Security stepped up at Vatican over attack fears

Intercepted conversation between two Arabic speakers referred to “a demonstrative act, Wednesday'.

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ROME // Security has been tightened in Saint Peter’s Square after intelligence services intercepted a possible plan to attack the Vatican.

A foreign security service alerted Italy this week after intercepting a conversation between two Arabic speakers that referred to “a demonstrative act, Wednesday, at the Vatican”, Il Messaggero reported on Saturday.

Wednesday is the day Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience in the square in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Checks by Italy’s counterterrorism unit revealed that one of the speakers passed through the country eight months ago, heightening concerns the threat may be real.

Earlier warnings that ISIL may be plotting to attack the pope have been shrugged off by the Vatican, but security has nonetheless been increased for his Wednesday and Sunday audiences, the paper said.

The Repubblica daily said officers with sniffer dogs trained in seeking out explosives were helping Vatican police check tourists, while hotels in the area were also being kept under surveillance.

The news came a day before Francis’s trip to Albania, where the pontiff is expected to mingle with the crowds as usual despite reports of possible danger from ISIL recruits returning from the Middle East to the country.

Some worry the pope has made himself a target by speaking out against ISIL and having the Holy See voice support for US airstrikes in Iraq.

In an interview with Italy’s La Nazione daily this week, Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See, Habib Al Sadr, said “what has been declared by the self-declared Islamic State is clear. They want to kill the pope. The threats against the pope are credible.”

The Vatican played down the warning, saying security measures for the trip would remain unchanged.

* Agence France-Presse