This Story Sounds Vaguely Familiar
ITALIAN Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi yesterday revealed he was given "precise" information about a plot to use a hijacked plane to attack the Vatican on Christmas Day.
Berlusconi said he received "precise and verified news of an attack on Rome on Christmas Day. A hijacked plane above the Vatican. An attack from the sky".
Christmas celebrations at the Vatican led by Pope John Paul passed without incident, and there were no reports of any foiled attack. A Vatican spokesman, asked about Berlusconiís comments, said he did not comment on security matters.
In an interview given on Christmas Eve but not reported until today, the controversial Italian premier said: "The threat from terrorism is extremely high at this moment. Iíve spent today in Rome to deal with the situation.
"Now Iím calm. It will pass. I donít say this out of fatalism but because I am aware that our defences are very high. If that is what they have organised, they wonít make it."
He gave no details of who was believed to be behind such a planned attack or of any measures taken to prevent it.
US officials said one or more terror suspects might have escaped due to a premature disclosure in France of security concerns behind the cancellation of Christmas flights to Los Angeles.
Six flights between Paris and Los Angeles were cancelled on Wednesday and Thursday on the basis of advice from Washington after US officials spotted what they believed were suspicious names on lists of those due to board the planes.
Air France made clear at the time the cancellations had been ordered for security reasons.
Berlusconi also said in the interview that in November he had received information about a possible attack on the subway in Milan or Rome, without giving further details.
He said he had decided against closing the subway systems to avoid creating panic, but had ordered security measures doubled.
Italian police boosted security at the Vatican and around churches before Christmas, though the Interior Ministry said on December 18 it had received no specific threats.
The Conciliazione, a broad avenue running from the river Tiber to St Peterís Square, has been closed to traffic from midnight until 7am since December 15, an unprecedented measure.
The decision to block the Conciliazione at night came after reports that the Israeli secret services had warned of a "probable attack in Italy" against a major Christian symbol at Christmas. The Interior Ministry had declined to comment on that report.
Italy has been on heightened alert for terror attacks since a suicide bomber killed 19 Italians last month in a strike against a military police headquarters in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya.