- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

PARIS — Western European countries are tightening their laws to facilitate the expulsion of Islamist extremists, a response to court rulings overturning several high-profile deportation orders.

In France, an imam expelled for publicly advocating violence against women won a court ruling last month that allowed him to return.

“Under the cover of religion, individuals present on our soil have been using extremist language and issuing calls for violence. These are statements that favor the installation of terrorist movements on French territory,” French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin said recently.

“It’s necessary therefore to oppose this together and by all available means,” he said.

The French government is drafting legislation that would allow for the expulsion of foreigners who spread hate and racism through speech.

Moves to tighten immigration laws come amid efforts by several European countries to avert attacks similar to the March 11 train bombings in Spain that killed 191 persons.

Yesterday, a manhunt spread over three countries — Spain, Italy and Belgium — resulted in the arrest of at least 17 persons, including an Egyptian thought to be involved in the Madrid bombings.

At present, no legal mechanism exists in France allowing for people to be expelled for what they say. Also, expulsions are determined by the Interior Ministry, not the courts. So although the government believes that extremist speeches are connected to terrorism, without hard evidence, the courts can rule only that there is no link.

“We have to be very clear on the grounds under which we can expel somebody,” said Olivier Roy, a French government consultant and authority on radical Islam.

“Because we are dealing with two conflicting principles — freedom of speech and public order — the rules of the game have to be clear,” he said.

Similarly murky rules are preventing Germany from carrying out expulsions.

A court there ruled last week that a radical Islamic cleric could be extradited to Turkey, where he is wanted in a conspiracy to blow up a memorial with an explosive-laden airplane.

Another court then ruled that the cleric, Metin Kaplan, could stay in Germany for an additional two months pending an appeal.

In an interview published by Der Spiegel last month, German Interior Minister Otto Schily said it should be possible to arrest a terrorist plotter in extreme cases.

“Is there not a right of self-defense against terrorists who plan mass murder?” Mr. Schily asked.

In Spain, the newspaper El Pais reported that the government recently deported two Muslims it deemed threats to national security, applying a new immigration law enacted after the bombings in Madrid.

Although both were legal residents of Spain and have not been accused of any crime, they were indirectly connected to the bombings.

The paper quoted an official as saying, “With March 11, there is a before and an after. What can we do when there is no evidence to charge a person, but all signs are that the person knew of, encouraged or supported terrorist activities?”

Expulsion seems to be the answer for many European Union governments, despite such a move being barred under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The convention prohibits extraditing suspects to countries where they face torture or the death penalty.

In arresting high-profile radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri earlier this month, Britain applied an extradition law that it adopted last year.

Islamic groups oppose efforts to deport Muslim extremists, fearing that it will result in increased discrimination against ordinary Muslims.

“Expulsions only cultivate the idea that Islam is a foreign concept preached by foreigners,” said Lhaj Thami Breze, president of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France.

Mr. Breze instead is proposing that radical imams be handled first by French Islamic organizations that could take appropriate disciplinary measures.

France has stepped up efforts recently to teach the country’s imams, most of whom are foreign-born and do not speak French, to preach a version of Islam that is compatible with French society.

“There are about 1,500 mosques in France, and we need to manage their activities to make sure they are run by qualified people,” said Mahmood Zuhair, director of France’s European Institute of Human Sciences, a Muslim-funded organization.

Efforts to tackle extremism by engaging the Muslim community also are under way in Britain.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, the government plans to provide subsidized training for British imams and require radical preachers to speak good English and pass new “civic engagement tests.”

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