MILAN — Italian prosecutors said Thursday they had thwarted plans by at least three people to carry out terror attacks against the Israeli Embassy in Rome and the Vatican.
Italian police arrested four people involved in a foreign terrorist investigation, including a Moroccan-born man living in Italy who had received Islamic State orders to carry out an attack on the Israeli embassy in Rome, the prosecutors said. Two others suspects are still at large.
Milan prosecutor Maurizio Romanelli told reporters that investigators intercepted communications from within Islamic State territory ordering attacks in Italy, “with particular attention to the city of Rome” and focusing on the Holy Year pilgrimage now underway.
Reuters said the Italian authorities tapped and recorded phone conversations between three of the suspects, and that possible attacks on the Vatican and the Israeli embassy in Rome were discussed.
“I swear I will be the first to attack them in this Italy of crusaders, I swear I’ll attack it, in the Vatican God willing,” one of the men now in custody was quoted saying in a transcript. In a separate conversation, the same suspect spoke of seeking to attack the Israeli embassy and mentioned contacting an Albanian man to get a gun.
Authorities arrested the Moroccan-born man, identified as Abderrahim Moutahrrick, and his wife, Salma Bencharki. The couple had allegedly been planning on traveling from their home in Lecco, north of Milan, to Islamic State territory with their children aged 2 and 4. Romanelli said Moutahrrick had taken Italian citizenship and was an accomplished boxer.
Moutahrrick told another suspect in an intercepted call that he wanted “to hit Israel in Rome.”
In an photo released by Italian police, Moutahrrick is seen wearing boxing gloves, shorts, a black shirt styled after the IS flag and a keffiyeh.
There was no indication the attacks were imminent. Romanelli said authorities acted quickly to close the investigation, arresting four people and issuing arrest warrants for two others who are currently believed to be in Islamic State territory.
“This is a new profile, because it was not a generic indication, but an indication given to a specific person who was invited to act within the territory of the Italian state,” Romanelli said.
Another Moroccan man who was planning to travel with them, identified as Abderrahmane Khachia, 23, was arrested in the northern city of Varese, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors also issued arrest warrants for an Italian-Moroccan couple who left to join Islamic State last year with three small children. Romanelli said that the man, identified as Mohamed Koraichi, had become an Islamic State fighter and communicated the orders to carry out attacks in Italy while making arrangements for the other family to join Islamic State.
The fourth arrest was of Koraichi’s sister, prosecutors said.