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Italy and Vatican on guard after threat from Islamic State

A view of St Peter's Square from the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.
View down Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Photo courtesy of Jimmy Harris via Flickr

View down Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

ROME (RNS) The Italian government is on high alert after threats from the Islamic State called Italy “the nation signed with the blood of the cross.”

Italy is one of a handful of major Western counties that has not been victim of a large-scale terror assault since the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

Italian officials fear extremists could enter the country amid the growing tide of refugees arriving by boat from North Africa. About 500 extra troops have been stationed to guard symbolic targets in Rome and monitor the streets of the capital for suspicious activity.

The video threat, released with images of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt who were beheaded this month, warned that Islamic State forces were “south of Rome,” in Libya. At its closest point, Libya is little more than 100 miles from the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

This comes four months after the Islamic State’s propaganda magazine Dabiq ran a cover photo of the militant group’s flag flying above the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican with the headline: “The failed crusade.”

“The risks are real,” said Sabrina Magris, president of the International University School of Rome and Florence, the only European institution that prepares negotiators for hostage and terror threats. “The goal may be an actual attack of some kind or simply using threats to create an atmosphere of fear. But the risks shouldn’t be underestimated.”

The Vatican has made no official comment about being a potential target for the Islamic State, or other extremist groups, and Pope Francis resists many security measures, delving into crowds whenever possible.

At Sunday’s Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, extra security was evident. Police patrolled the area and were stationed around the Vatican’s perimeter.

The people on hand said they didn’t mind.

“It’s a dangerous world, and the pope and the Vatican have a very high profile,” said Karen Phifer, 44, a teacher from Philadelphia spending a year in Italy while on sabbatical. “Every step that can be taken to protect them should be taken.”

Italy responded to the latest threats by boarding up its embassy in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi warned extremists not to provoke Italy and threatened military action.

Within days of his initial remarks, Renzi backed away from warning of any unilateral action and called for the international community to intervene against the Islamic State in Libya.

“The last thing Italy and Renzi need right now is a foreign policy crisis,” said Sebastiano Sali, an Italian doctoral candidate with the War Studies Department at King’s College in London.

Massimo Blanco from the National Association of Public and Private Security Experts called the Islamic State’s threats against Italy and the Vatican a kind of “psychological war” that may be having its intended effect.

“I still don’t think the Islamic world is a high enough priority for Europe and Italy,” Blanco said.

Italians say they are aware of the threats, but fear is not having an impact on their daily lives.

Alessandro Tivoli, 29, a tour guide, said, “You can’t live your whole life in fear.”

Some Italians have used social media to fight the threats with humor by using the Twitter hashtag “#We_are_coming_o_Rome” to suggest specific restaurants or sites for the would-be invaders and to predict the militants would be brought to their knees by Italian bureaucracy or oppressive traffic.

“You have to laugh,” said Raffaelle Caruso, 78, a retired technician. “It helps prevent you from being frightened.”


About the author

Eric J. Lyman


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  • Don’t worry, Mr. Tivoli, Italian tour guide, who said “You can’t live your whole life in fear.”

    You, and the rest of us on this planet soon won’t have to worry about fear any longer when God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44) puts an end to ALL wicked ones on the planet (Isaiah 11:4; Psalm 37:10,11).

    There will be no reason for fear or pain any more since all these terrible people and conditions we now deal with will be things of the past (Revelation 21:3-4).

  • Yes. If the vatican is taken, then the person taking it controls the world. Who owns the crown of the world ?

  • Westerners have been hoodwinked by bogus histories like one that calls the conquest and subjugation of Spain by Moslems the “ornament of the world.” When the truth is Islam repeatedly and regularly tried to conquer Europe until it was defeated at Tours in France (after overrunning Spain) and defeated later in Vienna and at the naval battle of Lepanto. But all the media does is attack the Crusades and ignore all the times Islam tried to conquer “Rome.” (Europe) I venture to say most reporters covering these issues have never heard of the battles of Tours, Lepanto,or Vienna that saved Europe.

  • AMEN, Deacon! The naval Battle of Lepanto alone should open the eyes of the media “experts.”

  • Deacon,

    “Hoodwinked by bogus histories..”

    Excuse me?

    All religions demand death to the enemy.
    “Execute my enemies in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    You cannot blame Muslim Militants for simply following their Faith:
    “Slay the infidel wherever you find him” – ALLAH (Surah 9:2)

    Why they are wrong? They have no evidence
    for their imaginary God either.

    Religion is just pretending your secret friend is bigger than the other person’s secret friend:

    “I shall kill her children with death” – JESUS (Rev. 2:23)

    Right, Jesus.
    But only if you can find some humans to actually do it for you! (Luke 19:27)

  • Fran is more than correct. When Babylon the Great (the world empire of false religion) is destroyed, God’s Kingdom will replace these current governments and the wicked will be no more as the scriptures put it.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses delivered this tract (see link) about 8 years ago to the doorsteps of many people around the world. It was a warning about false religion and to GET OUT OF HER so you do not share with her in her sins and receive part of her plagues: Revelation 18:4

  • Actually, Jesus warned of religions that would appear as sheep, but would really be ravenous wolves. Indeed, FALSE RELIGION has bad ideas and they aren’t based upon the Bible. Since you’ve seen such hypocrisy in religion, I can understand why you’d be atheist. Take note of what Jesus warned:

    “Be on the watch for the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s covering,+ but inside they are ravenous wolves. 16 By their fruits you will recognize them. Never do people gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they? 17 Likewise, every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit.+ Matthew 7:15-17

  • Poor Max. Same tired treadmill of atheistic rants. It took him 44 years to believe there is no God? That’s a lot of wasted energy, especially when God exists despite his “research”.

