New details are coming out regarding a terrorist attack planned against Pope Francis during his U.S. visit next week, after a lawmaker revealed on Sunday that an attempt had been derailed by Federal agents.
According to Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, agents “disrupted one particular case” and “are monitoring very closely threats against the Pope as he comes in to the United States.”
The Pope “is a very passionate man. He likes to get out with the people,” McCaul said on ABC’s This Week, underscoring details of the Pope’s personality that make defending him a challenge.
It has come out that the FBI arrested a 15-year-old boy outside of Philadelphia last month for reportedly threatening to launch an ISIS-inspired assault on Pope Francis during his upcoming U.S. trip.
“The minor was inspired by [ISIS] and sought to conduct a detailed homeland attack which included multiple attackers, firearms, and multiple explosives, targeting a foreign dignitary at a high-profile event,” according to a joint intelligence bulletin by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued on August 14 to law enforcement across the country.
The “foreign dignitary” referenced in that bulletin is Pope Francis, who will wind up his U.S. trip with two days of events in Philadelphia.
“The minor obtained explosives instructions and further disseminated these instructions through social media,” the intelligence bulletin said.
The young man has been charged with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization and attempting to provide material support to terrorist activity, the bulletin added.
ISIS militants have explicitly threatened the Pope and the Vatican on several occasions, including during the graphic video showing the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya in February. “And we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet, peace be upon him,” says the militant leader after his comrades slaughtered the Christian hostages.
In March, the head of the Vatican police force, Commander Domenico Giani, granted a rare interview in which he said that Islamic State threats against Pope Francis are “real” and not just media propaganda. “This is what emerges from the talks I have had with Italian and foreign colleagues,” he said.
Giani explicitly mentioned the threat of so-called lone wolves, “who are more dangerous because they are unpredictable,” he said. This includes everything from fanatics to the mentally disturbed to individuals who simply choose the Vatican as a venue for the media coverage that they can get, he said.
Three weeks ago, the Italian newspaper Il Tempo published a report stating that Francis is “in the crosshairs” of ISIS for “bearing false witness” against Islam. Citing sources within Italy’s intelligence community, the paper declared that ISIS plans to heat things up by “raising the level of confrontation” with Europe, Italy and very specifically Pope Francis, the “greatest exponent of the Christian religions.”
In a radio interview Monday, Pope Francis warned that “extraordinarily brutal” Islamic State militants could be sneaking into Europe by disguising themselves as refugees.
He also acknowledged that Rome was at risk of an attack by the notorious terror group, which declared itself a caliphate last year.
“The truth is that just 400 kilometers to the south of Sicily there is an extraordinarily brutal terrorist group,” he said. “So there is a danger of infiltration, this is true.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome