On Friday Italian officers organized raids in several provinces in Italy and arrested nine people of Afghan and Pakistani origin suspected of being linked to Al Qaeda.
From evidence police gained through wiretaps they believe this alleged network planned an attack on the Vatican in March 2010. Investigators also linked the arrival of a possible suicide bomber from Afghanistan to Rome to the suspected terror plot against the Vatican.
Several Italian provinces included Cagliari, the capital of the island of Sardinia were where they allegedly based their operations. In early morning raids police burst into the home of the suspects and arrested them. Officials discovered through the wiretaps that two of those arrested had connections with Al Qaeda.
The during their phone conversations the suspects allegedly discussed launching a jihad in Italy and used the word “baba” to refer to the Pope, which led the police to suspect an attack.
Investigators believed that the suspected network the arrested people were part of supplied fake document for migrants and provided logistical and financial support to them. They are also accused of providing money for Al Qaeda attacks in Pakistan. Investigators detected a money transfer around 55.000 euros from Rome to Islamabad.
Chief Prosecutor of Cagliari, Mauro Muro, held a press conference on Friday. He discussed the wiretaps, and said that evidence gained during the investigation signified “preparations for a possible attack [on] the Vatican.”
"The Italian Al Qaeda network had direct contact with Bin Laden,” he said.
While Italian police investigated the suspected network and plots thoroughly, the Vatican attached little importance to the case.
“From what it appears, this concerns a concerns a hypothesis that dates from 2010, which did not occur. It has therefore no relevance today and no reason for particular concern," said The Rev. Federico Lombardi.
According to the wiretaps that the police gathered between 2005 and 2012 some of the suspects had made contact with Osama Bin Laden before his death in 2011. The investigators believe that the same suspects were involved in a Pakistani market bombing in 2009 which caused the deaths of at least 100 civilians. The attacks coincided with the day of Hillary Clinton's visit to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
More recently, Italian officials have been taking a threat made by ISIS to conquer “Rome and the seat of Christianity,” seriously and have increased their anti-terrorism efforts.
Al Qaeda started to operate in Pakistan after Western forces replaced the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001. After that, many fighters fled to the Pakistani border and started to work in small mobilized groups to carry out surprise attacks on military and civilian targets, causing deaths and disruption.