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Vatican steps up security as war on terrorism continues

There are new fears in Italy that terrorists could attack symbolic monuments in Rome, including St Peter's Basilica, during the Christmas holidays.

The Tablet reports that a government minister hinted at the need to increase the 4000 soldiers currently employed to monitor possible targets in the country.

The alarm was raised earlier this month after Osama bin Laden specifically named Italy (along with France and Britain) as enemies of Islamic nations, following American acceptance of the offer by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to supply troops and military hardware for action in Afghanistan.

The extraordinary security measures that were part of the vast gatherings of last year's Jubilee celebrations have returned to the Vatican. Metal detectors are once again in position between the colonnades of St Peter's Square, and plainclothes police patrol the surrounding area.

Vatican officials privately play down the fears of a terrorist attack, pointing out that Pope John Paul II and the Church are not an 'enemy' of Muslims. As proof, they cite the Holy See's traditional defence of the Palestinian people, its strong criticism of the United States-led Alliance during the Gulf War, its continuing opposition to the Iraqi embargo and its efforts to build coalitions with the Islamic countries at recent United Nations summits.

The Tablet