VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican on Monday (Jan. 12) rejected reports that it could be the next target of Islamist terrorists after last week’s deadly attacks in France.
The move came as Pope Francis called for a “unanimous” global response to the self-declared Islamic State as he left on his first official visit to the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
Israeli state TV reported Sunday that U.S. intelligence services had warned the Vatican could be the next terrorist target, as international leaders joined an estimated 2 million people in a massive anti-terrorism rally in Paris.
But the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, on Monday said the Holy See had received no specific threats.
“We are adopting an attitude of caution and attention, but there is no sign of any specific risks,” Lombardi said.
“The Vatican and the pope may be targets, as are naturally all institutions in Italy and the rest of Europe. But it is not opportune to feed a state of particular alarm, because at the moment it is neither justified or well-founded,” he said.
Earlier Monday, the pope addressed diplomats to the Holy See and condemned the “unjust aggression” that Islamists had unleashed against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Syria and Iraq. Once again, he urged Muslim political and religious leaders to condemn any “extremist interpretation of religion” aimed at justifying violence.
The 78-year-old pontiff also warned of the risks posed by what he called “deviant forms of religion” following deadly attacks by Islamist militants in France last week that left 17 people dead as well as three terrorists.
“Losing their freedom, people become enslaved, whether to the latest fads, or to power, money, or even deviant forms of religion,” he said. He blamed the attacks on “a culture of rejection” that leads to alienation and the breakdown of society.
“We see painful evidence of this in the events reported daily in the news, not least the tragic slayings which took place in Paris a few days ago,” he said in his annual speech to the diplomatic corps.
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano and senior Italian police said there was no evidence of a particular threat at the Vatican but stressed that the tiny city state was on high alert, especially following persistent threats from the Islamic State.
Security has also been beefed up in Rome’s Jewish quarter, in front of media outlets and places of worship, and at popular tourist sites across the country.
KRE/AMB END McKENNA