Italy declares war on underground mosques citing terrorist threat

© Tony Gentile
The Italian government is to crack down on illegal mosques due to fears they could be used as breeding grounds for terror attacks. The secret places of worship have been set up due to difficulties in obtaining proper permits, report critics.

Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano made the announcement on Friday, adding that there are four mosques and over 800 places of worship for Muslims living in Italy.

"We are going to close the clandestine and unregulated places, not to hamper the religion but so that it can be practiced in places which are in order," he stated, as cited by AFP.

Alfano said that the influence of so-called “garage Islam” has posed a terrorist risk, referring to unregistered mosques. However, critics say that underground places of worship are thriving because of a lack of official mosques in the country. The shortage, they say, is because it is often difficult to bypass the necessary paperwork to set up the religious buildings.

The interior minister’s comments come after Italy said it would spend €1 billion ($1.06 billion) on extra security measures, following the Paris terror attacks on November 13.

The Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced that €500 million ($529 million) will be spent on ramping up cybersecurity and modernizing the police force, while a further €500 million will go to the country’s armed forces.

"Nowhere in the world enjoys zero risk – this has been demonstrated by the dramatic timeline of terrorism from 2001 to today," Alfano said, according to AFP. He also mentioned that preventative measures and intelligence-gathering in Italy had prevailed.

Italy’s Muslim community has also stated that it needs to do more to unite against the terrorist threat that the country is facing. Elzir Ezzedin, Florence's imam and head of Italy's Muslim Union, spoke to Italy’s branch of The Local, saying that Italian Muslims are also fearful and full of rage following the deadly Paris attacks

“Our duty as men of faith, as citizens, as human beings, is to be united. In this historic moment we must come together to condemn terrorism and overcome fear, we must not give victory to terrorism. Fear is natural but we must work together to go forward and have courage,” he said.

"The aim of terrorists is to create a barrier between Muslims and other members of the community, so it is up to us to defeat this by building bridges, building a dialogue and not letting terrorists shut us off from each other,” Ezzedin added.