Europe

Italy investigators say Vatican link in 'al-Qaeda' arrests

A general view shows Pope Francis addressing the crowd from the window of the apostolic palace overlooking St Peter's square Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police said they did not have proof but "strong" suspicion there had been a plot to target the Vatican

Suspected extremists being investigated in Italy over links to al-Qaeda may have been planning an attack on the Vatican in 2010, prosecutors say.

A militant ring was found to be operating in Sardinia, and there had been possible plans to target the Holy See, according to investigators.

The Vatican has downplayed the significance of the claims.

Some of the suspects are believed to have organised the 2009 market bombing in Peshawar in Pakistan.

Local media said two of the men had provided protection for former al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

Wiretaps

Police issued 20 warrants and made nine arrests in raids on Friday.

Prosecutor Mauro Mura told a press conference in Cagliari, Sardinia, that wiretaps indicated the suspected terrorists had been planning a bomb attack at the Vatican in March 2010.

There had been "signals of some preparation for a possible attack", including the arrival of a suicide bomber in Rome, the Associated Press quoted Mr Mura as saying.

"We don't have proof, we have strong suspicion," police chief Mario Carta said.

But Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi issued a statement saying: "From what it appears, this concerns a hypothesis that dates from 2010 which didn't occur.

"It has therefore no relevance today and no reason for particular concern."

Police earlier said those arrested came from Pakistan and Afghanistan and the operation was ongoing.

The suspects were accused of staging attacks against the government in Pakistan.

More than 100 people were killed when a huge car bomb ripped through a busy market in Peshawar, Pakistan, in October 2009.

The Italian militant ring was also said to be engaged in trafficking illegal migrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Europe, providing them with false documents.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano praised the operation, which started in 2009, saying it had not only dismantled a "network of people traffickers" but detained also several individuals accused of conspiring with "terrorists".

"Our system works," he said.

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