In an interview with the Italian police monthly, Polizia Moderna, Commander Domenico Giani of the Vatican police said that having discussed the matter with Italian and foreign colleagues, he believes a “threat exists” against the Pope, although he added he was “unaware” of specific plans to “attack the Vatican or the Holy Father.”
He said the level of attention to security is “constantly high” but “always appropriate to the circumstances.” Giani, who heads a 130-strong force whose overall duty is to protect Vatican City State, added that the threats not only come from ISIS but also those acting alone. “They are more dangerous because they’re unpredictable,” he said.
Last month, Commander Christoph Graf of the Pontifical Swiss Guard — the military corps exclusively charged with protecting the Pope — said they were on high alert. “We are ready to intervene,” Graf told the Italian daily Il Giornale Feb. 18. “Our job is security, and as gendarmes, we are well organized. We are ready if anything happens.”
Their comments follow news that ISIS now has a presence in Libya, just 300 miles from the coast of Sicily. Many immigrants try to reach Italy from the North African country.
Last month, the Islamists kidnapped and then beheaded 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians on a beach in the Libyan city of Sirte. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’ self-proclaimed leader, has vowed to lead a conquest of Rome, although it’s not clear if he means the city or the West more generally.
In January, former Palestinian terrorist Khaled Ibrahim Mahmoud warned
that any attack by ISIS on the Vatican would be a “huge mistake” as it would isolate the Islamists and cut off their funding.
Giani, 52, said Pope Francis is well aware of the risks, but “is not compromising the style of his pontificate, based on closeness to the people, that is, on personal contact with the greatest number of people possible.” Francis, he added, “does not want to lose touch with his flock” and his only concern is “for the faithful.”
Since Giani was appointed commander in 2006, the Vatican police force has joined Interpol and increased exchange of information with intelligence services of other countries. He said many Islamic countries provide not only “valuable information” but also express their “esteem and admiration” for the Pope. “I can say that today, the Pope is seen and respected by Islam as the most influential moral authority in the world,” he said.
Meanwhile, a report by Italy’s security services says that Italy is a “potential target” for terrorist attacks because it is “symbolically the epicenter of Christianity.” The report was presented to the Italian parliament last Friday. But like Vatican security, it said they have received no details of “plans or activities” to suggest an attack, although “surveillance remains high.”
An increased number of checkpoints have appeared in various locations in Rome and close to the Vatican in recent weeks.
The report adds that about 50 Italians are among the 15,500 foreign fighters recruited by ISIS. Their support is both “physical and monetary”, the report says. Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said checks have been “intensified” because “it’s clear that no one can underestimate any lead.”
He also said he has found no link between immigration and the presence of terrorists in Italy, but security services will continue to look into to any possible connections.
Thousands of immigrants try to reach Italy and Europe by boat from North Africa each year, and many are held in detention centers on the Italian island of Lampedusa. Italian premier Matteo Renzi recently dismissed the migrant threat, saying, “Terrorists do not come on rafts.”