Italian police have arrested ten alleged Al-Qaeda militants on suspicion of plotting an attack on the Vatican targeting Pope Francis.
The early morning raid on Friday also saw to the arrest of eight other people who are also suspected of belonging to an armed group linked to al-Qaeda who had earlier also plotted attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The arrest came when police officers shoved into the home of the group’s suspected spiritual leader, in the northern city of Bergamo, a police video showed.
Chief prosecutor of the Sardinian city of Cagliari, where the group is based, Mauro Mura, said the group planned an attack on the Vatican in 2010. Although this did not happen, the group continued to operate across Italy after that, he said.
Mura said the alleged Al-Qaeda militants considered a suicide attack in a crowded place in the Vatican, presumably St. Peter’s Square where Pope Francis resides.
He said the group had a large number of weapons and many followers that were willing to launch terrorist attacks.
In the suspects’ conversations tapped by the police in a video, the suspects discuss “a big jihad in Italy,” said Mario Carta, head of the police unit on the case. They uttered the word “baba,” which could mean the pope, Carta said.
Italy, just like other European countries, has been on heightened alert for possible terrorist operations following the January attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.