ROME (Reuters) – A well-known Muslim cleric accused by government officials of sympathising with Islamic militants was expelled from Italy on Tuesday after Rome invoked special powers to protect national security.
Moroccan Bouriqi Bouchta was grabbed in a pre-dawn raid on his apartment and flown to Morocco at 10:30 a.m. (0830 GMT). The government said Bouchta was considered to be a “serious disturbance to public order and a danger to national security”.
Bouchta’s family remained in Italy and said they had not been notified as to his whereabouts.
“They came in at three or four in the morning and took him away. Some were in plain clothes, others in uniform,” said Bouchta’s teenage son, who asked not to be named. “He didn’t do anything.”
Bouchta, a longtime resident of Italy, was the owner of a butcher shop in Turin and formerly headed an Islamic cultural centre. He opposed the Iraq war and reportedly led a small group of activists to Baghdad in January 2003. He has denied accusations that he supported Osama bin Laden.
Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli called Bouchta a “preacher of terror” and said his Northern League party had been calling for Bouchta’s expulsion since 2003.
“One must ask oneself what damage he could have caused, from the beginning of 2003 to today,” Calderoli was quoted as saying by ANSA news agency.
An Italian intelligence document, obtained by Reuters, accused Bouchta of being a member of an underground armed Moroccan group “committed to fighting against the Kingdom of Morocco”.
“Some believe Bouchta might have had a role in the May 2003 bombing in Casablanca,” it said, without giving details.
Forty-five people were killed when suicide bombers set off at least five blasts in Casablanca in May, 2003.
The document added that Bouchta was also seen as “ideologically close” to Egytian Sunni radicals.
The Interior Ministry said it was reviewing similar cases which could also result in expulsion, without offering details.
“The ministerial offices are evaluating the positions of other foreign citizens for the eventual adoption of similar measures,” it said.
Italy made it easier to expel terrorism suspects under new measures imposed after the July bombings in London. Italy, like Britain, is a U.S. ally with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the Interior Ministry, contradicting earlier versions from authorities, said that no new powers were needed to carry out the expulsion of Bouchta.
Bouchta was expelled under the same provisions used in 2003 to expel Mamour Fall, the imam of the small northern Italian town of Carmagnola, the ministry said.
Fall was branded a national security threat after preaching his support for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bouchta, at the time, was widely quoted in Italian media opposing Fall’s expulsion.
Speaking with Reuters in Dakar last month, Fall said expelling Islamist clerics deemed to be glorifying terrorism only serves to radicalise them further.
“The policy of expulsion is like a boomerang. It doesn’t work,” the cleric said. “(Western governments) are doing our work for us because those who are expelled are angry. It works in our favour.”
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