This article originally appeared in
Italy is on alert after online terror threats
Citizens won't ‘live in fear'
Posted 8/16/2004 6:26 AM
By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY
ROME — A warning purportedly from a group linked to al-Qaeda told Italy to remove
its forces from Iraq by Sunday or face “bloody war.” Italy was on alert, but many
Italians shrugged off the threat.
A statement, posted on an Islamic Web site Sunday in the name of the Abu Hafs
al-Masri Brigades, said the Italian government “dug its grave by its own hands”
after it ignored an earlier ultimatum to withdraw its troops from Iraq by Aug. 15
or face a wave of attacks.
The statement said any target in Italy was valid. There was no way to authenticate
the threat. On its own Web site, the group has denied giving an ultimatum.
Italy's 3,000 troops in Iraq are the third-largest contingent behind the United States
The threat was one of two issued Sunday. The Islamic Tawhid group said Italy and the Netherlands would be attacked if they don't
withdraw their forces. That Islamic group previously has threatened to turn Iraq into a “hell” for Salvadoran troops if the Central
American nation sends a new contingent.
Italian officials say they received six “credible” threats over the first six months of the year. Since July 1, Italy has been warned 18 times
to disengage from Iraq.
A threat attributed to the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades posted Aug. 1 was the first to include a specific deadline. A new statement on the
Web site Sunday said the group was ready to launch attacks.
“Today, we have declared the start of a bloody war and, by the will of God, the ground will shake beneath the feet of each and every
Italian,” it said.
Though it's unclear whether the group can mount a serious attack, Italian officials say they are not taking chances. The skies above
Rome have been almost constantly patrolled by helicopters since Aug. 10. Thousands of extra police have been deployed around the
“We are not underestimating (the threats), but we are not going to let ourselves be frightened, and we will continue with the
heightened security measures we have put in place,” Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said Sunday.
According to the polling firm Opinioni, although nearly two of three Italians feel a major terror attack in Italy is imminent, fewer than one
in 10 say they plan to change their plans because of the potential for such an attack.
“I would not be surprised if something were to happen. But we have to trust that the government is doing what can be done,” said
Carmello Pagano, 64, a barber who works in the center of Rome. “In any case, we cannot live in fear just because there is a threat.”
However, there have been a few scares leading up to the deadline.
•The weekly Mass in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City was disrupted Aug. 8 when a worshiper left a backpack. A corner of the square
was evacuated until police could remove the bag.
•A terminal in Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport was evacuated Aug. 11 until police could investigate an abandoned shoe that
apparently fell out of a bag.
It is unclear why any terror group would select Aug. 15 as a deadline. The date, known in Italy as Ferragosto or the height of summer,
usually finds many citizens away from home. The population of Rome, about 3.5 million, drops to less than half that at the height of
the summer break.
Francesco Zaccaria, the head of security at the World Food Program and a lieutenant colonel with Italy's special paramilitary police,
the carabinieri, says the Aug. 15 date was the terrorists' deadline for Italy's troops to leave Iraq, not the deadline for an attack. “An
attack, if it comes, could happen at any point after Aug. 15,” Zaccaria said. “Part of the process could be to desensitize a population so
that when something does happen, it will be even more dramatic.”
Contributing: Wire reports
Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Italian security personnel