VENICE, Italy (AP) — Security officials from Europe’s largest countries backed a plan Saturday to profile mosques on the continent and identify radical Islamic clerics who raise the threat of homegrown terrorism.
The project, to be finished by the fall, will focus on the roles of imams, their training, their ability to speak in the local language and their sources of funding, EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini told a news conference after a meeting on terrorism.
Italian Interior Minister Guiliano Amato said Europe had extensive experience with the “misuse of mosques, which instead of being places of worship are used for other ends.
“This is bringing about a situation that involves all of our countries and involves the possibility of attacks and developing of networks that use one country to prepare an attack in another,” Amato said.
The transit attacks in Madrid and London — along with several thwarted terror plots — have raised concerns across Europe about the susceptibility of disaffected young Muslims to the messages of extremist clerics.
British police have said the bombers in the July 2005 London suicide attacks listened to the sermons of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a radical cleric who was sentenced last year to seven years in prison for inciting followers to kill non-Muslims.
Britain also recently ordered the deportation of a Jordanian-born cleric, Abu Qatada, accusing him of links to terrorism and being a threat to national security. Abu Qatada is appealing.
Adel Smith, a well-known Muslim activist in Italy, said mosques in Italy are already extensively monitored and called the EU plan discriminatory.
“I think this is nonsense, I think mosques have been well monitored for some years,” he said in a telephone interview. “It is a form of religious discrimination.”
Frattini emphasized the need of deeper dialogue with the Islamic communities “to avoid sending messages that incite hate and violence.”
Separately, the security officials from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland also pledged to work with African nations to interrupt a new cocaine route from Colombia across Africa into Europe.
“They have created bases in Europe and we need to have our counter-bases,” Amato said, noting that the Spaniards have seen an influx of cocaine in the south and east of their country coming from beyond the traditional Atlantic route.
The officials proposed setting up drug-fighting bases in Portugal to monitor smuggling by sea and in Gibraltar to watch land routes.