Italian police arrested two illegal migrants, who attacked soldiers on patrol outside a historic Rome Basilica as part of security arrangements for jubilee celebrations. The assailants shouted Islamic slogans and attempted to snatch the officers' weapons but were instead subdued, authorities said.
The incident occurred outside the Patriarchal Basilica of St Mary Major, Rome's largest Catholic Marian church, which dates back to the fifth century and is situated mid-way between the Colosseum and the main train station.
Police identified the attackers only as F.A. and D.E. − a Palestinian and a Tunisian aged around 40 and 30 years, saying the two men, who were not armed, uttered "offensive remarks" and slogans "exalting Allah" before charging the military patrol. Local media reports said they shouted the Islamic phrase "Allahu Akbar" (God is great).
As they were restrained by security forces, the pair urged onlookers to come to their aid and they are thus facing charges of incitement to terrorism, in addition to resisting arrest and making threats. Upon arrest they were brought to a local police station, where they continued to use offensive language, lambasting against police and EU countries in Arabic and Italian.
Police released scant details about the incident, which happened on 13 December and was only reported two days later. Authorities have been trying to reassure the public about security in Rome, as the city is expecting to receive millions of pilgrims over the next 11 months for the Holy Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis.
The Islamic State (Isis) group has often issued propagandistic threats against Rome and the Vatican, and fears of possible incidents have been particularly high after the deadly attacks in Paris in November. For the Jubilee opening, on 8 December, the government deployed some 2,000 police officers across Rome, set up metal detector checks at accesses to the Holy See and enforced a no-fly zone over the city centre.
Hoteliers in the capital nevertheless lamented bookings were down, claiming some tourists now considered Rome as a potentially dangerous destination. Staff at a café facing the St Mary Major Basilica played down security fears, saying the assault on soldiers "was probably the work of two drunks".
"We feel safe − it's impossible to do anything with all the police that are in the area," a barman, who gave his name only as Franco, told IBTimes UK. It was not clear when the assailants first arrived in Italy but authorities said they had both been issued with several expulsion orders in the past, after failing to meet standards required to win right to asylum.
The two had however neglected the loosely enforced ruling, which simply intimates illegal immigrants to leave the country within a given time frame. They have been taken to a migrant detention centre in Puglia awaiting expulsion from the country. The Jubilee ends on 20 November 2016.