Italy Approves Wide-Ranging Anti-Terror Plan

The Italian government authorizes anti-terrorism measures that give police the power to detain suspects for 24 hours without charge, to take DNA samples and to rapidly expel suspects from Italy.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

In the wake of this month's London bombings, the Italian government speedily approved a set of measures to fight terrorism. The attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh have further heightened alarm in Italy, a country which is also seen as a likely terrorist target. And as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome, ministers are taking threats made by an al-Qaeda-linked group seriously.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

It's Saturday at Rome's Campo de' Fiori outdoor marketplace, where tourists mingle with Romans to admire the fresh summer produce.

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POGGIOLI: A Gypsy band wanders through the vegetable stands, but business is not good. The crowd is thinner than usual, and there's a palpable mood of anxiety. Shopper Genaro de Dominici(ph) is pleased the government has finally taken action after weeks of squabbling.

Mr. GENARO DE DOMINICI (Shopper): (Through Translator) The measures were necessary. We are living in a climate of tension. Nobody feels safe. There is already ...(unintelligible) 'cause many people are afraid to take the subway. We have all these open borders in Europe. So many people arrive here without any controls. We have to protect ourselves.

POGGIOLI: De Dominici says he's well aware that the great majority of Muslim immigrants in Italy feels as threatened as Italians do. But another shopper, Clementina Pruetti(ph), is not so tolerant.

Ms. CLEMENTINA PRUETTI (Shopper): (Through Translator) Here, all those Muslims act like they own the place. I'm convinced that in a few years, we'll be the servants and they will become the bosses.

POGGIOLI: The Italian government was faced with a difficult balancing act to try to avoid this kind of polarization. In illustrating the measures on Friday, Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu stressed that Italy does not consider itself at war.

Mr. GIUSEPPE PISANU (Interior Minister, Italy): (Through Translator) This is not emergency legislation. We followed a policy of making already existing laws clear, more cogent and more effective in combating terrorism.

POGGIOLI: The measures will make it easier for police to deport suspects, improve e-mail and mobile phone surveillance, make it possible for police to detain suspects without charges for 24 rather than 12 hours and be able to take DNA samples from suspects who refuse to cooperate. The government has also drafted a bill that would create an anti-terrorism superprosecutor, similar to an already existing anti-Mafia superprosecutor, with overall command of all investigations. Stefano Dambruoso, one of Italy's leading counterterrorism prosecutors, says that for years, European countries believed the Islamic terror threat came from abroad.

Mr. STEFANO DAMBRUOSO (Attorney): (Through Translator) Now we have to acknowledge that followers of the al-Qaeda ideology are here among us, and we must be aware that we will have to live with this threat for a long time.

POGGIOLI: Italian officials claim the immigration situation here is different from the rest of Europe. They stress that Muslims arrived in Italy more recently, there are no large urban ghettos like in France, Germany and Britain, and Muslims are spread throughout the country. Journalist Guido Limpo(ph) is an expert on Islamic terrorism.

Mr. GUIDO LIMPO (Expert on Islamic Terrorism): (Through Translator) In Italy, the danger is different because we don't have large Muslim communities. We don't have a third generation, or at least the third generation is not so big and not so radicalized. But the danger exists and it's very concrete.

POGGIOLI: During the Balkan wars of the '90s, Italy became the key departure point for hundreds of mujaheddin fighters to Bosnia. Many fighters settled here, and now Italy is a global crossroads of jihadi networks, providing logistical support particularly false IDs. Italian investigators warn that these cells could shift quickly from logistics to full-fledged terrorist action. In this light, counterterrorism prosecutor Stefano Dambruoso believes the government's new measures are lacking.

Mr. DAMBRUOSO: (Through Translator) If we want to confront these transnational threat of Islamic terrorism, we have to get used to sacrificing some freedoms for security.

POGGIOLI: Only then, Dambruoso says, will Italy be on a par with France, Britain and Spain. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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