Rome, 27 May (AKI) – The Italian government has granted political asylum to a former imam of Milan’s central mosque who was recently jailed on terrorism charges, unnamed sources in the interior ministry have told Adnkronos. Radical preacher Abu Imad was arrested in April after Italy’s top appeals court upheld a previous sentence and jailed him for 44 months.
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Egyptian-born Abu Imad was granted asylum 15 days after the Court of Cassation ruling. An earlier request was turned down.
A member of the Muslim community in Italy’s Lombardy surrounding Milan, Muhammad Rida al-Badri, said Italian authorities had granted asylum to Imam, who is reportedly close to Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, to prevent him being extradited to Egypt as Cairo had requested.
“Abu Imad first asked for political asylum in Italy 17 years ago,” said al-Badri.
“He has now been given political asylum because they want to keep him in jail in Italy for several reasons, and one of these is to avoid any criticism from the European Union that he should be handed over to Egypt.”
Imad led prayers at Milan’s central mosque until early 2009 but had not previously been arrested.
Under Italian law, suspects can remain free until they have completed their appeal, if a judge does not consider they are likely to flee the country or tamper with any evidence against them.
The Court of Cassation on 28 April upheld a previous prison sentence imposed on Imad by a Milan court in December 2007.
The court sentenced Imad to three years and eight months in prison for conspiracy to carry out a terrorist act.
Ten other people were also jailed for the same offence, receiving sentences that varied from two to 10 years, while four others were acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Milan prosecutors had asked for jail terms ranging from four years and six months to 15 years for the defendants.
Imad and his co-defendants had allegedly set up a Salafite cell that was active in Milan and elsewhere in the northern Lombardy region.
The cell’s mission is believed to have been recruiting suicide bombers, trafficking illegal immigrants and indoctrination.
The Viale Jenner mosque has been linked to Islamist terrorism several times but has so far managed to avoid closure, despite a July 2008 order from the government.