The Italian authorities are investigating a fax, allegedly signed by al-Qaida, which makes veiled threats against the Vatican.
The three-page document, written in Arabic, accuses the Vatican of supporting “the capitalist countries” who joined the war in Iraq and justifies terror attacks in Britain and Spain as “self defence against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
The fax was sent in Barcelona to the offices of the Spanish conservative daily newspaper ABC and to a Spanish television station.
The interior ministry in Rome confirmed yesterday that it had been informed of the contents of the fax. “We are aware of it but we have no comment to make,” a source at the ministry said. The Vatican also refused to comment.
The threats are bound to increase nerves in Italy, which has long feared it could be the next European country to be targeted by Islamists because of the government’s support of the Iraq war. Italy maintains the third-largest contingent of US-led troops in Iraq.
Since the London bombings Italy has been on a state of alert described as “intense and prolonged” by the interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu. Security has been stepped up at airports, train and subway stations and at major tourist sites such as the Vatican and the Colosseum.
When Pope Benedict took a holiday in a chalet in the Italian Alps he was protected by an estimated 200-strong team of police and bodyguards.
The fax, which is also being investigated by Spanish police, criticises the Vatican for its alleged support of the invasion of Iraq. The final paragraph reads: “In the war in Iraq, the Vatican has supported capitalist countries who are only interested in Iraqi oil. The leaders of those countries will reap the harvest of their support and their killings.”
The Spanish interior ministry also made no comment on the contents or the authenticity of the fax, but unnamed police sources cited by ABC, which received the fax, say it is more credible than other communiques received since the London bombings.
Police do not believe the author is linked to an established al-Qaida cell or to the extremists behind the railway bombings in Madrid on March 11 2004.
But the sender could be a “sympathiser” of Islamist terrorism, according to sources quoted in ABC. Unnamed police sources cited by El PaÃs newspaper said it could also be a terrible hoax.
ABC had received a credible al-Qaida threat by fax on April 3 2004, the same day seven authors of the Madrid attacks blew themselves up in a police raid. Police believe that fax was written by one of the supposed terrorists who committed suicide.
A large part of the text received on Monday appears under the heading “the workings of the Vatican” and describes the Vatican’s relationship with Nazi Germany, citing what appear to be passages copied from books and a newspaper article from 1941, police sources told ABC.
When editors at ABC received the fax, they first thought it was a hoax but it was passed to police for translation, said the national editor, Angel Collado.
The state television station, TVE, received the same fax two days earlier, ABC reported.