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Ban mosques to curb terrorism: Italian party

Local Imam says Rome does not view Islam as a religion

The anti-immigration Northern League Party of Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni is seeking a moratorium on the building of mosques as a preventative measure to future terrorist attacks.

The demand for blocking mosque building comes as a reaction to the recent arrest of two men suspected for planning attacks in Milan, Italy's northern financial hub.

La Stampa, a local Italian newspaper quoted Maroni on Thursday stating that "Islamist terrorism" runs deep in Italy and must be stamped out.

"These arrests show that Islamist terrorism is entrenched in Italy, and that we must be vigilant," Maroni told the paper.

"Unfortunately it is not easy to distinguish between places of worship and those that recruit terrorists and finance the planning of attacks," he added.

Ally of the conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the Northern League began a motion in the lower house of parliament banning the construction of places of worship for Muslims and cultural centers in Italy.

The motion comes as a preliminary step to curb the increasing number of mosques until parliament passes an official law on their establishment.

Fear of religious minorities

"Mosques are springing up like mushrooms and mayors can do nothing about it because there is no law," Roberto Cota head of the Northern League in the Chamber of Deputies was quoted as saying.

Italy has a growing Muslim population of 1.2 million including immigrants and converts. There are 258 mosques in Italy and 628 Islamic associations according to Imam Muhammed Abdel Fatah from Milan.

Yet such places of worship look nothing like traditional mosques since the Italian government does not allow building them in the traditional shape with domes and minarets. It only certifies places such as town halls or homes as places of worship.

"This is because there is no official acknowledgement of Islam as a religion here. The Ministry of Interior considers Muslim places of worship as cultural centers," Imam Muhammed Abdel Fatah from Milan explained.

The recent arrest of two Moroccan men has strengthened the Northern League's push for a legal ban on mosques. The men are accused of planning attacks on a number of sites: a supermarket in Seregno, north of Milan, a police barracks and an immigration office in Milan.

Mosques are springing up like mushrooms and mayors can do nothing about it because there is no law

Roberto Cota, head of Northern League in Chamber of Deputies

Italy's Muslims respond

But Abu Khalil, imam from the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, is critical of the Party's proposal.

"Mosques are Islamic places of peace for social gathering and prayer. We teach Muslims in Italy to respect the land they live in and its laws. A proposal to ban the building of mosques is unacceptable and goes against the Italian constitution," Abu Khalil told AlArabiya.net.

Asked about the recent arrest of the two Moroccan men, Imam Abu Khalil said to AlArabiya.net that he thinks the media is over exaggerating the case if it intends to use such allegations to shut down Muslim places of worship.

"Even if the allegations happen to be true, a fair government does not punish 1.2 million Muslims because it fears two people," he said.

Mosques are Islamic places of peace for social gathering and prayer. We teach Muslims in Italy to respect the land they live in and its laws.

Abu Khalil, Imam from Islamic Cultural Institute