Muslim leaders in Italy take great pains to distance themselves from Adel Smith.
Among other things, he maintains that the U.S. and Israeli secret services were behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the bombings in Madrid, London and Egypt. He also blames them for Italy's years of terror in the 1970s at the hands of the Red Brigades.
He has tried to sue the pope.
"This gentleman doesn't represent anything. Zero. He doesn't have headquarters, he doesn't have a mosque. He has nothing," said Hamza Roberto Piccardo, secretary of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), an umbrella group for the nation's more than 1.1 million Muslims.
Smith has published several books and pamphlets about Islam but does not give lectures or preach at mosques and is not believed to have an extensive following. Yet he has stirred conversation.
"Although he's a bit of a joke, he still could create problems," said Gabriele Marranci, an Italian anthropology professor at the University of Aberdeen in Britain who specializes in Muslim identity in Europe.
"He could create a pool of people that others could fish from -- other people who are trained to train terrorists," Marranci said. "And I think he doesn't see the risk. He's too selfish. What he's doing is facilitating the work of somebody else."
The Interior Ministry says Smith is an Italian citizen without a record and leaves it at that.
Smith lashes out against what he calls systematic anti-Islamic propaganda, predicts Muslims in Europe will end up in concentration camps, and accuses Piccardo's UCOII of betraying the faith for money and government recognition.
The bombings in Britain have provoked a get-tough attitude among European governments, and many Muslims fear they will pay the price. But Smith says he sees no proof Muslims were to blame for the attacks.
"I would be very surprised if there are people who embrace this faith . . . who do these things in the name of religion," he says.
Smith was widely noticed in 2003, when he filed a suit challenging the legality of the crucifixes in his son's elementary school in Ofena, 90 miles northeast of Rome. Though he eventually lost, it was an early thrust in what has become a battle in Europe, concerning whether there should be any religious symbols at all in European classrooms -- crucifixes, turbans, yarmulkes, head scarves.
In May, Smith scored a coup by convincing a judge to order Oriana Fallaci, one of Italy's most famous journalists, to face trial on charges of defaming Islam in her book, "The Strength of Reason." Smith cited a phrase from the book that refers to Islam as "a pool . . . that never purifies."
"It's delirium, but not of a person who is simply mad," Smith said. "It's a delirium that aims at inciting religious hate."
Fallaci, who lives in New York, has defended her right to speak out, saying, "I have expressed my opinion through the written word through my books, that is all." She did not respond to requests for an interview. Smith said a trial date had been set for the spring of 2006.
Smith also sued Pope John Paul II and other church officials last year, saying their claims of Christianity's superiority violated the secular Italian constitution. John Paul died this year, and both Smith and the Vatican said they did not know where the lawsuit stands.
Sitting in his living room in his home in the Appennine hills, Smith said he was merely standing up for Islam.
"I want people to know Islam as it is," Smith said. "Not an Islam that is, let's say, softened by those who want to turn it into a business, and therefore who say things about Islam that are untrue to bring it closer to non-Islamic beliefs."
He says other Muslim groups don't defend their faith in the face of constant attacks.
"It's not true that I'm disliked by all other Muslims, but only by this UCOII," the umbrella group, Smith said. "They feel that we have done what they haven't done, or didn't want to do."
Smith said he was born and raised in Egypt by an Egyptian mother and a Scottish-Italian father, and moved to Italy in his early twenties, converting to Islam in 1987. He lived in Montenegro, then Albania, for about 10 years and ran a printing office. He said he went there to be close to a Muslim community but not too far from Italy. Smith, 45, married an Albanian woman and has three sons.
On Italian TV shows reaching Albania, he began to notice what he described as "anti-Islamic propaganda."
He mentioned Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, the former archbishop of Bologna who made headlines in 2000 when he urged Italy to favor Catholic immigrants over Muslims to "save the nation's identity" from "Islam's ideological attack."
Such statements "really annoyed me, and what annoyed me even more was that those [Muslims] who had associations here were not doing their duty" to defend Islam, he said.
He moved back here and founded the Muslim Union of Italy. He has an office with a staff of six and lives, he said, off savings from the sale of his printing business, occasional donations from supporters and his wife's cheese-making business.
"To unite Muslims under one flag," and "when we're ready, we will participate in the elections."