What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What the Mafia has in common with protecting the Vatican from terror attacks

During Christmastime at the Vatican, more visitors means added security, especially in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, London and many other European capitals. In recent days, ISIS has called on lone-wolf terrorists to shed "Christmas blood" at the Vatican. Special correspondent Christopher Livesay reports on what Italy learned about deterring terrorism from years of tracking the Mafia.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Miles O’Brien:

    As Christmas approaches, law enforcement throughout Europe is increasing security measures. It was this time last year when a terrorist rammed a truck into a pedestrian Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people.

    Other major European cities Paris, Brussels, Barcelona, and Nice, have been victimized by terrorism in recent years.

    But one country, Italy, has remained remarkably unscathed.

    Special correspondent Christopher Livesay is in Rome, and he went there to find out why.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Christmastime has arrived, a holy season for the Catholic Church and the thousands of faithful who turn out to see the pope. Added visitors means added security, and for good reason.

    The Swiss guard, charged with protecting the pope, has said it’s just a matter of time before the Vatican is attacked. But while London, Paris, and other European capitals have been targeted, Rome has been spared.

    In recent days, ISIS has called on lone-wolf terrorists to weaponize their vehicles in order to shed Christmas blood at the Vatican. ISIS videos have made similar threats on the pope, declaring, “We will be in Rome.”

    That’s gotten these visitors on edge.

  • Man:

    I guess I would be worried about a car coming through nowadays.

  • Man:

    I appreciate the security measures, because I think you never know what can happen, right?

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Stefano Dambruoso is an expert on counterterrorism and a member of Italian Parliament.

  • Stefano Dambruoso (through interpreter):

    Without a doubt, we’re well aware that having the Vatican here in our country’s capital raises the danger of Islamist terror attacks. To prevent that, we have heightened cooperation between law enforcement and the secret services.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    They have also built barricades preventing vehicles from approaching monuments and tightened security around sensitive targets.

  • Man:

    You got a knife inside?

  • Christopher Livesay:

    None more sensitive than Pope Francis. While the faithful are seeing this, Italian police are seeing this, the command center for Vatican security, surveilling every inch of St. Peter’s Square and the surrounding area.

    So, you have eyes all over the Vatican?

  • Man:

    Yes, a good part of the Vatican.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    So, with that joystick, you can kind of zoom in and zoom out and scan the entire area.

    It’s a level of security that goes hand-in-hand with decisive prevention.

  • Giampiero Massolo:

    When a terrorist, a jihadi terrorist, comes with a bomb near to the objective, it’s too late.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Giampiero Massolo was the head of Italian secret services until 2016.

  • Giampiero Massolo:

    What you can do is to prevent. How you prevent? What you prevent trying to control territory. This is very important, to listen to whatever you can.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    It’s a proven method Italy cultivated over decades of battling another violent enemy, says Antonio Nicaso.

  • Antonio Nicaso:

    The mafia helped Italy to prepare for terrorism, because the Italian government used the same system that they utilized for decades to deal with organized crime, building intelligence and controlling the territory.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    He says it’s also in the mafia’s best interest to deny terrorists access to weapons, weapons they’d need to buy on the mafia-controlled black market. An attack would raise heat from police, and that’s bad for business.

  • Antonio Nicaso:

    The idea that violence is the only way to attract media and police attention makes criminals to avoid any kind of violence, so, practically, they don’t like people to come in Italy and eventually do something, because that will increase the presence on the territory.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    You could say the mafia has helped Italy prepare for terrorism accidentally.

  • Antonio Nicaso:

     Italy invested a lot in intelligence. And that is what makes the Italian police well-considered worldwide.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    That means undercover agents, wiretapping, sharing information across all levels of law enforcement, and swift action in the face of potential threats.

    So far this year, Italy has deported almost 100 people for reasons of — quote — “religious extremism.” That seems rather aggressive.

  • Giampiero Massolo:

    We usually don’t wait. There is — once again, there is a good cooperation with the judiciary, and if we have suspicions, we send people away.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Sending people away, while fighting terrorists abroad. Italy has been a chief American ally in the war on terror since 2001, with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Experts worry that could make Italy a target for retaliation, a country with a growing Muslim population of nearly two million.

    Khalid Chaouki is Italy’s only Muslim member of Parliament, as well as the president of the Islamic Cultural Center at Rome’s Grand Mosque, the biggest in Europe. However, many mosques operate underground, he says, as Italy doesn’t recognize Islam as an official religion.

  • Khalid Chaouki:

    We give the possibility to some bad teachers to profit from these problems of non-recognition, to say to them, oh, Italy doesn’t want to recognize you as Italian Muslims. We can exploit you a different way. And you can not — never really be Italian and really Muslim.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    ISIS has issued several threats against Rome in recent weeks. Are you worried?

  • Khalid Chaouki:

    I worry for our country, for our city, for our community, and also for me and for my family.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    He also worries about the future of ISIS. While it rapidly loses ground in Iraq and Syria, chaos and fighting continue to spiral out of control in Libya, just a few hundred miles from Italy.

  • Stefano Dambruoso (through interpreter):

     The concern is tied to the close proximity to our territory. The caliphate has been practically defeated, but the terrorists haven’t, and they’re now moving to other failed states, such as Libya.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Just one more factor keeping Italian intelligence on high alert abroad and at home. Given the increasing risk of lone-wolf attackers who can be self-radicalized, Italy’s former intelligence chief concedes no amount of security is a guarantee against terrorism.

  • Giampiero Massolo:

    Why we haven’t been yet hit, but yet — let’s hope that it will last.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Christopher Livesay in Rome.

     

Listen to this Segment

The Latest