The Italian police have arrested four Kosovans accused of belonging to a jihadist cell that threatened Pope Francis, saying he would be the last pontiff.
“Remember, there won’t be another pope after this one. This is the last one,” police cited an internet message as reading.
The suspects, arrested on Tuesday, were highly active on Facebook and other social media sites where they threatened the former US ambassador to Kosovo and celebrated the November 13 attacks in Paris, police said.
Although the alleged cell did not appear to be involved in any specific plot, it was “highly dangerous” and had “direct contact” with jihadist networks active in Syria linked to prominent Kosovan IS member Lavdrim Muhaxheri, investigators said.
The ‘mastermind’ of the cell, Samet Imishti, was arrested in a village in Kosovo, while the other three suspects were detained in northern Italy, police said.
Two of the suspects seized in Italy were due to be deported while the third was placed under special surveillance.
“We intervened at a stage where the suspects were concerned with instigating attacks and propaganda that could certainly have had negative consequences in Italy,” said the head of anti-terrorism police in Brescia, Giovanni De Stavola.
Guns and computer software used to communicate with other terror suspects via internet were seized during raids in Kosovo, he said.
Samet used the city of Chiari, in the province of Brescia as a logistical base, and police arrested his brother Ismail Imishti, at the apartment they shared in Chiari.
Italy’s interior minster Angelino Alfano praised Tuesday’s raids and arrests, called them “another important anti-terror operation by police that smashed a jihadist cell in Italy.”
The probe that led to Tuesday’s operation began last year when investigators started monitoring a Facebook group called ‘With or without you — the Caliphate is back!’ said De Stavola.
Italy has stepped up its surveillance of suspected Islamist suspects since attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and injured over 360.