Wednesday, 17 September 2014 - 18:46
Ambassador warns of ISIS threat for Pope Francis' Albania visit
As the 77-year-old pontiff prepares to travel to Albania on Sunday for a one-day visit, Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See said there were credible threats against the pontiff’s life.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church could also be vulnerable when he travels to Turkey in November, the ambassador said.
Jihadists from ISIS have in recent weeks boasted of wanting to extend their caliphate to Rome, the heart of Western Christendom, and have talked of planting the jihadist black flag on top of St Peter’s Basilica.
Habeeb Al Sadr said there were also indications of a more specific threat against Pope Francis, who recently spoke out in favour of the US and its allies halting the advance of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
“I believe they could try to kill him during one of his overseas trips or even in Rome. There are members of ISIS who are not Arabs but Canadian, American, French, British, also Italians.
“ISIS could engage any of these to commit a terrorist attack in Europe.”
The ambassador said the Pope had made himself a target by speaking out against the human rights abuses committed against Christians in Syria and Iraq, as well as by his approval of attempts by the US to try to roll back ISIS.
Meanwhile, the Vatican downplayed the warning, saying that it had received no credible reports of a threat to the Pope’s life and that he would not be changing his daily routine or reviewing his trip to Albania.
“There are no specific threats or risks that would change the Pope’s behaviour or the way the trip is organised,” said Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.
During the Pope’s trip to Tirana, the Albanian capital, on Sunday, he will celebrate Mass in the city’s main square and drive around in his open-topped Popemobile, as usual, Father Lombardi said.
The Pope wanted there to be “no obstacles” between him and the ordinary people he will encounter.
No extra security measures would be taken for the Albania trip, despite previous warnings that Albanian jihadists who had returned home from fighting in Syria or Iraq might be planning an attack.
Vatican security officials are “calm” ahead of the one-day visit, the Rev Lombardi said.
The trip to Albania is intended to celebrate the rebirth of Christianity after religious belief was crushed under the Communist rule of Enver Hoxha, and to demonstrate how Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims live in harmony in the country of three million people.