ROME, April 16 (JTA) – Israeli intelligence officials have warned their Italian counterparts that Islamic extremists may attack the pope or the Vatican to derail the Middle East peace process, according to a Rome newspaper.
Il Messaggero reported that Italian police beefed up security around the Vatican, including placing metal detectors around St. Peter’s Square, in response to the warnings from the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service.
The first big test of the new security measures came Sunday, when scores of thousands of pilgrims jammed St. Peter’s Square and surrounding streets for Pope John Paul II’s celebration of Palm Sunday Mass.
In recent weeks, Italian police had placed numerous airport-style screening devices – including walk-through metal detectors for people and conveyor-belt X-ray machines for bags – between the columns of the colonnade in the square.
Earlier this month, a Vatican spokesman said there had been no specific security threat. He said the measures were being taken because of the huge crowds expected for the Easter season.
He added that Italian police had wanted to install the metal detectors for some time, but the Vatican had resisted.
The year 2000, which marks the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity, is drawing millions of pilgrims to Rome. There had been earlier warnings of possible terrorism before Christmas and New Year’s.
“The fact that the measures are being taken now, and not at the beginning of the Holy Year, is a sign of the alerts received since then,” Il Messaggero reported.
The success of the pope’s recent trip to the Holy Land was apparently one reason for the new warnings, the paper said.
“The pope’s great diplomatic and political success, as well a religious and ecumenical success, is a provocation for those bent on violence,” the paper added.