt to live with it for 56 years - for Europe it's new and maybe it's a wake-up call for them."

"In Australia, where I live, we have really strong restrictions on immigration," another tourist told me.

"Yet at the same time I feel that our government seems to have a better control on what goes on," he added.

There is now a very real threat of attack in Italy, but most Italians have gone off on their summer holidays just as usual and the number of foreigners visiting Rome, Venice and Florence has not visibly diminished.

But the larger than usual number of police patrolling railway stations, airports and public buildings is proof that Italy also is a country on high alert.

Italian anti-terror law enacted
30 Jul 05 |  Europe
Italy expels Muslim 'preachers'
02 Aug 05 |  Europe
Italy's Muslims under pressure
28 Sep 04 |  Europe


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