Italian police arrested four suspected Islamic State agents Thursday tasked with attacking Rome and the Vatican.
Police intercepted communications between ISIS and one of the four suspects, which ordered a series of attacks centered on Rome, according to Italian prosecutor Maurizio Romanelli. Potential targets included the Israeli embassy and Catholic pilgrims going to Rome to celebrate the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis.
Italian police also issued warrants for a Moroccan man and his Italian wife who left Italy last year for ISIS territory and whose current whereabouts are unknown.
The arrests show that ISIS is continuing to plot major attacks in Western Europe using radicalized individuals already present there. Despite being a major transit point for migrants arriving from Africa, Italy has avoided suffering a major terrorist attack like those that hit Paris, Brussels, Madrid, and London in the years since 9/11. Italian police have repeatedly disrupted terrorist efforts before they came to fruition. Just last month, police in southern Italy arrested a Somali imam and asylum seeker who was believed to be plotting his own attack on Rome.
The attacks had not reached the material preparation stage yet, authorities said, but the fighters were already in place and willing to proceed.
“This is a new profile, because it was not a generic indication, but an indication given to a specific person who was invited to act within the territory of the Italian state,” Romanelli said, according to the Associated Press.
“I swear I will be the first to attack them in this Italy of crusaders, I swear I’ll attack it, in the Vatican God willing,” one of the suspects said in a phone transcript included in the arrest warrant and obtained by Reuters.
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