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Italy arrests 6 for stirring hate vs pope

The Associated Press
Friday, February 25, 2011; 8:10 AM

ROME -- Italian police on Friday arrested six Moroccan men suspected of inciting hatred against Pope Benedict XVI for converting a Muslim journalist in Italy to Catholicism.

Stefano Fonsi, head of Brescia police's anti-terrorism squad in northern Italy, said the suspects allegedly banded together and met privately with the goal of stirring up religious hatred against non-Muslims, including the pope.

Investigators say they found literature exhorting Muslim immigrants against integrating into Italian society and saying the pope should be punished for having baptized the journalist during an Easter vigil ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica.

The investigation grew out of security checks ahead of a pastoral visit by Benedict to Brescia in 2009, but authorities insisted that their probe revealed no plot against the pontiff or other terrorism aims.

Brescia Prosecutors Fabio Salmone said there was "absolutely no" indication that the group had attacks in mind. "I rule that out," he told reporters. "There wasn't even a plan" to organize attacks, he said.

In 2008, Egyptian-born journalist Magdi Allam angered some Muslims by becoming a Catholic. After being baptized, he changed his name to Magdi Cristiano Allam. He had built a career in Italy as a newspaper commentator and author attacking Islamic extremism and supporting Israel.

(This version CORRECTS Updates with quotes from prosecutor, corrects spelling from Fonzi to Fonsi. Adds background.)

© 2011 The Associated Press