After the Vatican dismissed earlier reports this week claiming that Pope Francis might be a target of the Islamic State militant group, otherwise known as ISIS, new reports state increasing concern for the pontiff's -and the public's - safety, The Daily Beast reported.
In an article published Monday, Il Tempo reported that the pope is a target of ISIS, citing an unnamed Italian intelligence source. The pope, who is considered the "the greatest exponent of the Christian religions" and the "bearer of false truths" by ISIS, is "in the crosshairs of ISIS," Il Tempo reported, adding that the extremist group plans to "raise the level of confrontation" by attacking Italy and greater Europe.
But the Vatican denounced the concerns, calling them unfounded despite growing concern in Italy that it is not just the Pope who is under threat.
"There is nothing serious to this," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told Catholic News Agency. "There is no particular concern in the Vatican."
The Italian government, however, made contradictory statements. Earlier this week, Italy issued a nationwide terror alert despite no imminent threats or specifics about a potential attack on the country and the Vatican, Italy's deputy interior minister Filippo Bubbico said.
"ISIS could launch terrorist attacks on what they referred to as 'sensitive targets' in Rome and elsewhere, specifically pinpointing embassies to both Italy and the Holy See, Catholic churches, bus and train stations, sea ports, airports and travel agencies," according to The Daily Beast. "Other security measures include restricting air space above Vatican City and Italy's foreign ministry, in addition to stepped-up police presence in public transportation hubs and busy tourist sites like the Coliseum, the Spanish Steps and St. Peter's Square."
"ISIS poses an international and European security threat and we in Italy feel particularly exposed," Bubbico told Italian SKY News.
Meanwhile, at least five suspected potential jihad fighters have been arrested this week as they were preparing to leave for Iraq. In a new report, at least 50 Italians are now known to be fighting with ISIS, 80 percent of whom are "very Italian" and 20 percent are sons of immigrants, dispelling fears among Italians that a spike in illegal immigration has somehow played a role in the recruitment of young people, Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.
Instead, the rise in recruits from Italy is fueled by "disillusionment with the future," "distrust in the Catholic Church" and "boredom," according to the paper, which said all the known fighters are men between the ages of 18-25.