Italian authorities have arrested six suspects who allegedly received orders from ISIS to attack the Vatican and the Israeli embassy in Rome.
The arrests made in Lombardy and Piedmont were the result of a joint operation coordinated by the district attorney of Milan and the Italian anti-terrorism agency.
According to the Italian news agency ANSA, authorities arrested Abderrahim Moutaharrik and his wife, Salma Bencharki; Abderrahmane Khachia, and three people who have maintained contact with a couple that left Italy to join ISIS in Syria. All of the suspects are of Moroccan origin.
A warrant has been issued for the couple, Mohamed Korachi and his Italian wife, Alice Brignoli, who are believed to have left for Syria in 2015.
Authorities monitored a series of conversations between the suspects via WhatsApp. One of the messages sent to Moutaharrik said: “Dear brother Abderrahim, I send you … the bomb poem … listen to the sheik and strike," ANSA reported.
Milan prosecutor Maurizio Romanelli told reporters that authorities believe the word “sheik" is a reference to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He also said the messages, intercepted in February and March, mentioned a strike against the Israeli embassy as well as against pilgrims in Rome for the Year of Mercy.
“I swear I will be the first to attack them in this Italy of crusaders, I swear I’ll attack it, in the Vatican God willing," a message from one of the arrested suspects stated, according to ANSA.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi expressed his confidence in the current security measures in place for the Holy Year.
“The preventative security measures in place to protect pilgrims during the Jubilee year are serious and functioning properly, as everyone can see and have witnessed. Therefore, there appears to be no need to modify them," he told the Catholic News Service.