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Security officials confirm terror fears at Vatican

Vatican officials are downplaying reports that American officials have warned about a possible terrorist attack against the Pope during Holy Week next week.

Several Italian media outlets have reported that the CIA urged Pope John Paul II to wear a bullet-proof vest for his public appearances during Holy Week and Easter Sunday. That report was originally attributed to the Adnkronos news service, which aired the story on Tuesday.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls denied that there are any special security fears within the Vatican.

"There is absolutely not cause for alarm," he told reporters. Navarro-Valls went on to remind the press that as a matter of policy, the Vatican does not comment on the security arrangements surrounding the Pope.

American and European security officials agree that the Vatican could be a terrorist target. They also agree that the danger of terrorist attack will be particularly high on Easter Sunday. This year, Easter falls on 11 April, and two recent terrorist attacks have fallen on the 11th day of the month: the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US and the 11 March bombings in Madrid this year. Also, the symbolic value of a strike is particularly high this year, because in a highly unusual alignment, the Catholic and Orthodox worlds will be celebrating Easter on the same day, while for Jews the Passover falls into the same time frame.

Despite speculation about a possible terrorist attack, Pope John Paul II arrived for yesterday's audience in an open-topped popemobile. Vatican officials confirmed that the Holy Father was not wearing a bullet-proof vest.

Meanwhile Cardinal Camillo Ruini has said the Western world should find ways to combat terrorism without provoking a confrontation with the entire Islamic world.

Cardinal Ruini is the vicar for Rome Diocese and president of the Italian bishops' conference. He was speaking with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. Cardinal Ruini has been outspoken in his support for efforts to combat terrorism. He told the newspaper that while it is wrong to encourage hatred and violence, "one should not run away, either".

Security officials confirm terror fears at Vatican (Catholic World News 31/3/04)
Papal audience on Revelation, seven seals (Catholic World News 31/3/04)
Fight terror, not Islam, Italian prelate urges (Catholic World News 29/3/04)

Heightened security at Vatican (CathNews 18/3/04)
Pope entrusts terror-stricken world to Virgin Mary (CathNews 25/3/04)
Tight security for Mother Teresa's beatification (CathNews 17/10/03)
Vatican security adviser warns Pope could be Osama bin Laden's next target (CathNews 27/11/01)
Vatican steps up security as war on terrorism continues (CathNews 12/11/01)
Vatican police use priestly disguise to improve security (CathNews 12/10/01)

32 Apr 2004