Vatican plays down `terror plot` arrests in Britain

British police questioned six men today over an alleged plot to launch an attack during Pope Benedict XVI`s state visit to Britain, but the Vatican and security sources played down the threat.

Updated: Sep 19, 2010, 00:23 AM IST

London: British police questioned six men
today over an alleged plot to launch an attack during Pope
Benedict XVI`s state visit to Britain, but the Vatican and
security sources played down the threat.

Counter-terrorism police raided a cleaning depot early
yesterday to arrest five men, aged between 26 and 50, "on
suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of
acts of terrorism", Scotland Yard said.

A sixth man was detained later yesterday.
The men are street cleaners employed in the
Westminster district of London, where the pope spent much of
Friday and Saturday, the local authority confirmed.

Several reports said they would have been on duty near
or in Hyde Park today, where the pope is to give a giant
open-air mass attended by an estimated 80,000 people.

All six men, who are reportedly of Algerian heritage,
were being held at the high-security Paddington Green police
station in central London.

But the Vatican insisted "no one felt threatened" by
the security alert.

"We never attributed much importance to these
arrests," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said to a news agency.

The 83-year-old pope was "very calm", he said, and the
four-day trip -- the first ever state visit by a pope to
Britain -- was "taking place smoothly".

But while the Vatican played down the threat,
Britain`s tabloid newspapers said the arrests had been linked
to a threat to kill the pope.

"Blow up the pope" was the front-page headline of the
Daily Mirror, while the Daily Express said the arrests had
been sparked by a "Muslim plot to kill pope".

Several reports claimed the men, who worked for
environmental services contractors Veolia, had intended to
hide bombs in dustbins.

The Italian press was in no doubt that the men had
been aiming to attack the pontiff.
"They wanted to kill the pope" was the identical

headline in La Stampa and Il Messagero newspapers.
In Britain, The Guardian reported that police had
swooped on the suspects after being informed of concerns
stemming from conversations overheard between some of the men
arrested.

Andy Hayman, a former Assistant Commissioner for
Special Operations at Scotland Yard, said in an article for
The Times: "Although still too early to assess, it is more
likely that police have acted promptly as a precaution
rather than being in a position to bring charges."

PTI