Chalk up two wins for the FBI today in their fight against ISIS — one at home, and one overseas. Italian authorities credited the bureau with providing key assistance in shutting down a serious bombing plot that targeted the Vatican by a radical Islamist, as well as churches throughout the country. “December 25th is coming,” Somali national Mohsin Ibrahim Omar allegedly said in a recorded conversation:
A 20-year-old Somali national arrested last week in Bari on terrorism charges allegedly wanted to stage an attack at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome at Christmas, according to wiretap recordings. Mohsin Ibrahim Omar, who also goes by the name Anas Khalil, is believed by DIGOS special security police in Bari to be linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) in Somalia and to be in contact with one of its operating cells. “December 25 is coming,” he allegedly said in recordings contained in case documentation.
“The 25th is Christmas… the churches are full. “Let’s put bombs in all the churches of Italy. Where is the biggest church? It’s in Rome?,” he said, according to the wiretap, apparently referring to St Peter’s.
PJ Media’s Patrick Poole has more on the story, translating from Italian media:
According to the Italian daily Repubblica, in at least one of Omar’s intercepted communications he referenced putting bombs in churches throughout Italy and specifically indicated St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican — the largest church in Rome and the seat of the Roman Catholic papacy.
“The 25th is Christmas…the churches are full. Let’s put bombs in all the churches in Italy,” he reportedly told an associate.
Pictures of the Vatican were discovered on his phone.
Omar, a member of the Islamic State affiliate in Somalia, was in direct contact with an operational cell and was under constant surveillance. Italian police moved to arrest Omar because he said he had been planning to leave the country immediately, and in his communications he indicated active plans to target upcoming Christmas festivities and churches, specifically places where Christians gathered.
Italian state police tweeted out what appears to be video of Omar’s arrest. They mashed it up with Daesh propaganda and terror threats against Christians that leave no doubt what they hope to accomplish:
#Digos Bari arresta cittadino somalo affiliato a #Daesh in Somalia in contatto con cellula operativa. Indagato per associazione con finalità di terrorismo, istigazione e apologia terrorismo attraverso mezzi informatici
Collaborazione internazionale con Aisi, Aise #Dcpp e @FBI pic.twitter.com/eAJsxTXTC1
— Polizia di Stato (@poliziadistato) December 17, 2018
ISIS has made no secret of its target selection in regard to the Vatican over the years. Italian security organizations have done a good job of securing the Holy See, but it’s not easy to accomplish. Churches throughout the country , especially the historic major churches like St. John Lateran and Santa Maria Maggiore, will be harder to defend against this kind of threat. Just in Rome, some of those go back to the imperial days, which represents a tremendous amount of history at risk — not to mention all the lives that crowd into these active churches, especially during Christmas.
This reminds us that ISIS is not an entirely spent force. They just lost their grip on their last significant town in Syria, but they still control a few small villages and they remain dangerous in that region. They have morphed back into a terror network rather than a marauding army with the ability to recruit and direct lone wolves or small independent cells with its online propaganda. They appear more operational than al-Qaeda and have ambitions to re-establish themselves as a territorial state. That will take a lot of recruitment, and so investing in large-scale attacks against high-profile targets is part of their strategy. The Strasbourg attack was one of opportunity, but a successful attack on St. Peter’s Basilica would have been an enormous propaganda boon for the radical Islamists.
Kudos to the Italians for remaining vigilant under difficult circumstances, and to the FBI for two big successes in one week. But where are the media outlets who should be covering a story of this significance, especially with tens of millions of Catholics who might take an interest in a plot against the Vatican?