Why is Pope Benedict XVI so keen on going to Turkey, a country that is 99% Muslim? While I'm well aware that the seven churches found in the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ are in Asia Minor, aka Turkey, I still fail to see the point. This is a potential disaster in the making and I'm sure everyone will be holding their collective breath while Benny is in Turkey. Sounds to me like everyone will be going all out in terms of the Pope's safety, but I still have to question the Vatican's judgement. If even a small number of innocent Turks die, you know that Rome will get all the blame regardless. Sorry Benny, I luv ya baby but I have to disagree with this foreign visit of yours.
The Challenge of Protecting Pope Benedict XVI in Turkey
Nov 17, 2006
Pope Benedict XVI will begin his first papal visit to a predominantly Muslim country Nov. 28 when he arrives in Turkey for four days of private meetings, public masses and other events. The trip, which already has generated some death threats against the pope, has both Turkish and Vatican security on high alert.
Tensions between Muslims and Benedict XVI flared up in September when the pope made remarks at Germany's University of Regensburg that seemed to refer to Islam as "evil." Although the pope later sought to clarify his comments, the incident reopened Muslim wounds caused by the controversy earlier in the year over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
In light of recent incidents -- as well as the ongoing militant threat in Turkey -- security officials in Turkey, Vatican City and Italy are taking threats against the pope very seriously. On Nov. 2, a Turkish man fired several shots at the Italian Consulate in Istanbul and threatened to shoot Benedict XVI during his visit to Turkey. The man, who was subsequently arrested, is believed to have acted alone. In Turkey, Mehmet Ali Acga, who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981, said from prison Sept. 20 that Benedict XVI should not visit Turkey, and suggested that the pontiff's life would be in danger if he went ahead with his plans.
That same day, Rome's city prosecutor launched an investigation into threats against the pope posted on the Internet by Iraqi jihadist groups. The head of the prosecutor's anti-terrorism department said the investigation would focus on statements intended to incite people to take action against a head of state. Because the pope is the head of state of the Vatican, threats against him receive the same level of attention from intelligence and law enforcement as do threats against any other head of state. His status as head of state also affords him the highest level of protection.
At home in Vatican City, the pope is protected by two modern security corps: the centuries-old Swiss Guards and the Gendarmerie Corps of the State of Vatican City. Additional security is provided by plainclothes agents and Italian Carabinieri, federal police who patrol outside the square and stand ready as sharpshooters atop buildings during public ceremonies.
While abroad, the pope travels with a plainclothes security detail of Swiss Guards, which operates in a manner similar to the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) or the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), organizations charged with protecting the president and U.S. diplomats overseas. The Vatican's security forces are every bit as proficient as the USSS and DSS.
It is important to note, however, that the host country ultimately is responsible for protecting visiting heads of state. Thus, Turkey will collect intelligence on the national level in advance of and during the trip. In addition to Vatican and Turkish efforts, various other intelligence agencies will be looking for possible threats to the pope's safety.
Arrangements between Vatican and Turkish security forces would have been made months before the pope's visit, starting with an agreement between the two on how they will operate together. As part of the agreement, agents from Vatican security would have been deployed to Turkey about a month prior to the visit in order to assess the security situation and determine potential vulnerabilities at the sites the pontiff will visit. During this time, Vatican security will be working closely with the Turkish Security General Directorate and National Intelligence Agency, which will be compiling its own security assessments.
Sweeps for potential troublemakers already are under way in the cities the pope will visit, and Turkish police will pick up suspected subversives and mentally disturbed people who have made threats against the pope's life. To this end, Vatican security will provide a list of people who have attempted to contact the pope with threats. As the visit approaches, Turkish authorities will likely announce that several "thwarted plots" against the pope have been uncovered during these sweeps.
However, as media coverage heats up in the lead-up to the visit, the furor over the Regensburg remarks, and possibly the cartoons, could re-ignite, especially in a country that is more than 99 percent Muslim. In any case, demonstrations by religious and student groups can be expected, most likely at pre-authorized locations. In that case, vigilance by security forces will be high to ensure the protests do not get out of hand.
As the pope's arrival date approaches, security forces will take their positions around the locations on his itinerary. Sweeps for explosives will be conducted in these areas and countersniper support will be scanning rooftops and windows. Once in Turkey, Benedict XVI will travel in motorcades of armored vehicles, which will include decoy cars.
The pope plans to spend one night in Ankara and two in Istanbul, though information on his lodgings has not been released. Choices include the Holy See Embassy Residence in Ankara and the Hilton Istanbul hotel, where U.S. President George W. Bush stayed on his visit to Turkey in June 2004.
A hotel stay would present more security challenges for the pope's protective detail than would a stay in a state-owned residence. Should he lodge at a hotel, security will have to run checks on all the other guests staying there during his visit. Moreover, the day-to-day commercial operations of the hotel will present many security vulnerabilities, especially with caterers, laundry, cleaning staff and other personnel constantly coming and going.
A residence owned by the Vatican, on the other hand, can be better secured, and occupants and staff more thoroughly vetted to screen for infiltrators or individuals with nefarious agendas. There also would be less vulnerability from caterers, laundry and other hotel staff coming and going.
The pope's itinerary includes several stops in Ankara and Istanbul, as well as at the sites of ancient Christian communities in Smyrna and Ephesus. In Ankara, the pope will meet with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Turkey's highest Muslim authority, Grand Mufti Ali Bardakoglu, who is head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate. In addition to Vatican security, the pope will be protected by the high security that normally surrounds Turkish leaders. These meetings, as well as others with Turkish Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders, will take place at controlled venues and will be attended by screened and invited guests only. These venues also can be easily locked down and screened for improvised explosive devices.
Potentially vulnerable points will be at Meryem Ana Evi Shrine in Ephesus when the pope celebrates mass there Nov. 29, and at Istanbul's Cathedral of the Holy Ghost, where he will deliver a homily Dec. 1, the last day of his trip. Although those events are open to the public, the venues will be thoroughly swept for bombs beforehand, and all participants and the entire congregation will be screened for weapons and explosives.
Even without the tensions surrounding Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey, the history of attacks and plotted attacks against his predecessor requires that security be high at all times. The most serious attack in recent memory came when Acga shot Pope John Paul II twice in the abdomen as the pope entered St. Peter's Square in an open-air convertible. Almost a year after that attack, on May 12, 1982, an ultraconservative Spanish priest who believed the pope was an agent of Moscow approached John Paul in Fatima, Portugal, with the intent of stabbing him with a bayonet, though the man was stopped and arrested before he could reach the pontiff. In 1995, Abdel Basit plotted to kill Pope John Paul II during a visit to the Philippines.
Any papal visit to a foreign country presents significant security challenges. However, given the recent tensions between Christians and Muslims -- and particularly between this pope and Muslims -- this visit will require an even higher level of vigilance.
Copyright 2006 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.