Europe getting rid of extremist Muslim clerics

France has expelled recently two Muslim leaders and plans to extradite eight others as Italian authorities deported eight Palestinian imams.

Shaken by new terrorism on European soil, authorities have stepped up a policy of deporting Islamic clerics accused of whipping up hatred and violence in vulnerable, disenfranchised pockets of the continent's mostly moderate Muslim community.

Several European countries enacted expulsion policies since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, saying legislation was needed to ensure public order and security.

After four near-simultaneous blasts in London that killed 56 people and injured hundreds, application of those laws has become more robust - and authorities have given various reasons for sending away radicals.

Some were ousted for immigration paper violations; others for suspected ties to terror groups or for spouting calls for holy war. In one French case, an imam who was ordered to quit the country in 1999 was belatedly sent packing after he turned up in the southeastern city of Lyon.

Moderate Muslim leaders, concerned about a possible backlash against Muslims in Europe, vow to monitor new expulsions to prevent abuses.

"The bombings in London very much shocked public opinion in Europe," Paris mosque director Dalil Boubakeur, a moderate who also heads the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said in a phone interview. "It's completely normal for a government to be strong and apply the law. What we are asking is that it is simply just."

Most Muslims oppose "self-proclaimed imams" who discuss politics, but "expulsions are the solution when there are no other solutions. It's extreme," he added. "They feel it is going to aggravate even more this sort of discrimination, the finger-pointing, at a community ... We have already seen desecrations (of religious sites) and insults."

Authorities are pressing ahead anyway

Counterterrorism teams and police are under orders to increase surveillance of suspected radicals by staking out mosques or secret prayer halls, monitoring mobile-phone traffic and deploying hundreds more video surveillance cameras in suspected extremist hotbeds.

On Tuesday, Italy expelled eight Islamic fundamentalist preachers _ all Palestinians _ who were found riding in two trucks near the central town of Perugia, Italian news agency ANSA reported. They were expelled because they didn't have any papers allowing them to live or work in Italy, the report said.

German authorities recently ordered several Islamic radicals to leave the country, including Abdelghani Mzoudi, a Moroccan acquitted on charges of aiding the Sept. 11 hijackers. He left Germany on June 21.

French police expelled two imams in the past two weeks, and will deport eight others by month's end, said Interior Ministry spokesman Franck Louvrier in a phone interview.

Abdelhamid Aissaoui, an Algerian imam convicted in 1999 for playing a role in an attempted attack on a high-speed TGV train, was deported on July 23.

Aissaoui, 41, had been sentenced to four years behind bars and ordered to leave France. But authorities recently found him working as a part-time imam in southeastern Lyon. It was not clear if he had ever left France.

On Friday, authorities shipped 35-year-old Reda Ameuroud home to Algeria for exhorting fellow Muslims to wage holy war in speeches at a mosque in Paris.

A French law passed last year permits the expulsion of noncitizens for inciting "discrimination, hatred or violence" against any group. Five Islamic clerics were deported in 2004.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy wasted little time after the London bombings, vowing "a wide-scale action of early detection" and expulsions of anyone who violates the law.

Pascal Mailhos, head of France's police intelligence agency Renseignements Generaux, told Le Monde newspaper last month that about 20 French mosques are run by radical Islamic groups. He said about 1,600 prayer halls in the country are being watched.

Over the years, Britain has been hesitant to expel people who could face torture, mistreatment or the death penalty in their home countries. But London is planning new anti-terror legislation by the end of the year which will outlaw "indirect incitement" of terrorism - targeting extremist Islamic clerics who glorify acts of terrorism. The government is also examining its power to deport such clerics, the AP reports.

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