Arrests Foil ISIS Terror Strike on Vatican, Israeli Embassy in Rome

Italian police say they have in custody four suspects, with two at large, who were plotting specific attacks with Islamic State group terror leaders.

St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica (photo: Lisa Cancade Hackett via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).)

VATICAN CITY — Italian police arrested four people and issued arrest warrants for two more Thursday on suspicion of conspiring with the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS or Daesh. One of the arrested suspects was reportedly plotting an attack on the Vatican and the Israeli Embassy in Rome.

Authorities said suspect Abderrahim Moutahrrick reportedly received a WhatsApp message from ISIS-held territory that read: “Dear brother Abderrahim, I send you … the bomb poem  … listen to the sheik and strike,” possibly referencing ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Moutahrrick was identified by authorities as Moroccan-born but residing in Italy at the time.

Moutahrrick also reportedly told 23-year-old Moroccan-born suspect Abderrahmane Khachia: “I want to hit Israel in Rome.”

According to Reuters, the arrest warrant included transcripts of a wire-tapped phone conversation between three of the suspects that also mentioned a Vatican attack.

“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,” an arrested suspect is reported as saying to one of the suspects still at large in the transcript.  

Other arrests made in the recent investigation include an Italian-Moroccan couple who traveled to Syria to join ISIS last year. Mohamed Koraichi, one of the couple, is allegedly one of the men from whom Moutahrrick was receiving orders.

Authorities told journalists that Moutahrrick also attempted to purchase weapons from an Albanian fixer in Italy, to whom he stated his intention of a Vatican attack, as well as his plan to take his wife and his two young children to ISIS territory in Syria.

The prosecutor in the case, Maurizio Romanelli of Milan, told Italian news agency ANSA that the recent investigation was different, in that it revealed not just generic threats, but specific plots involving specific individuals on Italian and Vatican soil. However, he said that the threats were not imminent and that authorities acted quickly to carry out the arrests.

“Rome attracts attention, because it is a destination for Christian pilgrims,” he said.

Thus far, Italy has been spared the large-scale terrorist attacks such as those seen in France and Belgium earlier this year. However, authorities have continually made arrests on suspicions of plots to attack Italy.  

Last month, Italian authorities detained a 22-year-old Somali asylum seeker and imam on suspicion of planning an attack in Rome.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi expressed his thanks on Twitter to the authorities for acting quickly and preventing the attacks.