Campaigners in Tuscany are fighting against a plan to build a mosque a few hundred yards from the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
They are concerned that it is too close to the stone tower, one of Italy’s best known tourist attractions, and fear that it could become a centre for radicalisation of local Muslims, of whom there are around 600.
The building of the mosque in Via del Brennero has been provisionally approved by Pisa’s centre-Left council but campaigners are gathering signatures for a petition calling for a local referendum on the issue.
If granted, it would be the first time an Italian city held a referendum on the building of a new mosque.
There has been trenchant opposition in other cities, including Milan in the north of the country, to the construction of Islamic places of worship.
“According to a recent poll, 57 per cent of Pisans are against the mosque,” said Gianluca Gambini, a local politician with Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-Right Forza Italia party, who is leading the campaign. “It’s not just that it would be built in the wrong location, just 400 metres from the Leaning Tower, but also because people know that mosques are places where there is a risk of radicalisation.”
Opponents are also suspicious of the provenance of the €4.5 million in funding for the project.
Magdi Cristiano Allam, a prominent Egyptian-born politician and a convert to Catholicism, said the mosque was being built by the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, which “is ideologically linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, the radical Islamic movement.”
The mayor of Pisa defended the project, saying there was no reason why the mosque should not be built.
Blocking it would be in contravention of freedom of worship, which is enshrined in the Italian constitution, said Marco Filippeschi. The row over the mosque comes just days after authorities ordered the expulsion of a Tunisian man who they suspected of planning an attack on the Leaning Tower.
Bilel Chiahoui, 26, was arrested last week after posting messages on social media praising the extremists behind recent jihadist attacks in Europe and divulging plans to attack the monument.
There is growing concern in Italy that the country could be the target of an Islamist terrorist attack of the kind seen in France and Belgium.
Italian intelligence officials fear that Islamic State fighters who are in retreat from their former stronghold of Sirte, on the Libyan coast,could try to mix with migrants and cross in smugglers’ boats to Italy.
One of Italy’s most recognisable landmarks, the Leaning Tower shares Pisa’s Campo dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles, with the Duomo and Baptistry.
They were built during Pisa’s heyday, between the 11th and 13th centuries, when the city was one of the Mediterranean’s most formidable maritime powers. Construction of the eight-storey tower, which tilts dramatically from the vertical, was begun in 1173.