29 January 2015, The Tablet

Vatican downplays warning of Islamic State attack

The Pope has warned there are “shadows and dangers” hovering over mankind, as the Vatican faces new threats from Islamic State (IS) militants.

In his annual greeting to his public security team this week, Francis said the safety officials were “stewards” with a vital job to do guarding the“heart” of Christianity.

He said: “We have just started a new year, and many are our expectations and our hopes. On the horizon we see shadows and dangers that threaten all of humanity.” He told the security team they had the task of guarding places “that have great importance for the faith and for the life of millions of pilgrims”.

“I pray that everyone can feel safe thanks to your presence and care,” the Pope said.

In the same week Francis insisted that the need to keep channels of communication with Islam open was “greater than ever”.

Listening to other faiths was a necessary condition for peaceful coexistence, he told the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies.

While we should not fall into the “trap” of accommodating all the beliefs of other faiths, he said, the existence of the 50-year-old institute shows how the Church had long ago understood the need for “dedicated research and training for dialogue with Muslims”. It is a need that we feel “perhaps now more than ever”, he said, adding that the most effective antidote against any form of violence is education that helps us “to discover and accept our differences”.

Earlier this week IS reiterated its threats to the Vatican. In an audio message, IS “spokesman” Abu Muhammad al Adnani said: “Soon this crusading campaign will be defeated, with Allah’s power and strength. Then we will meet in Jerusalem and the next appointment is in Rome.”

He called on supporters of the Islamist fanatics to carry out attacks in western countries including France, Canada and Australia.

The group previously published a mock-up of the black IS flag flying over St Peter’s Square, an image that appeared on the front page of their propaganda magazine Dabiq.

Earlier this month American intelligence sources warned that the Vatican could be the next IS target.

Bild am Sonntag, a German newspaper, reported that telephone conversations between IS leaders, intercepted by the US National Security Agency, indicated that four units of “commando” terrorists were preparing to infiltrate Europe on boatloads of refugees.

Israeli TV station Channel 1 said American intelligence officials had warned the Holy See of the possibility of an attack.

Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See, Habeeb Al Sadr has previously warned that the Pope is one of the prime IS targets.

Italian and Vatican authorities have downplayed all the reports, saying they had received no concrete information about an imminent attack against either the Pope or the Vatican.

Despite the increasing risks, Francis frequently gives his security brief cause for concern, wading into crowds and refusing to travel in an armoured vehicle during visits abroad.

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