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Verdict on 5 Islamic militants shocks Italy

An Italian judge’s decision to drop terrorism charges against five Islamic militants prompted indignation and outrage among government politicians on Tuesday as the country buried its latest soldier killed in Iraq.
/ Source: Reuters

An Italian judge’s decision to drop terrorism charges against five Islamic militants prompted indignation and outrage among government politicians on Tuesday as the country buried its latest soldier killed in Iraq.

Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said he was “enraged and dumbfounded” at the decision, Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli said it was “stomach turning” and several politicians called on the president to order disciplinary action against the judge.

The judge, Clementina Forleo, ruled there was no evidence the three Tunisians and two Moroccans were involved in anything beyond what might be considered “guerrilla” activities in times of war, and not terrorism.

They had been arrested last year on charges of recruiting suicide bombers for action in Iraq under a law introduced after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks when governments around the world tightened anti-terrorist legislation.

The five are still being held on lesser charges, such as trading forged documents.

Blistering editorials
Forleo’s Monday night ruling effectively stating that in times of war guerrilla activity was not the same terrorism was the main story in all Italian newspapers on Tuesday.

The usually staid La Stampa newspaper of Turin, one of Italy’s most authoritative, ran a blistering editorial with an English-language headline “Clementina Go Home” and blasted the judge for being unpatriotic.

“A judge who drops terrorism charges against those who shoot or who would have others shoot at soldiers of the country she is supposed to be serving ... should perhaps earn her salary some other way,” the editorial said.

The La Stampa editorialist chose his verb — shoot — carefully. As politicians were still reacting to Forleo’s ruling, Italy was burying Simone Cola, a 32-year-old solider shot dead by a sniper in Iraq.

State funeral for soldier
The state funeral in a Roman Catholic cathedral south of Rome was attended by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and broadcast live on national television.

Cola was Italy’s 20th serviceman killed in Iraq, where Rome, one of the staunchest supporters of the U.S.-led invasion of the country, has some 3,200 soldiers.

While members of Italy’s opposition parties were mostly muted in their reaction to the ruling, members of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government said it showed that some judges’ rulings were politically motivated.

“Something is not right here,” said Calderoli, the reforms minister. “Either the laws are wrong or the judges are wrong.”

Mario Borghezio, head of the Northern League group at the European Parliament, blasted the judge for “being good enough to benevolently downgrade the followers of Allah from terrorists to harmless guerrillas.”

Even Pier Ferdinando Casini, the speaker of Italy’s parliament who is supposed to be politically above the fray because of his role, branded the ruling “truly incredible.”

Asked about the ruling, a U.S. government official said United Nations resolution obligated member states to take “specific actions” against terrorist organizations.

“Our position is clear,” the official told Reuters. “Anyone who recruits or funds an organization that has attacked the legitimate Iraqi government and civilians can only be considered terrorists.”