Five held in Britain over pope visit 'terrorist' alert

17th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

British police arrested five men Friday on suspicion of plotting a "terrorist" attack linked to the historic state visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

The Vatican insisted that the pope was "calm" following the arrests and that it had full confidence in Scotland Yard's ability to protect him.

The five men were held "on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism" when officers raided a business address in central London in the early hours, according to a police statement.

"Following today's arrests, the policing arrangements for the papal visit were reviewed and we are satisfied that our current policing plan remains appropriate," the statement added. "The itinerary has not changed."

On Friday, the pope was to attend a high-profile service with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at Westminster Abbey with the guests expected to include Britain's former prime minister Tony Blair.

"We're totally calm, the pope is happy," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters. "We can say that we're totally confident in the work of the police."

As media reports said the men were Algerian, police were searching several properties in the British capital but reported they had not yet found any "hazardous items."

The massive security operation for the pope's four-day visit to Scotland and England is costing up to 1.5 million pounds (2.3 million dollars, 1.8 million euros).

The alert came on the second day of the first-ever papal state visit to Britain.

As well as the Westminster Abbey service, Benedict was also due to meet with Williams at Lambeth Palace, the Anglican archbishop's London residence.

It is a day of firsts for the 83-year-old pope focused on showing unity with the Church of England.

No pontiff has visited Lambeth Palace or the historic abbey since the foundation of the Church of England when king Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534.

Benedict was also to deliver a speech at Westminster Hall -- the historic heart of the Houses of Parliament.

The engagements come just 11 months after Benedict shocked the religious world with an offer to take in dissident Anglicans angered by their church's moves to consecrate female bishops.

On the first day of his visit, the pope warned of the risk of "aggressive secularism" in Britain and greeted tens of thousands of people at a mass in Glasgow and on the streets of Edinburgh.

The pope has also made some of his clearest condemnations yet of the abuse of children by priests, saying the Catholic Church was not "vigilant" enough about the problem and insisting the revelations of paedophilia "were a shock to me".

Benedict hinted at the paedophile scandal on Thursday, saying in a speech at a college in Twickenham, southwest London, that it was the job of Catholic schools to provide "a safe environment for children and young people".

Benedict is expected to meet a group of 10 victims of abuse on Friday or Saturday in London.

The run-up to the visit was clouded by criticism of the Catholic Church's handling of child abuse by priests and a furore over the 20-million-pound (31-million-dollar, 37-million-euro) cost.

Protests were small on the first day of the visit in Edinburgh and Glasgow on Thursday, easing anxiety about large-scale demonstrations.

A group of 20 protesters gathered outside the college in Twickenham Friday, waving banners with slogans such as "There is no God -- get over it" and "The pope is wrong, put a condom on."

Three scantily-clad men dressed as angels -- sent by a gay dating website -- also joined the protesters.

One protester, 47-year-old Gareth Evans, said: "This Church has not changed in centuries and probably never will. This is not a woolly, fluffy, lovely Church. It is a hating Church which is run with a lot of hatred."

Benedict will travel to the central English city of Birmingham Sunday, where he will preside over the beatification of a 19th century cardinal, John Henry Newman, an Anglican who switched to Catholicism, in the climax of the visit.

© 2010 AFP

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