The decision by an Italian judge to drop charges of terrorism against five North Africans accused of recruiting suicide bombers in Iraq has sparked outrage and incredulity in Italy. The justice minister has ordered an inquiry into how the sentence was reached and politicians across the political divide expressed concern that terrorists can now hope for impunity in Italy.
Members of Italy's ruling center-right government and opposition politicians expressed shock and outrage at the decision by a judge in Milan to acquit a group of North Africans accused of international terrorism.
Judge Clementina Forleo said there was no evidence the men were planning terror attacks and ruled they should be acquitted of the charge of international terrorism.
The five Muslim suspects, four Tunisians and a Moroccan, had been accused of sending funds and recruiting militants to send to training camps in Iraq to be used in suicide attacks or as fighters against US-led forces in the country.
Judge Forleo said her decision was based on the 1999 United Nations Global Terrorism Act in which guerrilla activities in war zones cannot be punished unless they breach humanitarian rights or are aimed at creating terror in the civilian population.
But the ruling was criticized by top anti-terrorism magistrate Stefano Dambruoso, who was responsible for the Milan investigations into Islamic fundamentalism between 2001 and 2003.
Mr. Dambruoso said that convention was never approved by the United Nations. He added that personally he found it "very difficult to make a clear distinction between guerrilla and terrorist activity."
He added that suicide bombing methods must always be considered a form of terrorism in all parts of the world.
Shocked by the ruling, Italy's Justice Minister Roberto Castelli announced that he would dispatch inspectors to seek clarification about how the decision was reached.
A consolidated law allows the minister to intervene when a magistrate appears not to have enforced the law. And in this particular case, Mr. Castelli added, the suspicion that this has occurred exists.
Similarly, other members of the governing coalition could not believe the judge's decision. Lower house speaker Pierferdinando Casini said the judge's ruling was "truly incredible".
All sentences must be respected, said Mr. Casini, but we will need to see if lawmakers need to adjust the legal framework because otherwise there is the risk of the extraordinary work of the security forces all going up in smoke.
Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said the sentence would create a precedent allowing terrorists to walk around freely in Italy. He added that it would mean they could only be arrested if caught red-handed which in the case of suicide bombers would be too late. And former foreign minister Franco Frattini said Italy is at risk of becoming an area of free circulation for terrorists.
Members of the center-left opposition were also surprised at the ruling.
We can respect the autonomy of magistrates but this does not mean that we must accept their rulings. In this case, said Clemente Mastella, of one of the opposition parties, the ruling appears without question unacceptable.
Judge Forleo has remained unfazed by the attacks saying she enforced the law and added that her conscience was clear.
The defense team hailed the judge's decision saying the ruling was proof that Italy is a free country where proof and evidence is used to back accusations and not just theories and mere suspicions. But the prosecuting team has made clear it would appeal the ruling.