Italy bans Islamic burqas

Rome, Italy - Italy has banned Islamic burqas under tough terrorism laws that provide two-year jail terms and E2000 ($3200) fines for anyone caught covering their face in a public place.

The counter-terrorism package, passed by Italy's parliament yesterday, doubles the existing penalty for wearing a burqa or chador -- traditional robes worn by Muslim women to cover their faces -- or full-faced helmets or balaclavas in public.

Police can extract DNA samples without a suspect's consent, detain them for 24 hours without a lawyer present, and deport foreigners suspected of terrorism under the new legislation. Soldiers involved in counter-terrorism have been given the same stop-and-search powers.

The changes, approved in a rare show of bipartisanship, came as Italian police arrested a fugitive hunted by British police over the bungled bombing attempt in London on July 21.

"In the course of the investigation, it has been possible to identify a dense network of individuals from the Eritrean and Ethiopian communities in Italy, believed to have helped the fugitive cover his tracks," Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu told the Senate. "We have before us a grave threat that has to be confronted with all the means of prevention and contrast that we have." Italian media yesterday reported that the suspected terrorist, named by British police as Somali-born Hussain Osman, was Hamdi Adus Issac, 27, born in Ethiopia and allegedly granted British citizenship using false Somali documents.

Osman, who reportedly lived in Rome for several years and speaks fluent Italian, is fighting Britain's extradition request via a European arrest warrant. He slipped through Britain's security dragnet last week by catching a train from London's Waterloo station to Paris. He then moved to Milan and Rome, where Italian police arrested him during a raid on a relative's apartment. They had been tracking him by monitoring his mobile phone.

Italy's biggest newspapers reported that Osman had admitted to his Italian police interrogator that he had carried a bomb on to a train in his backpack.

Italy's opposition leader, former European Commission president Romano Prodi, yesterday pledged to withdraw Italy's 3000 troops from Iraq if his centre-left coalition wins elections due by June next year.

"We will withdraw them as a occupying force because our job will be to aid in the reconstruction of Iraq," he said.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- who has said Italy will progressively withdraw its troops starting in September -- accused his rival of putting Italian soldiers' lives at risk by defining them as "occupying".

"He's breaking Western solidarity, justifying and enticing attacks against our troops," Mr Berlusconi said.

Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini accused Mr Prodi of exposing Italy to a terrorist attack.