Interior Ministry says more expulsions will follow (ANSA) - Turin, September 7 - As protests mounted on Wednesday over the sudden expulsion of a controversial Muslim preacher, press reports said the Interior Ministry was preparing to deport more alleged 'preachers of hate' .
Bouriqi Bouchta, the self-proclaimed imam of the northern city of Turin, was taken by police from his family home in the early hours of Tuesday morning and put on a flight back to his home country of Morocco .
It subsequently emerged that Italy had expelled another northern preacher, Litayem Amor Ben Chedli, earlier this month .
Italian newspapers reported on Wednesday that at least two other expulsions were planned and that up to 20 allegedly extremist Muslim preachers were on the Interior Ministry's list of potential deportees .
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry said that "the ministry offices are examining the position of other foreign citizens with a view to the possible adoption of similar measures." It said the expulsions were in line with new emergency anti-terrorism norms, approved after the July terrorist attacks in London and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt .
The statement said Bouchta and Chedli had been expelled from Italy "for reasons of public order and security" .
It said the decision to deport Bouchta had been taken after "thorough inquiries" by anti-terrorism officers and accused the imam, who was once accused of defending Osama bin Laden, of representing a "danger to state security" .
Italy's anti-terrorism decree, approved last month, simplifies expulsion procedures for foreign nationals considered a terror risk or believed to be involved in aiding terrorist organisations or activities .
Bouchta had been living in Turin since 1986. The 40-year-old father of three, who ran a popular butcher's shop in the heart of Turin's mult-ethnic neighbourhood Porta Palazzo, had long been accused of radicalism .
He won notoriety in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States with controversial comments about al-Qaeda leader bin Laden .
He then came under fire for condemning the subsequent US-led invasion of Afghanistan, and demanding that Muslim women be allowed to appear in ID photographs wearing their veils .
He has also been under investigation for suspected links with extremist groups operating out of Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt but has never been formally charged with wrongdoing .
The Northern League, a populist party in the centre-right government which is often viewed as anti-immigrant, was one of the imam's fiercest critics and made frequent calls for his expulsion .
The League and Bouchta recently crossed swords after the party promoted Italian screenings of Submission, a controversial short film about abuse of Muslim women whose director, Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh, was murdered by an Islamist .
According to press reports, Bouchta threatened "bombs" against anyone who watched van Gogh's film .
But members of Italy's Muslim community claimed that Bouchta was a moderate leader who promoted dialogue between Muslims and Christians .
They cited his active support last year for demonstrations in Italy aimed at obtaining the release of three Italian men held hostage in Iraq .
Bouchta's family told reporters of their concern for the imam, whom they have not heard from since he was taken away by the police. Bouchta's brother Abdrahmane said that "nobody has called us to tell us where Bouriqi is. They are treating us like criminals and persecuting a person just because of his views. That isn't the way to beat fear." Some supporters of the imam said they planned to hold a protest against his deportation in Turin on Saturday .
Several members of the centre-left opposition also condemned the Interior Minsistry's actions and demanded a parliamentary inquiry .
Green MP Paolo Cento said that "Bouchta's expulsion and the way it was carried out... are against human dignity and rights and do nothing to help the fight against terrorism." "If (Interior Minister Giuseppe) Pisanu intends to continue such acts against people who have not been charged with a single crime then the only sure consequence will be an increase in internal and international tensions," he said .
But the Northern League and the rightist National Alliance praised the expulsion measures, arguing that they showed the government's anti-terrorism decree was "an effective tool against the preachers of hate" .
Tunisian national Ben Chedli, the treasurer and deputy head of an Islamic cultural association in Como, was deported last week to Tunisia. He was accused of recruiting Muslim militants and radicalism .
Ben Chedli's name surfaced last February in press reports linking him to a suspected al-Qaeda cell based in Turin and another imam, Fall Mamour, who was expelled in November 2003 .
Senegalese Mamour, who had been living in the small town of Carmagnola near Turin, also had ties with Bouchta and once told the press that he was a "follower" of bin Laden to whom he was "bound by a blood pact" .
An Italian court later ruled that Mamour had been "illegally" deported .
The regional court in Lazio ruled in December 2004 that Mamour had been wrongly expelled because his comments represented personal views only .
Last year, Italy expelled three other imams, an Algerian living in Rome, a Moroccan living in Varese and a Tunisian living in Como .