Italian police arrested nine members of an al-Qaeda group that planned to attack the Vatican with suicide bombers when it raided seven different provinces this week.
The arrests of the group planning to attack the Vatican follow almost a decade of investigation into the Italian terror group whose goal was to help the Taliban overthrow the Pakistani government.
Mario Carta, an Italian police spokesman, told USA Today the arrests of the group planning to attack the Vatican was one of the most important operations ever carried out in Italy.
“They were connected with al-Qaeda at the highest level.”
After a suicide bomber from Pakistan arrived in Rome, and Italian wiretaps showed the group was preparing to attack the Vatican, authorities launched their raids, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Along with plotting to attack the Vatican, the group is also suspected of planning a 2009 bombing of an outdoor market in Pakistan that killed more than 100 people and in organizing attacks on Pakistani police and security forces.
They were also a funding source, raising money to pay for travel costs and weapons used in other terrorist attacks around the world along with smuggling immigrants into Italy. Two group members were part of Bin Laden’s security detail, according to the Chronicle.
The plan to attack the Vatican, the spiritual capital for the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, dates from when Pope Benedict XVI was pontiff and includes a martyr’s vow from a suicide bomber.
The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, however, told the San Francisco Chronicle there was no cause for panic.
“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.”
Security around the Vatican has been increased, and the Swiss Guard said they’re ready to defend the Vatican and the pontiff.
Italian and Vatican City security forces have been on edge since last year when authorities intercepted phone conversations from two Arab’s discussing, “doing something in the Vatican,” according to the Inquisitr.
The Vatican’s most famous resident, Pope Francis, has said he knows he might be a target for militants, but he’s more concerned with the innocents in the crowds around him, Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin told the San Francisco Chronicle.
“We are all exposed and we are all afraid. But the pope is very calm for this, it’s enough to watch him meeting people with great clarity and serenity.”
Italy has largely escaped the terrorist attacks aimed at other European countries, but a video released last year raised security concerns after the Islamic State threatened Italy, according to USA Today.
“We are south of Rome.”
[Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images]