Sounds like you can expect things to get a little tighter around the Vatican in coming days. According to a report first published in Italian newspaper Il Tempo, ISIS is targeting Pope Francis, thanks to his support for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and calls to protect the country's persecuted Christian population. It's a frightening notion, and if true, gives some insight into the ambitious attitude of the Islamic militant group — the means necessary to target a sitting Pope are staggering.
If you ask the Vatican about it, however, they'll probably tell you not to worry — according to the Catholic News Agency, a Vatican reverend responded to the report by trying to tamp down any concerns: "There is nothing serious to this. There is no particular concern in the Vatican."
But for the rest of us, who've seen some of the grislier actions ISIS has taken in recent weeks — the execution of American journalist James Foley being the highest-profile — it's understandable there's some concern. In a relatively short period in power, Pope Francis has become very popular, and a lot more palatable to progressive non-Catholics than his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI could have dreamed. In the litany of reported possible ISIS targets, he's probably the biggest.
The original Il Tempo report cited Israeli intelligence officials who warned of a possible threat to the Catholic leader. As Newsweek details, ISIS' alleged rationale for wanting to act against Francis is faith-based. As Pope, Francis is considered "the greatest exponent of the Christian religion,” and a "bearer of false truth" for doing so. This hostility to Christianity is nothing new for ISIS — thousands living in Iraq have reportedly been fleeing under threat of brutal violence.
The Italian government is taking the threat of terrorism by ISIS pretty seriously, even if the Vatican itself wants to minimize any concern around the Pope's safety. The government has issued a terrorism alert, and according to The Daily Beast, interior minister Filippo Bubbico identified the Vatican as well as transit stations, airports and churches as possible targets. As he told Sky News: "ISIS poses an international and European security threat, and we in Italy feel particularly exposed."
Not everyone is necessarily buying the reported threat, however, Newsweek's Nicholas Farrell among them, who claims the group's vision of Italy is less that of a target than of a safe harbor.
... Islamists have not attempted to assassinate the Pope or blow up St Peter's so far because the Islamists regard Italy as a strategic place to launch attacks.
Hopefully, the threat will be absolutely nowhere. The world is dangerous enough, and ISIS concerning enough, without having to worry about the leader of one of the world's most prolific faiths being in their crosshairs.
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