Immediately following Friday’s horrendous jihadist attacks, the Italian government decreed a level-two terrorist alert for the whole country, considerably increasing security measures around the Vatican City State, considered a prime target of ISIS terrorists.
The level-two alert comprises the deployment of forces from the army’s special units. Police are now performing random checks with metal detectors on bags and backpacks, and army units have been dispatched to conduct regular patrols on the streets surrounding the Vatican.
On Sunday, a heightened police presence around Saint Peter’s Square was in evidence prior to and during the Pope’s weekly Angelus address at noon. Patrols will reportedly intensify in the coming weeks leading up to the beginning of the Vatican’s Jubilee Year of Mercy on December 8.
“The danger is real and objective,” said Franco Roberti, the head of Italy’s anti-mafia and counterterrorism task force, “but it is not concrete or delimited.”
“We must protect ourselves from this danger by adopting all the preventive measures necessary. We do not need special laws, but we must be prepared to give up some of our personal freedoms, in particular in the area of communication,” he said.
The Italian interior ministry has also increased its “targeted expulsions” of persons considered to be a risk to national security. So far this year, 55 individuals have been deported and the ministry has said the numbers will only grow.
According to Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, intelligence and counterterrorism units are reevaluating information gathered in recent months on some 56,000 people, re-reading every little detail of case files to see if anything has been overlooked.
Intelligence units are also correlating recent data received from France regarding the individuals involved in Friday’s attacks, to see whether any connections exist with persons on Italian soil, including the suspect still at large, Abdeslam Salah.
The Italian prison system has also come under scrutiny, since prisons often become sites of Muslim proselytizing and radicalization. Prison police (SAPPE) have already begun screening all detainees considered a risk and are investigating the adoption of further measures, including the suspension of “dynamic vigilance,” a program that allows inmates many hours a day outside their cells in contact with other inmates, with sporadic police checks.
A final area of counterterrorist focus involves airspace control, especially around Rome during the Jubilee. Security experts and Air Force personnel are studying a system to protect the skies from possible drone attacks, which are notoriously difficult to control at the time of take-off and are launchable from any balcony, window or road.
Recent estimates regarding the number of pilgrims and visitors coming to Rome for the Jubilee Year still place the figure around 30 million people.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome