ISIS has made 'credible threats' to kill Pope Francis, a top Iraqi diplomat has warned just days before the Pontiff visits the mainly Muslim nation of Albania.
Habeeb Al Sadr issued the stark warning today after Vatican officials insisted there was no threat to his safety - and said he will not ride in the bulletproof 'Popemobile' of his predecessor Benedict XVI.
The ambassador said the spread of extremists across the world meant Pope Francis is at risk anywhere - in Muslim countries, on trips to Britain and the U.S. and even in Rome.
He told the Italian newspaper La Nazione: 'Threats against the Pope are credible. Public statements and crimes against Christianity by ISIS are a fact. Just put two and two together.
'Let me be clear, I am not aware of specific facts or operational projects. But what has been said by the self-declared "Islamic state" terrorists is clear. They want to kill the Pope.
'I think they could try to hit him during his travels or even in Rome, because there are members of ISIS who are not Arabs but also Canadians, Americans, French, British and Italian.
'This gang of criminals does not merely threaten. In Iraq they have violated or destroyed some of the holiest sites of Shia Islam. They have hit places of worship in the Yazidi religion and Christianity. They forced 150,00 Christians to flee Mosul.'
Despite warnings that the pope may be targeted by Islamic State-aligned terrorists, the Vatican has said that Francis will not be changing his plans to visit Albania, which has a majority Sunni Muslim population.
“There is no reason to change the pope’s itinerary,” Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said. “We are obviously paying attention but there is no need for concern or a change to his program in Albania.”
I understand that Pope Francis’s deep humility makes him reluctant to focus on himself and his own personal needs. The shepherd, he says, should “smell like the sheep”–and he wants to be there, with his sheep, with the people he leads. Sometimes, though, he needs to be mindful, not of his personal wants, but of the singular importance of his divinely issued mission. Pope Francis, as leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, has expressed his desire to go “to the periphery.” But the Pope is a target in good times; and with the special challenge of Islamic hatred fueling violence around the world, this is not a time for business-as-usual.
The open-topped Jeep, the minimal security staff, the broadly publicized agenda–these are evidence that Rome is not taking seriously the very real threat of Islamic militancy.
Your Holiness, the world needs your message. Your characteristic trust and openness has a certain charm–but this is not the appropriate response to this very real threat. Please reconsider the plans for this week’s trip, and accept the security staff and special protections which will ensure a successful visit to Albania, and a successful trip back to Rome.
Praying here for the Lord to send angels to form a hedge of protection around il Papa on this trip and beyond. Lord, hear our prayer.