Despite denials, talk of a plot against Pope Francis refuses to go away
ON September 16, 2014, Habeeb Al-Sadr came to the Vatican with a chilling message: Isil fundamentalists were intent on killing the Pope.
The security around the Pontiff is always tight but the ambassador felt somehow he was not really being heard. You must understand that one of Isil's objectives is to assassinate Pope Francis, he said. For emphasis, he added: The jihadists "don't just threaten", or this is how the story was reported by 'La Nazione'.
Mr Al-Sadr explained that he did not have any specific intelligence on an impending attack, but said that their "genocide" of Yazidi Christians and destruction of holy Islamic sites were an indication of their intent.
He told the Italian media: "What has been declared by the self-proclaimed Islamic State is clear - they want to kill the Pope. These threats are credible."
The media still seemed sceptical. It was as if trying to imagine the fallout from a successful suicide bomb attack in the heart of the Vatican was almost too much of an appalling vista to even contemplate. But the events reported yesterday suggest that what was once looked upon as borderline fanciful is now a stark reality.
Behind the scenes, for all their dismissals and playing down of fears, those charged with the Pope's security are constantly reviewing the level of threat.
The threat against Pope Francis (78) was widely discussed one year ago when he endorsed the 'stopping' of Isil and its persecution of 40,000 Christians in northern Iraq. It was also widely reported in August 2014 that security in Rome had been heightened after Israeli officials warned that the Pope's censure of Isil had led militants to target him.
The Vatican played down this risk, with spokesman Reverend Federico Lombardi (inset) telling the Catholic News Agency: "There is nothing serious to this. There is no particular concern in the Vatican. This news has no foundation."
But the talk of plots against Pope Francis have refused to go away. In January of this year there were new claims that an assassination was being planned. There was chatter among intelligence agencies and stories about new warnings and threats began to emerge. Once more Isil was regarded as the chief suspect.
Once more the Vatican was finally stirred to comment that "there are no concrete" signs that indicated the militants were targeting the Vatican, spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.
But several Italian newspapers still insisted that the CIA and Israel's Mossad had all tipped off the Vatican that it could be a target. And in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Rome did review security.
All security measures at the Vatican have been revised to be "substantial and hearty", according to RAI.
Pope Francis has proven to be a handful for his minders, insisting he must be allowed meet and greet, and refusing not to allow standard safety precautions get in the way of him meeting the crowds in St Peter's Square.
Given the latest revelations, discretion may prove the better part of valour until the threat levels are scaled down.