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Head of Vatican security says his team are on alert for an ISIS attack on the Pope and have been trained for ‘anti-terrorist operations’ because intelligence suggests ‘the threat exists’

  • Domenico Giani, head of Vatican security, has given a rare interview
  • He revealed that he has a 130-strong team of agents guarding the Pope
  • Of those, 20 have specialist anti-terror training and guard the Pope abroad 
Wary: The Vatican's head of security, Domenico Giani (pictured) has revealed that the threat to the Pope from Isis is 'real'Wary: The Vatican’s head of security, Domenico Giani (pictured) has revealed that the threat to the Pope from Isis is ‘real’

The Vatican is on alert in case of an attack by Islamist militants against the city-state or Pope Francis, but officials are not aware of any specific plot, the head of Vatican security said in a rare interview.

‘The threat exists. This is what has emerged from conversations with Italian and foreign colleagues,’ Domenico Giani told an Italian police magazine when asked if threats from Islamic State militants were credible.

‘(But) at the moment I can say that we are not aware of any plan to attack the Vatican or the Holy Father,’ he added in the interview, published on the magazine’s website on Monday.

Giani has a force of some 130 agents protecting most of the Vatican and the Pope, with the help of the more ceremonial Swiss Guard. The Italian police guard the exterior, as well as St. Peter’s Square.

Twenty of his agents, Giani explained, have specialist anti-terror training and guard the Pope when he’s abroad.

He told Polizia Moderna: ‘Twenty Vatican bodyguards have received special training that makes them suitable also ready to use in anti-terrorist actions. Some of them accompany the Pope during his international travels.’

The security operation at the Vatican is aided by a command and control centre that Giani says has a ‘high level’ of technology, along with thousands of surveillance cameras.

Last month, in a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, one of the killers said: ‘Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for … We will conquer Rome, by the will of Allah.’

A website used by militants ran a photo montage showing the movement’s black flag flying from the obelisk at the centre of St. Peter’s Square.

Giani said the alert level was ‘constantly high’ in and around the tiny city-state, which sits inside Rome.

The threat from ‘lone wolf’ operators are considered by his security team as particularly dangerous because they’re ‘unpredictable’.

They are also aware that some people may try and carry out an act of violence at the Vatican because it would guarantee them maximum media coverage.

What makes their job more challenging is that the Holy Father is not willing to abandon speaking to his followers directly during visits.

Giani said: ‘The Holy Father is not abandoning the style of his pontificate… he does not want to lose touch with his flock. Therefore, we… have to adjust to him, and not vice versa.’

Many Islamic countries ensure that there is a flow of intelligence directed at the Vatican – and have a great deal of respect for the Pope.

Giani said: ‘Many Islamic countries not only give me valuable information, but also esteem and admiration for the Holy Father.’

Last month, in the wake of killings by Islamist militants in Paris and Copenhagen, 4,800 soldiers were placed on the streets throughout Italy.

Francis has several times condemned attacks by Islamic militants. On Sunday, he called for an end to their ‘intolerable brutality’.