Italian police authorities today acknowledged the role of the FBI in helping stop an ISIS plot to attack the Vatican and other Christian places of worship after the arrest of a Somali national affiliated with ISIS last week.
Last Thursday, 20-year-old Mohsin Ibrahim Omar, also known as Anas Khalil, was arrested in the Aegean Sea port city of Bari. The operation involved multiple Italian and international law enforcement agencies, including the FBI:
#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
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.
Omar praised last Tuesday’s terror attack in Strasbourg, France, that killed five people at the city’s historic Christmas market that dates back to 1570.
“The one who kills Christians and the enemies of Allah is our brother…” Omar reportedly said in reference to the Strasbourg attack.
He also praised martyrdom, saying, “When one is killed in the way of Allah, the glory is with him, and he is not dead.”
In recent years, Bari has become a transit hub for international terror groups.
In July 2017, a 38-year-old Chechen man who was part of the “Emirate of the Caucuses” was arrested in Bari as he was supervising the transit of Chechen ISIS fighters transiting to Europe. The man was found to have connections to terror cells in Belgium.
Three Afghan men were arrested in Bari in May 2017 who were part of an ISIS “advance” team plotting targets for terror attacks in Italy, France, Belgium, and the UK. Photos and videos of the Roman Coliseum, London hotels, and other sites in western Europe were found on their phones.
Around the same time, Italian police busted a Somali human and money trafficking ring that was tied to Islamic terror groups. A dozen Somalis were arrested as part of the ring. They frequented Al-Shabaab websites, and helped move migrants into Europe by providing them with false documents and by operating illegal “hawala” money transfer networks.
The ring was discovered after one of the members was found to be in contact with a previously arrested Somali man, who had trafficked two Islamic State foreign fighters into Italy through Malta.
Also, one of the terrorists who attacked a Paris concert venue in November 2015, killing 90 people, had been found to have traveled on a ferry from Greece to Bari in the months before the terror attack — one of the deadliest in modern European history.