Italian counter-terrorism police have arrested a Somali migrant with ties to the Islamic State, who discussed bombing Christian churches throughout Italy this Christmas, specifically mentioning Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
In an operation involving multiple Italian and international law enforcement agencies, police arrested 20-year-old Mohsin Ibrahim Omar, also known as Anas Khalil, in the southern Italian port city of Bari last Thursday, Italian media reported on Monday.
According to reports, Omar was in direct contact with an operational jihadist cell and had active plans to target Christian churches during the upcoming Christmas holidays, starting with the “biggest one”, Saint Peter’s Basilica.
In his communication, Omar spoke of striking the Vatican on Christmas day or shortly afterwards, when there would be “the pope and so many people” and the church would be “full, full, full”. Police discovered pictures of the Vatican on the man’s phone, which he had downloaded from the internet.
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Italian counter-terror police have had Omar under constant surveillance and decided to arrest him now because he posed an imminent threat.
“The urgency to carry out the restrictive measure,” investigators stated, “was dictated by references to the elaboration of possible hostile projects in relation to the upcoming Christmas festivities and churches, as places frequented only by Christians.”
In his communications, Omar also praised the December 11th terror attack in Strasbourg, France, that left five people dead at the city’s Christmas market.
“Whoever kills Christians, the enemies of Allah, is our brother, no matter where he comes from,” Omar reportedly said in reference to the attack.
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Mohsin Ibrahim had been reported to Italian counterterrorism by international intelligence as a member of the “Mujahideen,” a militant of the armed Somali-Kenyan group of the Islamic State.
Reports stated that the man had become radicalized at a Koranic school in Nairobi, Kenya, and fought in Somalia and Libya.
The man arrived in Italy in November 2016 “to carry out attacks outside the borders of the Islamic State.” Omar first arrived in Sicily, then he moved north to Emilia Romagna where he obtained a residence permit for humanitarian reasons, and for the last year was living in Puglia where he worked for a cleaning company.
He also praised martyrdom, saying, “When one is killed in the way of Allah, glory is with him, and he is not dead.”
Interrogated by police in Bari Saturday, Omar does not describe himself as a terrorist but said that “if God wants it, if it helps the cause, you have to do it, you have to kill.”
Italian security forces remain on high alert.
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At a meeting of the committee for order and security held at the Ministry of the Interior Monday, authorities reiterated the need to maintain all security measures at the highest levels, especially in train stations, airports, places of worship, historic monuments, and crowded places.
There will also be 30,000 law enforcement officers on trains during Christmas until January 6.
“The level of attention is at its highest at possibly sensitive targets and Christmas markets,” said interior minister Matteo Salvini, while emphasizing that the presence of security officials is not meant to disturb people’s normal activities.
“We must continue to live as we have always lived and not change our habits, because that is what the terrorists want,” he said.
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