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Twenty-First Century Crusades?
                                                Story 17
  Prediction 1:
Continued tension and backlash against Muslims in Europe.

Imams Facing More Scrutiny in Europe
By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press Writer

PARIS -- Since the deadly terror bombings in London, Italian authorities have deported eight extremist Muslim prayer leaders for not holding the proper residency papers. France has expelled two imams and plans to ship home another eight. And Britain has put many clerics under close watch as the country re-examines its power to deport them.
 

After four near-simultaneous blasts on July 7 in London killed 56 people -- including four suicide-bombers -- and injured hundreds, application of those laws [expulsion policies] has become more robust.


Shaken by new terrorism on European soil, officials have stepped up a policy of deporting Islamic clerics accused of whipping up hatred and violence in vulnerable, disenfranchised pockets of the continent's mostly moderate Muslim community.

Several European countries enacted expulsion policies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, saying legislation was needed to ensure public order and security.

After four near-simultaneous blasts on July 7 in London killed 56 people -- including four suicide-bombers -- and injured hundreds, application of those laws has become more robust.

Some imams were ousted for immigration paper violations, others for suspected ties to terror groups or for spouting calls for holy war, according to authorities. In one French case, an imam who was ordered to quit the country in 1999 was belatedly sent packing after he turned up in the southeastern city of Lyon.

Moderate Islamic leaders, concerned about a possible backlash against Muslims in Europe, vow to monitor new expulsions to prevent abuses of civil liberties.

"The bombings in London very much shocked public opinion in Europe," said Paris mosque director Dalil Boubakeur, a moderate who also heads the French Council of the Muslim Faith. "It's completely normal for a government to be strong and apply the law. What we are asking is that it is simply just."

Most Muslims oppose "self-proclaimed imams" who discuss politics, he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. He called the expulsions extreme and said they could aggravate the situation and lead to more "finger-pointing" and anger aimed at Muslims.

"We have already seen desecrations (of religious sites) and insults," he said.

Authorities are pressing ahead anyway.

Counterterrorism teams and police are under orders to increase surveillance of suspected radicals by staking out mosques or secret prayer halls, monitoring mobile-phone traffic and deploying hundreds more video surveillance cameras in suspected extremist hotbeds.

On Tuesday, Italy expelled eight Islamic fundamentalist preachers -- all Palestinians -- who were found riding in two trucks near the central town of Perugia, Italian news agency ANSA reported. They were expelled because they didn't have papers allowing them to live or work in Italy, the report said.

An intelligence report presented in Italy's parliament Wednesday took to task imams who preach extremist messages. Ten people, mostly North Africans, are on trial in Italy for allegedly belonging to a terror cell based at a mosque in the northern Italian town of Cremona.

German authorities recently ordered several Islamic radicals to leave the country, including Abdelghani Mzoudi, a Moroccan acquitted on charges of aiding the Sept. 11 hijackers. He left Germany on June 21.

Britain, which said it does not deport people if they risk torture or other maltreatment in their home countries, has jailed Egyptian-born cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri for allegedly encouraging the murder of Jews and other non-Muslims. U.S. prosecutors have charged him with trying to set up a terrorist camp in the state of Oregon.

Omar Mahmoud abu Omar, a Palestinian Islamic extremist better known as Abu Qatada, who also lives in Britain, has been sentenced in Jordan in absentia for his alleged role in a series of explosions and terror plots. He is free but under close watch in Britain.

Over the years, Britain has been hesitant to expel people who could face maltreatment abroad. But London is planning anti-terror legislation by year-end that will outlaw any "indirect incitement" of terrorism -- targeting extremist clerics who glorify terror acts. The government is also examining its power to deport such clerics.

"Britain let violent speeches go on too long," acknowledged Boubakeur of the Paris mosque. "Laxity in this area isn't good for anybody."

In France, police expelled two imams in the past two weeks, and will deport eight others by month's end, said Interior Ministry spokesman Franck Louvrier in a phone interview.

Abdelhamid Aissaoui, an Algerian imam convicted in 1999 for playing a role in an attempted attack on a high-speed TGV train, was deported on July 23.

Aissaoui, 41, had been sentenced to four years behind bars and ordered to leave France. But authorities recently found him working as a part-time imam in Lyon. It was not clear if he had ever left France.

On Friday, authorities shipped 35-year-old Reda Ameuroud home to Algeria for exhorting fellow Muslims to wage holy war in speeches at a mosque in Paris.

A French law passed last year permits expulsion of noncitizens for inciting "discrimination, hatred or violence" against any group. Five Islamic clerics were deported in 2004.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy wasted little time after the London bombings, vowing "a wide-scale action of early detection" and expulsions of anyone who violates the law.

Pascal Mailhos, head of France's police intelligence agency Renseignements Generaux, told Le Monde newspaper last month that about 20 French mosques are run by radical Islamic groups. He said about 1,600 prayer halls in the country are being watched.
 

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