  • Really I don’t see how any Christians think criticizing Muslim Spain is justifiable. You’re just opening yourselves up for discussing Christian Spain.

    Have… have you read about what Christian Spain was like?! Have you heard of the pogroms against Muslims and Jews. Or about this thing called the Spanish Inquisition??

    Comparably, the Sephardic Jews who were the religious minority of Spain in both instances called living under Muslim rule their “Golden Age”… whereas under Christian rule they were given the choice to become Catholic or die.

  • “God exists”

    Which one? Allah or Yahweh?

    And if they are basically the same God
    are you ready to worship Allah when the Islamic Caliphate wins this nightmarish game?

  • @Sarah Tipton:

    “Take note of what Jesus warned”

    The evidence indicates he is a literary character in a book of fiction.
    Should I similarly tell you to look out for the big bad wolf before he huffs and he puffs and blows your house down?

    These are childish fictions from the bronze age and people take them literally as if they are true.

    Islam is doing the same thing and it will destroy the world for no reason.
    Jesus isn’t there and neither is Allah. I can’t prove it so I don’t say it is impossible – but it is my opinion that all of these gods are probably not real.

  • Stephen,

    You make my point for me. You are the religious mind.

    And the Religious mind is Fascist:
    “Shut up – you are sick to disagree with old stories – off with your head!”

    Okay, ISIS.
    But it won’t work with me.

    I reject your stories as the most dangerous fiction and your religious ‘rules’ which stem from these stories are destructive to freedom of speech, decency, science, empathy and civilization.

  • Jay,

    This is a time to get some backbone and stand up to religious bullies – not to cower in a cave.

    Civilization must continue. And it is within our grasp.
    But if you decide that magic sky fairies have already concluded there is nothing we can do, you are good for nothing to those of us who would like to see humanity survive.

    Religion poisons everything.

  • “They got machine guns! I thought the Swiss Guards only carried halberds”
    -Sterling Archer

    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

  • I hope people have enough common sense to realize the primary victims of ISIS and those who will be ultimately responsible rolling them back will be fellow Muslims. We are not going to get anywhere by demonizing all people of that faith. The majority population of Libya bitterly opposes these Islamicists, but its tough to do much when the country is still in disarray from the recent civil war. The situation demands intervention. The Libyans are demanding our help here.

  • Sarah-Jehovah witnesses are a/the false religion because they say there
    is no hell and teach that He/Jesus was created/ many other false things.
    If the person continues in a/the false religion of being a Jehovah witness
    they will be eternally condemned to hell is what the Bible teaches so the
    people who deny Jesus as God/being part of a/the Trinity/Godhead are
    denying the Truth and are calling God a liar by sayin Jesus was created
    and saying there is no hell. Jesus was not created and a/the Bible clearly
    says in Matthew 25:46 hell is an eternal punishment and to be even more
    clear Matthew 13:42 says hell is weeping and gnashing of teeth! A person
    who weeps and gnashes their teeth is not sleeping but alive in hell as the
    spirit is seperate from a/the body as it says in Ecclesiastes 12:7 and also
    Emmanuel means God with us so Jesus was God with us as part of a/the
    Trinity/Godhead. The term Godhead is in the Bible a few times and the
    first born over creation refers to His rank not that Jesus was a created
    being. People become very stubborn/are proud/have pride/do not want
    to admit they are wrong/which is what has happened to many,many today.

    Jesus said before Abraham I AM which shows that the birth of Jesus was
    a miracle not a creation because He said He was alive before Abraham.
    Luke 13 says we are known by our fruit and that fruit is of Repentance
    not good works because many non-believers do good works so a good
    work/the good works don’t save plus two guys were next to Jesus on the
    Cross and only one guy went to heaven because only one guy Repented
    and he didn’t have time to do any good works so to get saved we have to
    Repent/have a change of heart about our sin then put our trust in Jesus!
    Bible says Repent and believe the Gospel to be saved! We must Repent!

  • Larry,

    “The situation demands intervention.”

    I’m not convinced of what sort of intervention, if any, would be effective.
    These are fast moving developments.

  • Libya is easier to deal with than Syria. The Libyan government wants outside help and there is the precedent of NATO airstrikes being used over there when Qaddafy was in power.

    Syria is a much messier situation. The Syrian government hates us, the Turks don’t want us helping out the only group making progress against them and Iran is itching to get involved.

  • Mr Lyman – get out your atlas. The closest distance between Libya and Sicily is 400 miles, not less than 100 as you stated. The closest distance between Libya and Sardinia is 500 miles. The closest Italian territory to Libya is the tiny, isolated island of Lampedusa, in the middle of the strait between Sicily and Tunisia, but that is still over 200 miles from Libya.