We reported on the increased security at the Vatican a few weeks back.
Italian police hunting Osama Bin Laden’s former bodyguards and 16 other Pakistani extremists reveal Al Qaeda militants plotted terror attack on the Vatican
- Ongoing terror raids have largely focused on the Italian island of Sardinia
- Jihadis are suspected of plotting attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan
- Two of them are thought to have previously worked for late Al Qaeda leader
- Investigators have also linked terror cell to planned attack on the Vatican
- Suicide bomber arrived in Rome in 2010 but mysteriously left shortly after
Islamic extremists suspected of killing more than 100 people by bombing a Pakistani market also planned an attack against the Vatican in 2010 that was never carried out, Italian prosecutors say.
Wiretaps collected as part of investigation into an Islamic terror network operating in Italy gave ‘signals of some preparation for a possible attack’ in the Vatican City, Mauro Mura revealed.
That included the arrival of a suicide bomber in Rome. He eventually left Italy without taking part in any acts of terrorism, Mura told a news conference in Cagliari, Sardinia. The prosecutor added that it wasn’t clear what had prompted the militant’s decision to abandon the attack.
The revelation came as Italian police said they are hunting 18 suspected extremists, including two purported bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, accused of staging attacks in Pakistan aimed at stopping that government’s actions against the Taliban.
At the time of the suspected plot to bomb the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI was still reeling from the effects in the Muslim world of a 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as ‘evil and inhuman,’ particularly ‘his command to spread by the sword the faith.’
While relations with the Muslim world were eventually repaired, tensions flared again in 2011 when Cairo’s al-Azhar institute, the pre-eminent theological school of Sunni Islam, suspended interfaith talks with the Vatican after Benedict called for greater protections for Egypt’s minority Christians.
More recently, Italian officials have made clear they take seriously the threat of the Islamic State group to conquer Rome and the seat of Christianity.
Security has been beefed up at the Vatican and the head of the Swiss Guards has said they are ready but that they have no information about an imminent threat.
Pope Francis himself has said he realizes he may be a target but that he fears mostly for the innocent crowds who come to see him every time he’s in public.
Threatened: Wiretaps collected as part of investigation into an Islamic terror network operating in Italy gave ‘signals of some preparation for a possible attack’ in the Vatican (pictured)
Keeping guard: Italian police officers are seen inside on routine patrol inside the Vatican city
The investigation was launched in 2005, but Mura said it was slowed when news of the investigation leaked to the media, alerting the suspects that they were being watched.
Authorities said some of the suspects sought in the probe were responsible for ‘numerous bloody acts of terrorism in Pakistan,’ including the October 2009 explosion in a market in Peshawar in which more than 100 people died.
Islamic extremist: The suspects include two men thought to have worked for the late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (pictured)
Telephone wiretaps indicated that two of the suspects were part of a network of people who protected bin Laden in Pakistan, a police statement said.
Police said the aim of the terror network was to create an insurrection against the Pakistani government.
This morning Italy revealed it is conducting a ‘vast anti-terrorism’ operation to arrest members of an armed Al Qaeda-inspired group that were ready to carry out attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
An ongoing series of raids largely focussing on the autonomous island of Sardinia is targeting 18 people, including two purported bodyguards for bin Laden, investigators said.
Some of those being tracked by police have been arrested in Italy – including an imam suspected of being the group’s spiritual leader – but others are believed to have already fled abroad.
The group had ‘an abundant amount of weapons and numerous faithful willing to carry out acts of terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan before returning to Italy,’ Italian investigators police said.
All the suspects are Pakistanis or Afghans, police official Mario Carta said, confirming the operation is still in progress.
European governments are increasingly worried about the threat of ‘sleeper’ militants apparently living normal lies in their countries but who are then activated to stage attacks at home or abroad.
Location: Ongoing raids largely focussing on the autonomous island of Sardinia (pictured) is targeting 18 members of an Al Qaeda-inspired group suspected of plotting attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan
Police wiretaps had determined that two people among the 18 targeted by arrest warrants were suspected of being part of a group that had protected Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces at his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011.
The investigation, carried out by Italy’s anti-terrorism DIGOS police branch, led to the arrest of an Imam in the northern city of Bergamo.
He was suspected of being the spiritual leader of the group and had collected funds purportedly for religious purposes from Pakistanis and Afghans in Italy, police said.
The group supported the ‘armed struggle against the West’, and wanted to incite a popular uprising against the Pakistani government so it would stop its backing of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The United States has withdrawn most of its forces from Afghanistan.
Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 by U.S. special forces at his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (pictured)
However, a relatively small number remains for training and special operations, while Washington is also carrying out drone strikes on Taliban militants.
The money was sent to Pakistan by members of the group who managed to avoid currency control regulations.
In one case, €55,268 was carried to Pakistan on a flight from Rome to Islamabad.
But police said much of the money was moved through the trust-based transfer system known as hawala, which pre-dates the time of the Prophet Mohammed.
Hawala is the banking system of choice in Afghanistan’s cash-based economy.
Some of those under investigation were believed to be involved in attacks in Pakistan, including one that killed more than 100 people in a market in the northwestern frontier city of Peshawar in 2009.
Most of the warrants centred on the Italian island of Sardinia, but the operation covered a total of seven Italian provinces, the statement said.
The organisation arranged for Pakistanis and Afghans to get into Italy under work contracts or as refugees seeking asylum and later sent some to cities in northern Europe, police said.