U.S. Embassy in Rome faced terror threat


ROME, Jan. 9 (JTA) – The U.S. Embassy in Rome has reopened under heightened security after being shut for three days following what officials called a “very specific” terrorist threat.

Security was visibly tighter outside the embassy when it opened again Monday with a new fence and reinforced security checks in place.

Security was also beefed up at Rome’s main airport, with flights to and from the United States and the Middle East under particular scrutiny.

American military bases around Italy were also reported on heightened alert, and security was increased at U.S. consulates and other institutions in several cities.

The embassy, located in a sprawling mansion on Rome’s famous Via Veneto, was closed last Friday morning without prior notice. Its 300 employees were sent home with little explanation.

American sources cited a “very specific threat” and “an indication of a potential terrorist attack” but gave no details.

Italian newspapers, however, headlined unconfirmed reports that a suicide bomber was planning to blow up the embassy.

There was speculation the threat came from an Algerian commando unit linked to Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden.

Jury selection began in New York last week for the trial of four men charged with conspiring with bin Laden in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. At least 263 people, including 12 Americans, were killed in the bombings, which left about 5,000 wounded.

In a statement issued after the embassy reopened Monday, Thomas Foglietta, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, said the “security posture at the U.S. Embassy is much improved.”

He said the decision to close the embassy had been “the appropriate action” to take.

The embassy, he said, would continue to work closely with Italian authorities on improving security and also would “continue to be vigilant against terrorism.”

Rome was the scene of a spate of Arab terrorist attacks in the 1970s and 1980s.

They included an attack on Rome’s main synagogue in 1982 and bloody attacks at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport in 1974 and 1985.

Recommended from JTA