Don't Shout Allahu Akbar in Venice or You'll Get Shot, Says Mayor

Venice Canal
Venice is a confusing city, as marathoners discovered this weekend. Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty

An Italian mayor has caused controversy after saying that anyone who shouts "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great" in Arabic, in the main square of the northern city of Venice, will be shot on the spot.

Luigi Brugnaro, a right-wing politician, was speaking about extremism at a conference in the city of Rimini. He said that Venice was a safer place than Barcelona, with greater security measures in place.

Brugnaro was referring to the van attack and two other incidents that left 15 people dead in Barcelona and the wider Catalonia region last Thursday.

"In contrast with Barcelona, where they had not set up protection, we keep our guard up. If someone shouts Allahu Akbar while running through St Mark's Square, we'll shoot them," Brugnaro said. "A year ago, I said [they'd be shot] after four steps, now I'm saying it would happen after three."

He further emphasized his point in Venetian, uttering the words "Ghe Sparemo," or "we will shoot him."

As an example, he mentioned the arrest in March of four suspected jihadis from the Balkans who plotted a bomb attack on Venice's famous Rialto Bridge.

"In Venice, we arrested four terrorists who wanted to blow up the Rialto Bridge, saying they wanted to go to Allah. But we'll send them straight to Allah before they can do any damage."

Radical Islamists regularly use the phrase and do so before or after an attack to point to a religious justification of their actions.

The mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, a center-leftist politician, shouted "Allahu Akbar" at Brugnaro after his speech to mock him. But he later apologized if the joke had caused any offense.

"It was not my intention to offend anybody, least of all the Muslim community. I did not intend to joke about their religion, nor evoke the tragic events of recent days," he wrote on Facebook.

But unlike Nardella, Venice's mayor stood by his comments. "I have never been politically correct, I am incorrect," he said.

Unlike the majority of its fellow western European nations, Italy has managed to avoid a radical Islamist attack. It has instead served as one of the hubs of the migrant crisis, which has given rise to fears among security services that jihadis from Libya could blend in with those making the arduous journey across the Mediterranean.

Italy has foiled several ISIS plots, including one cell that planned to attack the Israeli embassy in Rome and the Vatican. It was an Italian police officer who shot the Berlin truck attacker dead, after a three-day manhunt for Tunisian national Anis Amri across Europe.

In its propaganda output, ISIS has regularly threatened to conquer Rome and attack the Vatican, the center of the Catholic church.

Venice hosts a premier film festival every year under heightened security because of fears of an extremist attack. The next festival begins on August 30 and lasts until September 8.