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Italy Cracks Down on Islamic Hard-Liners

Italy is cracking down on Islamic hard-liners living in the country who may pose a threat to national security. A Moroccan born imam has been deported after living for nearly 20 years in Turin and authorities say they are considering further expulsions.

Forty-year-old Bourki Bouchta, the self-proclaimed imam of the northern Italian city of Turin, was deemed a threat to the security of the state. He had been living in Italy since 1986 with his wife and three children and ran a popular butcher's shop in the city's Arabic neighborhood.

The expulsion of Mr. Bouchta was the latest in the Italian government's crackdown aimed at ensuring security against possible attacks by Islamic fundamentalists.

Italian authorities want to make clear they will no longer tolerate anyone in the country who may cause any disturbance to public order and have said 20 cases similar to that of Mr Bouchta are being reviewed. Following the July attacks in London, the government in Italy approved new measures to make expulsions easier.

Italian police officers went to the home of the Moroccan-born preacher at dawn Tuesday and asked him to follow them with his papers. He was later deported.

Mr Bouchta had been known for his radical views and there had been frequent calls for his expulsion. He first made headlines in Italy in 1999, when he led thousands of Muslims in Turin in a march to demand that women be allowed to wear veils in photos for official identity documents.

Following the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, he expressed views supporting Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization and publicly condemned the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. The imam was also vocal about his opposition to the Iraq war and reportedly led a small group of activists to Baghdad in January 2003.

According to an Italian intelligence report, some believe the imam may have had a role in the 2003 bombings in Casablanca. The report also stated that he was seen as ideologically close to Egyptian Sunni radicals.

A prominent Muslim prayer center in Milan, which itself has been under the spotlight for alleged links to Islamic terrorist suspects, expressed concern at the decision to deport Mr. Bouchta.

Abdel Hamid Shaari, President of the Viale Jenner Islamic cultural institute, says the expulsion was surprising and caused sadness because for many years they had collaborated with Mr. Bouchta and had professional ties. He conceded an Italian law has been applied and this must be respected.

But he also expressed concern that he, too, may be required to leave. Mr. Shaari said that at this stage anybody could be expelled because there are no defenses against such measures

In 2003, Italy deported imam Abdul Qadir Fall Mamour back to his native Senegal. He too was branded a national security threat after preaching his support for Osama bin-Laden. Mr. Bouchta, at the time voiced his opposition to the expulsion.

Last year Italy expelled three other imams: an Algerian living in Rome, a Moroccan living in Varese and a Tunisian living in Como. And Italian authorities have also confirmed that Tunisian-born Litayem Amor Ben Chedli, deputy-president of the Islamic culture association in Como, was expelled from Italy last week.