There are 1 million Muslims living in Italy's largely Catholic population of 57 million. Most Muslims have immigrated to Italy in the last 10 to 20 years, and they primarily have come from Morocco, Albania, and Tunisia. Less than 10 percent hold Italian citizenship.
Most major non-Catholic religions in Italy hold what's called an "intesa" with the government, which entitles their ministers to certain privileges, including the right to preside over events like weddings and funerals. The intesa also acknowledges the religion's holidays. Islam does not yet have an intesa with the Italian government, due to internal divisions and weak political support from the government leaders.
As immigrants continue to enter their country, Italians find themselves concerned about integration and maintaining a national identity. Critics say negative feelings about Muslims were reinforced and encouraged by the tone of political debate amongst politicians and in the media in the aftermath of 9/11. The United Nations Committee Against Racial Discrimination has expressed concern that Italy does not do enough to prevent hate crimes, in part because the government's negative attitude towards Muslims, who have also experienced discrimination in finding housing, getting funding for mosques, and finding a voice in politics.
+ Major Terrorist Plots and Arrests
+ In April 2001, Italian police arrested Essid Sami Ben Khemais, nicknamed "the Saber," and believed to be Al Qaeda's chief European representative. In February 2002, Ben Khemais and three other Tunisians were convicted on charges of selling false identity papers to men traveling to Afghanistan, and of criminal intent to obtain and transport arms, explosives and chemicals. They were sentenced to up to 5 years in jail; the light sentences were due to the fact that Italy did not have an anti-terrorism law prior to 9/11.
+ In February 2002, nine Moroccans were arrested for allegedly plotting to attack the U.S. embassy in Rome, by poisoning the water supply. Police found maps showing the embassy location and 10 pounds of chemicals in the men's apartment building, and after the arrest, they found holes in an underground tunnel connected to the embassy. The men insisted they were innocent and argued the case was driven by fear of terrorism. In April 2004, all nine were acquitted.
+ In November 2003, Abderrazak Mahdjoub, an Algerian suspected of running a cell to recruit suicide bombers to send to Iraq, was arrested in Hamburg, Germany at the request of Italian authorities, who were investigating a smuggling ring with links to Ansar al-Islam, an Islamic militant group based in northern Iraq. He was extradited to Milan in March 2004 and is suspected to stand trial in 2005. Italian police later told the Associated Press that the ring was suspected of having recruited at least 200 fighters destined for Iraq.
+ In June 2004, police in Milan arrested Rabei Osman El Sayed Ahmed, the alleged mastermind of the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004. Ahmed's phone number had been found in the address book of another Madrid suspect, and Italian police placed listening devices in his home and telephone. They listened for two months and heard Ahmed allegedly readying a friend for a suicide mission and boasting of his role in the Madrid bombings. His trial is scheduled to start on Jan. 31, 2006.
+ Rabei Osman El Sayed Ahmed: The Prime Suspect in the Madrid Bombing
Here is a profile of Ahmed from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, one of FRONTLINE's partners in this report.
+ The Surveillance Tapes
Here are excerpts from the Italian police transcripts of phone taps and listening devices placed in Ahmed's apartment.
+ A Rising Tide of Muslims in Italy Puts Pressure on Catholic Culture
Contributor Sophie Arie talks to individual asylum-seekers and Italian citizens to describe the changing social landscape in Catholic-dominated Italy. (Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 10, 2003)
+ Immigrants Keep Islam -- Italian Style
In this profile of young Muslims finding their way amidst the lively Italian culture, Daniel Williams writes about how some Muslims create a "hybrid culture" for themselves: "These people may skip Friday prayers at the local mosque, but they continue to crave sentimental Arab love songs; they may stay away from beaches where string bikinis are common, but they have no problem with the Italian tradition of enjoying a glass of wine." (Washington Post, July 24, 2004)
+ Monitoring Minority Protection in EU Member States: The Situation of Muslims in Italy
According to this 2002 report sponsored by the Open Society Institute, "… public attitudes, media coverage and public discourse concerning Muslims indicate that members of this minority are among the least accepted in society." [Note: The section of this report pertaining to Italy is available in both English and Italian.]
+ Report on Intolerance and Discrimination in Selected EU Member States
According to this September 2004 report from the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, "… Muslims are often seen as 'alien' to Italian society as well as 'potential terrorists' undermining the security of the country."
+ International Religious Freedom Report 2004: Italy
This report details how this largely Catholic country is experiencing some growing pains as it welcomes more and more immigrants from Muslim countries, and the Muslim community itself struggles to organize so that it can receive government recognition.