Tags: Al-Qaida | Pope Francis | Religion | War on Terrorism | Italy | Vatican | arrests

Terrorism Experts: Italian Arrests Broaden War on Christians by Jihadists

By    |   Friday, 24 April 2015 06:24 PM

The arrests of 10 people in Italy Friday linked to an al-Qaida plot to attack the Vatican and other cities represented a widening of the battle Islamic jihadists are waging against Christians around the world, terrorism experts said.

"What disturbs me is the target, the Vatican," intelligence analyst Bob Baer told CNN. "We're seeing a radicalization of Islam that I haven't seen before.

"The Vatican is not a participant in any of the wars in the Middle East. There's no justification that we can understand why they're at war with the Vatican."

Noting the recent beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians by Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists in Libya, Baer told Wolf Blitzer, "things seem to be getting worse rather than better."

Idaho Sen. James Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Blitzer earlier that the arrests of the Pakistanis and Afghans in early morning raids by Italian authorities "shouldn't surprise anyone. We're probably going to see more of this in the future."

Based on the jihadist propaganda on the Internet, "it's both Christians and the Jewish populations they are targeting," Risch said. "There is good reason to believe that these radicals ... will continue to target Christian people.

"They're going to continue to do it," the senator said.

Italian police said they were looking for eight others linked to the terror plots, which also were planned for sites in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The 10 were arrested after authorities raided the home of the group's suspected leader in Bergamo, which is northeast of Milan.

Their arrests were captured on video. Based on wiretaps over seven years, police investigations determined that two of those arrested are suspected of being part of a group that had protected al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden — whom U.S. special forces killed in his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011, Italian police said.

The wiretaps also showed that the Vatican attack was planned for March 2010 as part of "a big jihad in Italy," said Mario Carta, head of the police unit on the case. They reference the word "baba," which could mean the Pope, Carta said.

Pope Benedict XVI was serving at the time. He was succeeded in March 2013 by Pope Francis.

"We don't have proof, we have strong suspicion," that Pope Benedict was a possible target, Carta said. In recent years, the group "realized that we were watching their movements," he said, and that may have been why the attack was never carried out.

The wiretaps also revealed the presence in Rome of a Pakistani man "described as a kamikaze," Mura said — someone who "was destined for martyrdom," The New York Times reports.

The attacks may also have targeted the huge crowds who gather at St. Peter’s Square twice a week to hear the Pope speak, Mura said.

"Kamikaze, crowded place, these are the clues," he said, according to the Times.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said that the issue was in the past and that Friday's disclosures were not a matter for concern.

However, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said: "We are all afraid because we don't know what can happen."

Italy and other European countries have been on heightened alert for terrorist activity in the wake of the January attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo at its offices in downtown Paris.

European capitals are particularly worried about possible "sleeper" militants, apparently living normal lives in their countries, who may eventually be activated to stage attacks at home or abroad.

"This is really serious," Risch told Blitzer on CNN. "This is coming out of Europe.

"Europe is much different than the U.S. in a lot of ways — not the least of which it's a much softer target, easily penetrated," he added. "There are large groups of radical people that are moved into Europe and can move in and out of there fairly easily."

According to Italian police, the group supported the "armed struggle against the West," and wanted to incite a popular uprising against the Pakistani government so it would stop supporting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The United States has pulled out most of its forces from Afghanistan, though a small number remains for training and special operations. Washington is also carrying out drone strikes on Taliban militants.

Some of those under investigation were believed to be involved in attacks that have already occurred in Pakistan, including one that killed more than 100 people in a market in the northwestern frontier city of Peshawar in 2009, according to police.

The group arranged for Pakistanis and Afghans to get into Italy on work contracts or as refugees seeking asylum and later sent some to cities in northern Europe, the authorities said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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The arrests of 10 people in Italy Friday linked to an al-Qaida plot to attack the Vatican and other cities represented a widening of the battle Islamic jihadists are waging against Christians around the world, terrorism experts said.
Italy, Vatican, arrests, al-Qaida, Pope, terrorists, Pakistan, Afghanistan
Friday, 24 April 2015 06:24 PM
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