Warnings that the Islamic State organisation may be plotting to attack Pope Francis during his visit to mostly-Muslim Albania on Sunday have been shrugged off by the Vatican.
Despite warnings from Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See that the 77-year-old could be in danger — and reports in the Italian media of new IS recruits returning from the Middle East to Albania — the Vatican said security measures would remain unchanged.
The Argentine pontiff, who habitually throws caution to the winds to mingle with the crowds, will use the same open-topped vehicle he uses in Saint Peter’s Square at a mass in Tirana, the capital of one of Europe’s poorest countries.
Some worry the pope has made himself a target by speaking out against the Islamic State organisation and having the Holy See voice support for U.S. air strikes in Iraq — a rare exception to its policy of peaceful conflict resolution.
“In cases like this, where there is an unjust aggression, then it is licit to halt the aggressor,” he said in an interview last month.
“But I stress ‘halt’. I don’t say bomb, or make war, but rather stop him,” Francis said.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said he knew nothing about any concrete threats to the pope and the Albania trip would go ahead as planned.
“There has been nothing that has lead us to make changes, either to the programme, or to the way in which he travels,” he said.
From Tirana, the pope will go to Fushe-Kruja, 20 kilometres (6.2 miles) away, to visit a centre for orphans and disabled children — a trip he would not be making if there were any concerns over security, authorities in the Albanian capital said.
However, in an interview with Italy’s La Nazione daily this week, Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See, Habib Al Sadr, said “what has been declared by the self-declared Islamic State is clear. They want to kill the pope. The threats against the pope are credible.”
“I believe they could try to kill him during one of his overseas trips or even in Rome. There are members of ISIL who are not Arabs but Canadian, American, French, British, also Italians. ISIL could engage any of these to commit a terrorist attack in Europe,” he said, referring to the Islamic State group.
Italian newspapers also suggested Albanian jihadists who had gone to fight for the IS group in Syria or Iraq might be planning an attack on their return.
The Corriere della Sera daily cited a unidentified source in Tirana, saying: “The jihadists have always claimed that their final objective was Rome. But if Rome comes to Tirana, even for a few hours, that objective becomes even simpler.”